A big part of my job involves helping teaching teams improve capacity for new district mandates or initiatives such as project-based learning. This type of thing isn’t always met with enthusiasm. But when I tell them that our work will be collaborative and outcomes-based, and will focus on aligning the new initiative with the actual instructional needs of the school, many become excited to help create solutions.
There’s often added pressure for coaching teams to implement something new when the old hasn’t been actualized. Instructional designer Morgan Vien calls it replacing a system with another system.
In my years working to enhance instructional innovation, I have seen better outcomes when pertinent stakeholders collaborate to pinpoint what’s genuinely needed for classrooms to thrive before implementing a solution. A data-informed coaching model may help schools simultaneously improve processes with practice.
For example, a school looking to boost critical thinking across the curriculum may discover that teachers benefit from improving how they align instruction with assessment first. Similarly, a district wanting to develop a science, technology, engineering, and math pathway in a high school can design lessons providing middle school students in the feeder school with engineering practices and prerequisite math and science skills.
Systematically examining instructional problems can be part of the level setting needed for long-term sustainability in order to avoid brainstorming fuzziness. It can also clarify needed steps and provide chronological order to design and implementation.
5 Steps to Enhance Instructional Innovation
Step 1: Pinpoint key instructional challenges. This step requires school or district instructional leaders to discuss enhancing instructional innovation and to learn about the needs of their schools. I highly recommend including teachers—it’s best not to make decisions about teachers without some in the room. At times, I’m requested to facilitate this discussion as a thought partner. I like to create sections on large chart paper or in a Google Doc as a way to streamline the process.
Start by identifying the instructional issue. Here the team should collectively craft a solid problem statement identifying the problem and the desired outcomes. Here’s what that might look like for a team that wants to improve their implementation and monitoring of tier-one instruction:
“The teaching team will collectively reflect on current schoolwide pedagogical strategies for implementing and monitoring tier-one instruction in order to enhance instructional design practices with valid and reliable curriculum and teaching strategies that effectively address the needs of all learners.”
Then, define the area of instruction. The team identifies the components of how they want the area of instruction to improve in their setting. For example, we want tier-one instruction at our school to include the following:
- Relevant standards and competency aligned evidence-based curriculum that captures our local standards, graduate profiles, career skills, and social and emotional learning
- A focus on literacy and numeracy skills across the curriculum
- Use of evidence-based and high-yielding strategies to facilitate daily lessons
- Monitoring of student achievement
Wrap up your work by capturing the desired outcomes. This includes the noticeable behaviors and culture you want to see in classrooms as a result of working on the problem—for example, teacher confidence and self-efficacy, student engagement, inclusivity, and intellectually safe spaces.
Step 2: Observe current instruction through learning walks. Before conducting learning walks, the team must ensure that classroom observations are well received by the teachers. The intent of instructional innovation and the problem statement must be shared with teachers to include them as stakeholders and to earn trust.
Each observer should take field notes for unpacking in step three using an observation inventory. General guidelines can include the following:
- Letting teachers know you’re coming
- Omitting names from your notes
- Focusing on instruction
- Not staying longer than 10 minutes
Step 3: Hold a data debrief and conjure up solutions. Together the team should discuss the data obtained during the learning walks and begin to identify possible solutions and barriers to the actualization of the problem statement in step one.
Collectively, everyone should reflect on the glows and grows of current instructional practice and create alignment between what’s new in steps one, two, and three to what you already do. Allow these conversations to mimic qualitative research—look for emerging themes to learn what’s needed for capturing what was identified in steps one and two.
Also, identify barriers impeding success (e.g., strict pacing, heavy teacher workloads)—this is vital for deconstructing problems. For tier-one instruction, a teaching team might include the following solutions:
- Interdisciplinary curriculum mapping
- Visible learning strategies
- Community protocols
- Critique protocols for students
- Methods for measuring the impact of teaching strategies
Step 4: Design professional development (PD) solutions. Here the team reconciles the solutions from step three to develop a data-driven PD solution. This often includes targeted and embedded PD solutions in strands and milestones.
Strands for tiered curriculum design and facilitation strategies should differently support administrators, beginning teachers, and seasoned teachers. Finally, a timeline with milestones should be set for tackling the solutions logically and coherently.
When determining who will facilitate PD solutions, look no further than internal talent—if you don’t, they will eventually leave. But in some cases, an outside consultant for helping grow teachers may be the logical solution.
Step 5: Implement PD using data. Following the implementation of each PD strand and milestone, the team collects more data from participants to evaluate effectiveness. Likert scales can work well for measuring participants’ attitudes and opinions. Typed questionnaires can inform you of improvement in their content knowledge. Again, look for themes to help inform future PD solutions by strand.
My sincerest gratitude to Dr. Yvonne Brandon, Mrs. Victoria Oakley, and Dr. Ernestine Scott for getting me started on my current path and guiding our curriculum and instruction team at Richmond City Public Schools to instructional success. Thank you also to Morgan Vien for helping me refine my approach to design in step one.