2021/05/24

Our final webinar for the Adopting Materials Through an Equity-Focused Lens series centered stakeholder engagement. In the first segment, EdReports Field Services Specialist Jessica Faith Carter gave webinar participants a view into how EdReports works with districts and states to develop a stakeholder engagement strategy rooted in local priorities. Next, Janise Lane, the Executive Director of Teaching and Learning for Baltimore City Public Schools, and Samantha Ashby, an Early Childhood Educator for Baltimore City Public Schools discussed the importance of stakeholder engagement throughout Baltimore’s curriculum selection process. 

Evaluating Gaps in Communication

Consistent communication with stakeholders during a materials adoption is key. It builds buy-in and contributes to choosing materials that meet the needs of all students. Janise explained that in the past, Baltimore City Public Schools had fallen short in engaging teachers around selecting new materials. However, in 2018 as the district began a new process for selecting English language arts curriculum, it was time for a change.  “One of the things that was really important for us was changing the way the district was enacting decisions. Many times, teachers feel that the folks at central office are the ones who make the decision, and so what we wanted to do was really have an opportunity to allow the experts from the fieldour teachers, our principals and our school leaders to help inform our process.”

As an academic planning facilitator, Samantha was closely connected to how teachers perceived the relationship between the district and teacher voice. Samantha shared how she and her colleagues felt before the shift in district decision-making practice. “It was unprecedented for the district to inquire about what we thought at that point, so if you're thinking about damaging practices, you have to think about the culture of your district and changing the mindset of your teachers and how they relate to the district. Our district started having more engagement opportunities for teachers.  They asked our opinion often throughout the year on various topics.”

Rebuilding Trust with Teachers

Janise and district leaders took a step back to learn more about how teachers felt as the district began auditing the strengths and gaps in the current curriculum as part of selecting a new program. Involving teachers at the outset helped to repair the damage done previously by overlooking teacher input: “[In the past] We asked for surveys from upwards of 707 teachers, and you might hear from 79. When we started digging a little deeper and asking questions like ‘why aren't we hearing from you?’, they were like ‘you know what you're doing, you're not going to listen to us.’ We had to think about: how do you not only ask for voices, but how do you share transparently what you're hearing and then honor those  voices?”

For teachers like Samantha, the curriculum audit was more than a tool to evaluate current curricula gaps; it helped to form a new bridge of communication between teachers and the district. Through the information gathered from surveys conducted for the audit, the district offered teachers clear expectations on how their perspectives would shape the adoption process and teachers were eager to share.  

Centering Representation as a Local Priority

Because of the engagement with teachers, culturally relevant education surfaced as an important local priority for Baltimore City Schools. Samantha and her fellow teachers' shared vision of equity for their students remained a motivating force for their involvement throughout the adoption process: “I came into teaching through the Baltimore City Teaching Residency, and we spoke extensively about the achievement gap and how our purpose was to close the gap that exists between our underserved communities and their more affluent peers. The teachers on my team share the same sentiment and although we hadn't met prior to the adoption process, we share the energy we put into our students to ensure that they received the best education daily.”

Teachers, in various grade bands, from across the district, worked together to ensure that the curriculum choices selected were both high-quality and representative of their students’ cultural identities and lived experiences. Without engaging teachers throughout the process, including cultural relevance as a must-have in the materials may never have occurred.

Welcoming Feedback from Local Stakeholders

Janise explains that having guidance from EdReports reviews helped the district to focus on both alignment and local priorities. Leadership had the benefit of knowing all the programs they were choosing from were standards-aligned and met a baseline of quality before evaluating for local needs. 

For Samantha and many other teachers in the district, meaningfully engaging in the curriculum audit and selection process helped them feel empowered to speak up for their students and for themselves: “Knowing that our students would have an ELA curriculum that they deserved and that was also equally deserving of them was an awesome feeling.”

The theme of transparency became a crucial component in Baltimore City Public School’s curriculum selection process. This meant not only engaging teachers but being open about how their expertise and experiences would shape the selection process. This same approach was also used to seek feedback from the community, including parents.

Baltimore’s story illustrates that building a foundation of trust and respect across all stakeholders, maintaining a mindset of continuous learning, and creating a shared instructional vision is key to a successful curriculum adoption.  

Looking forward, the district wants to facilitate student feedback in future adoption processes. This next step highlights a growing bond of collaboration between educator leaders and stakeholders as the district moves towards quality, equitable education for all students. 

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