Putting the Vision in Writing

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In my last article, I wrote about National Lutheran Schools Accreditation, or NLSA. One of my goals as Academic Excellence Coordinator is to help schools with Section 5 of the NLSA Self-Study, called “Teaching and Learning”. I seek ways to support our schools as they discover areas of strength and areas of desired improvement in the area of teaching and learning.

In this article, I’d like to highlight the second and third required indicators of success in Section 5. The second indicator is “The written curriculum is developed and is implemented for religion, mathematics, science, reading, language arts, social studies, art, music, physical education and any other subject taught by the school.” This is a long statement that boils down to this: schools must have, in writing, a plan for what is taught in their school at all levels, in all subject areas. While this may seem simple, it is an ongoing process which requires attention to multiple areas that are ever-changing. The third indicator ties very closely with the second. It says, “The school community builds and maintains a vision, direction and focus for student learning.”

Written curriculum can include many things: textbooks, online resources, teacher created materials, Scripture, and more. Most teachers today use a combination of these things to meet the standards their school has set for their course and grade level. Most of our schools begin with the Indiana Academic Standards as the starting point for those standards. While it may seem that textbooks should be written to meet all the standards in a meaningful way, that is not typically the case. Additionally, most mainstream textbooks also include their own worldview, which is often contradictory to our Biblical worldview. Textbooks can be a very useful resource, but teachers in our Lutheran schools must use them judiciously and supplement in many cases.

Our schools must be more intentional with written curriculum than simply providing a list of textbooks used. That is a starting point, but what about all the other things teachers and students do? What novels are used in the classroom? What field trips supplement what happens in the classroom? How do teachers help students make faith connections to what they are learning? These things are not written in the textbook, but are essential parts of the curriculum.

The Indiana District uses Atlas, an online curriculum mapping and planning tool, as a resource for teachers to organize curriculum. Many teachers no longer use traditional textbooks, but instead gather materials from a variety of sources. The standards, content, skills, assessments, resources, and more that go with each unit taught can be recorded in Atlas. Teachers can use Atlas as hub to keep all these things together in one place. Teachers can also collaborate on these maps, sharing them with others and working together to gather resources. In fact, teachers from the Lutheran Schools Partnership started developing some shared maps several years ago, and now has joined with the rest of the Indiana District to create shared maps for Social Studies.

These curriculum maps are one aspect of building and maintaining a vision, direction, and focus for student learning. The maps can provide a written means to show how a school plans for education from enrollment to graduation. However, even more important is that schools have ongoing conversations about their curriculum. They should regularly revisit how they keep the written curriculum current, and how they ensure that their curriculum avoids gaps in a student’s education. Our schools and teachers can also be instrumental is helping students identify their God-given talents for use later in life. School administrators regularly monitor instructional practices and support teachers in ongoing improvement. Teachers must receive ongoing professional development, which the Lutheran Schools Partnership helps to provide.

The development of written curriculum will never be finished. Needs and resources are always changing. The shared vision and direction of our schools to proclaim the Gospel and help children grow in their faith remains unchanged. Being intentional about what we do across the grade levels in all areas of teaching and learning is a critical part of the success that National Lutheran Schools Accreditation promotes.