As we begin our launch into Week 3 of distance learning, I finally have a moment to breathe. We have transitioned (I would say “successfully” although I have only scant anecdotal data to support this) from face to face to distance learning in a matter of days, and not without wear. Our school system has risen to the challenge, and is now in full navigation of the unknown frontier defined by online (or distance) learning.
If you asked me to target the factors which led to our “success”, I could not isolate them into one specific item. Teacher professionalism, community support, district resources, cohesive administration leadership, clarity of communication, and dedicated students each factored into the initial feelings of success. However, as both our district curriculum director and primary design enthusiast, I would like to believe that the success can also be measured through our work in curriculum compacting. By using Eduplanet21 as our district’ s curriculum management platform, we already have established a robust written curriculum for “normal” school. So when the challenge came to transition learning online (distance), the ability to easily compact each course and grade level seemed doable. Our teachers completed the task in a relatively short amount of time, and created realistically sound maps to guide and direct our students’ learning and assessment experiences through the remainder of this school year. Having a map is an essential tool no matter what journey a person takes – so why not ensure that our journey into this distance space has a map that looks and feels like a “normal” curriculum product?
The directions for compacting were not met with complete enthusiasm and understanding by all of our professional staff. The task was in itself relatively straightforward – look at the remaining units in your course as planned for face to face instruction, evaluate the knowledge, skills and understanding goals in those units to identify only those that are critical and foundational, and then record these prioritized learning goals into Stage One of the new compacted units in Eduplanet21. Many times I found myself repeating both the specifics of the task, and more often the why behind it. It does give me pause as to how I could’ve better provided that vision up front.
Unfortunately, one doesn’t always have the luxury of time and resource to do everything he or she may want prior to a launch like this. Would I change it? Sure. Who wouldn’t? Could I have changed it? Probably not. We had an immediacy of need and a limited amount of time and space. So, I endured the questions about the why amidst people’s thinking about needing to launch a whole new school in a digital space. Not seeing the relevance to compacting but instead wanting to use their time to “create lessons,” “find resources” and “establish classroom protocols and practices”, many begrudged the request although completed it out of compliance. I certainly understand that initial response.
Still, two things remain in all of this. First, I do believe – if mostly in principle – that our success will be best measured because of the careful focus required through the compacting process. Like so many in our field right now, the inundation of communications we receive from vendors and businesses offering free trials, free resources, and additional support is numbing. But, the navigation of those communications can be managed well if you understand the focus and can decide on selection of products that meet the needs originally created. In this case, those needs are those identified goals found in the compacted curriculum.
Second, as I’ve had a chance to look at the quality of our product, easily reviewed in Eduplanet’s curriculum management system, I am thoroughly impressed by the quality and clarity of the types of understanding, knowledge and skills our teachers have prioritized for their students. When I look at the level of expectation for our students in the final weeks of this unprecedented time, I couldn’t be prouder of what our teachers have done. The quality of their work will lay a foundation that our future courses will be able to navigate – and that success will have been helped through some careful and intentional navigation that can be seen by looking at a compacted curriculum map.
Rob Freil is the Director of Curriculum Instruction and Assessment for South Western School District, Hanover PA. He has been in public education for 23 years as a classroom teacher, building principal and currently central office. He also works as adjunct faculty in the Administration and Secondary Education Department for California University of PA and as adjunct faculty for the Masters in Curriculum and Instruction Program of McDaniel College. He earned his Bachelor’s of Arts in English Education from Westminster College, his Masters of Education in K-12 Administration from California University of PA, and his Doctorate of Education in School Leadership and Administrative and Policy Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. He and his wife Carlyn have been married for 21 years and have four children, ranging in age from 18 to 11.