Is the tail wagging the dog?

Posted on Jul 16, 2013 by Alicia Levitt - Best Practices

I was recently blessed with the opportunity to visit the Atlas Rubicon Training Center in Portland, Oregon, to spend time learning more about the curriculum-mapping process. Here are my major takeaways. Mapping is a process, not a project. I actually already knew this one, but what I didn’t understand until visiting Portland was that leading a mapping initiative is also a process. We leaders (including principals and lead teachers in our schools) won't have all of the answers about how a map is supposed to look. Each school will have to decide that for itself. If we're honest, this is a frustrating prospect. It’s similar to our students expressing anger with us when we make them work for the answers. Yet there's an earned satisfaction when we work hard for answers, and there's a deeper understanding of the concept itself. The more we map and talk, the more we understand why we're mapping and talking.Diary mapping leads to something better. When we first start mapping, we're told to just record what we're doing and then start having conversations with other teachers about what we've written down. Something that most of us realized was that we're mapping our textbooks! We wondered why we were mapping to begin with—but I think there are better questions. Why is our textbook the only thing we're mapping? Is that really our entire curriculum? If so, are we happy with that? We would never have thought to ask any of these questions if we hadn’t diary-mapped. Now that we know what we don’t want to map ... what could we map?The tail is totally wagging the dog!If you agree that you were mapping your books, and that’s not what you want to do—now what? You can use Rubicon to map your intended curriculum. Instead of mapping what you're currently doing, try mapping what you really want to do. Have conversations with colleagues about what learning should look like in math, science, or social studies. Then create intended maps that can be adjusted as you teach each unit. Maps should not be changed to match books ... books should be used to supplement concepts on maps.TLSP has a role to play. The Partnership is working to support schools in a couple of major ways. First, we'll offer the lead teachers in every building time to meet with other lead teachers every nine weeks. This discussion time will allow them to plan for the next steps back in their own buildings. In addition, we're working with Jon Mielke and the Indiana District to create overarching questions that will guide schools if they want to map something more meaningful than their textbooks. My trip to Portland also helped me see one more thing—we're not the only schools working hard to understand the mapping process. I met people from all over the world (literally) who are wrestling with the very same questions. Yet we all left with a renewed sense of commitment and renewal. At least we're not alone!