High-Fidelity, Creative Teaching: Teachers May Feel They Are Doomed to an Instructional Prison Sentence after Attending Curriculum Training. Here Are Strategies to Help Teachers Deliver the Standards-Based Instructional Program Creatively and with Fidelity

By Wilhelm, Terry | Leadership, November-December 2008 | Go to article overview

High-Fidelity, Creative Teaching: Teachers May Feel They Are Doomed to an Instructional Prison Sentence after Attending Curriculum Training. Here Are Strategies to Help Teachers Deliver the Standards-Based Instructional Program Creatively and with Fidelity


Wilhelm, Terry, Leadership


"They've taken away all my creativity!" How often do leaders at every level hear this discouraged pronouncement? The teacher grieving this perceived loss is usually leveling her complaint at the requirement that teachers fully implement their standards-based adopted curriculum, with fidelity to program design. Teachers voice this lament most often in reading/language arts or mathematics, but it may also arise in the other core areas of science and social science.

Meanwhile, however, there is every likelihood that at a nearby school or even down the hall, another teacher is delivering the same curriculum being decried by her colleague with both fidelity and creative flair, and student outcomes are improving with every month of instruction. How can a leader support the teacher experiencing the feelings of being devalued and rendered ineffective by indifferent, negative external forces, perhaps using the other's success and example?

The issue is widespread. When California schools or districts fall into Program Improvement, the central requirement of their sanctions is to implement a guaranteed and viable curriculum for all students, which comprehensively addresses the California Content Standards in mathematics and reading/language arts. Under PI, this is Essential Program Component No. 1, the overarching component of the nine in the Academic Program Survey.

A guaranteed and viable curriculum

More than 30 years of research support this, as GVC (guaranteed and viable curriculum) is the factor found to have the highest impact on student achievement of the 11 high-impact factors described in Robert Marzano's "What Works in Schools" (2003). Some wise districts, such as the Menifee Union School District, are taking this step as a preventive measure to ensure that achievement does not plateau or fall, and thus avoid PI sanctions.

Unfortunately, when teachers attend the required training for their state-board-approved curriculum, mandated and funded by Senate Bill 472, they sometimes come away with the notion that they are doomed to an instructional prison sentence.

This may be an unintended consequence of the prescribed training structure, which consists of five days of delving into the research underpinnings, an exploration of every core and ancillary item in the program, and the detail of short- and long-range lesson planning.

Most trainers emphasize that to adequately address all daily lesson components, teachers need to put aside past favorite materials, which may also raise objections. But less-than-positive reactions may also be a result of the mindset the participants bring with them--a possible mixture of resentment (in a few cases) at the requirement to attend, and pre-conceived beliefs about the materials themselves and their use.

Mastery experiences in teaching

A leader can influence the thinking of teachers who hold this belief about their disallowed, diminished creativity, and support their success in improving student learning in their classrooms. One strategy is to create conditions where teachers can have "mastery experiences" in successfully and creatively delivering the program with fidelity. This long-range strategy will be discussed later.

In the short term, leaders can arrange vicarious experiences--field trips, in this case, mediated by a coach or mentor who can support visiting teachers by helping them to interpret what they are seeing when they visit a truly creative teacher who is fully implementing the program with fidelity.

However, as the mandate of GVC unfolds, a leader must begin the work by answering a foundational question: Do I, the leader, personally believe in this change effort that I must lead? If the answer is no, it will be extremely difficult to convince staff that their creativity can indeed survive and thrive, and that this program will work, yielding far better learning than allowing each teacher to individually pick and choose the curriculum that will be offered from classroom to classroom from a smorgasbord of hoarded past pet materials, or a homegrown hybrid of new ones.

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High-Fidelity, Creative Teaching: Teachers May Feel They Are Doomed to an Instructional Prison Sentence after Attending Curriculum Training. Here Are Strategies to Help Teachers Deliver the Standards-Based Instructional Program Creatively and with Fidelity
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