Administration & Leadership

A 4-Meeting Process for Choosing a New Curriculum

Following this series of protocols can help administrators and teachers work together to reach consensus on adopting a new curriculum.

July 11, 2023
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Schools must periodically review and refresh their instructional materials to maintain research-informed and up-to-date teaching practices. Many schools, including my own, follow a cyclical rotation for curriculum review. Last fall, we underwent a thorough examination of available pre-K–5 math curricula to identify two programs to pilot in the coming year. 

We wanted to facilitate an inclusive process to reach a consensus on our choice of new curriculum. However, reaching consensus among a large group of stakeholders is not easy. As the ones delivering the instruction, teachers require a program they believe will support student learning, and they must be willing to commit the time and effort necessary to put a new curriculum into practice. Administrators, on the other hand, are obligated to consider a program’s cost, its time and resource requirements, and how well it could be distributed and implemented on a large scale. 

With these challenges in mind, we invited all interested teachers and administrators to participate in a series of protocols for selecting new curriculum intended to establish shared beliefs, assess available options, and eventually reach consensus on a math curriculum for our lower school. These protocols facilitated efficient decision-making among a large group of individuals and promoted buy-in by ensuring that both teachers and administrators had a voice in the selection process. 

Selecting Protocols

The protocols we used came from two sources. The School Reform Initiative (SRI; now the Center for Leadership and Educational Equity) provides a comprehensive list of protocols that “offer structured processes to support focused and productive conversations, build collective understanding, and drive school improvement.” They serve a wide range of purposes: to facilitate discussion, to structure the process of giving and receiving feedback, to stimulate brainstorming, and to identify shared beliefs. 

Jake Knapp’s book Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days provides a series of protocols meant to be followed in a series as a comprehensive process to make big decisions in a fast and efficient way. A typical sprint, as outlined in the book, takes five full days to complete. Through the sprint process, participants gather information, clarify goals, evaluate options, test ideas, and then come to a consensus around a plan to move forward. 

We used protocols from both sources, benefiting from the educational focus of the SRI protocols and the efficient sequence outlined in Sprint. Each protocol took one or two faculty meetings to facilitate, and each fulfilled a specific need in our inclusive decision-making process, beginning with establishing our shared beliefs, then understanding and evaluating the options, and finally reaching a consensus. 


Meeting 1—Establishing Shared Beliefs: The Affinity Mapping protocol came from SRI and is designed to facilitate noticing and elevating affinities among a group. Implementing this protocol allowed teachers and administrators to first consider their individual opinions, and then work to align their viewpoints with those of their colleagues. Finally, we generated a list of core beliefs around math instruction held by our school community.

Starting our decision-making process with a protocol to facilitate establishing shared beliefs helped ensure that each subsequent decision made by the group was transparent and based on a shared understanding of our goals and ideals. 

Meeting 2—Understanding the Options: We adapted a protocol from Sprint called Lightning Demos to help us understand the range of what curriculum materials were available to choose from so that we could agree on what to look for during the evaluation phase of our process. Prior to implementing this protocol, the curriculum coordination team gathered a selection of math curriculum samples representing a range of topics and grade levels.

During a faculty meeting, participants were given time to review the materials and then followed a structured procedure for sharing what positive aspects of the materials stood out to them. We created a wish list of favorable curriculum elements that spanned all lower school grade levels, included input from both teachers and administrators, and represented a realistic set of possibilities. This wish list would form the basis of our evaluation.

Meeting 3—Evaluating the Options: Next, we needed to come up with an objective way to assess each of the curricula for how well it met our established needs. To this end, we chose to create a tool that could be used to assess the curriculum materials in a consistent way. We followed the Solution Sketch protocol from Sprint to generate a selection of possible evaluation tools based on the wish list of favorable criteria we had previously agreed upon.

Because our first two protocols helped us establish a collective understanding of the curricular needs and wants of the community, the prototype designs were largely similar and were a strong indication that we were collectively moving toward consensus.

Meeting 4—Making a Choice: To choose which prototype we would adopt, we utilized a series of protocols referred to in Sprint as the Sticky Decision. For this protocol, all of the prototypes were hung around the room, and each teacher was given an unlimited number of sticky dots. Teachers could place a dot next to any element of the rubric prototypes that captured an important content or design idea. Once all of the dots were placed, masses of dots on individual prototypes indicated which ones were the most resonant, and we were able to transparently choose the rubric that would become our collective evaluative tool. 


After just four meetings, our community of teachers and administrators had come together and reached agreement on a shared set of criteria that would guide our final decision about our new math curriculum. Over the next few weeks, teachers met in grade-level teams and used the rubric to evaluate each of the curriculum options through our community’s agreed-upon lenses. In the end, we came together one last time and repeated the voting protocol to unanimously select two curricula for our pilot. 

We implemented this specific series of protocols to effectively and efficiently engage all stakeholders in the process of choosing curricular materials. By following this series of protocols, we broke one large decision into a series of small decisions and were able to reach agreement at each step along the way. We encouraged buy-in by maintaining transparency and inclusivity, and we kept to our timeline. Our process allowed us to acknowledge individual teacher wishes, to amplify the collective values and beliefs of the community, and to eventually come to consensus around the curriculum materials that would best serve the needs of the community.

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