Educator Steve Lebel shares how he advocated for high quality instructional materials and inspired his colleagues to do the same for their students.
Access to quality instructional materials has been a consistent challenge throughout my 14 years as a K-6 teacher in New Hampshire. There were often times when I started a new school year expected to use curriculum that had been selected without any educators engaged around the process or choice.
As a teacher, I was going to be using the materials with students every day. The idea that educator voice and expertise were not considered during the decision-making process was demoralizing. Not only did I want to be heard, but I knew the choice could be stronger if my colleagues and I were involved.
I also knew that the change had to begin with me in order to challenge the status quo on how materials were being selected. I decided to get more informed, get better training, and find a way to do more for my students.
Luckily, I already had a leg up. I became an EdReports math reviewer and was immersed in incredible professional learning around the standards and shifts. By working with fellow educators to create the reviews, I saw there was a way to evaluate a program’s standards alignment and usability through gathering evidence and using a research-based rubric.
The most transformative aspect of being a reviewer was understanding that the reports I was helping to create were tools anyone could use to advocate for the quality materials all students and teachers deserve.
I work as an instructional coach in a district that is engaging educators about the materials we select. We had been having conversations about our instructional practices and how our current materials did not necessarily meet the needs of our students.
I saw the power of EdReports reviews when a publisher presented on instructional materials my district was strongly considering adopting. Because I had looked at the EdReports review, I knew these particular materials had not made it past “Gateway 1,” meaning these materials did not meet expectations for alignment to standards and the instructional shifts: namely, “focus” and “coherence.”
When the publisher opened up the room to questions, I knew I had to speak up. I said: “Hi. I’m Steve and full disclosure I’m an EdReports math reviewer, and I noticed that these materials in the first version did not make it out of Gateway 1. So, I’m really curious how you have changed these materials or revised these materials to address those needs?”
The representative had difficulty answering the question. Once I had spoken up, other teachers began to voice their own feedback and concerns about the materials as well.
My knowledge of the EdReports review and the evidence about this particular program helped drive the discussion with the publisher. Our assistant superintendent, who had arranged the meeting, was particularly impressed and attuned to the fact that we were questioning these materials based on evidence and data that educators had spent hundreds of hours collecting—not just on feelings or first impressions.
The meeting was a success in that each teacher, inspired by the courage and knowledge of the teacher before, spoke up and engaged fully in the process. Having strong evidence about the curriculum resulted in us going in a different direction for materials altogether.
This meeting was one of the most empowering experiences of my life, and I could see that it had an impact on my colleagues as well. Many of us have had similar experiences of being handed materials without the opportunity to examine them beforehand and ask questions or express concerns. We could all see how important it was for us to be critical consumers at this phase of the adoption to really ensure these materials would meet the needs of our students.
I liken this experience to buying a house. You wouldn’t buy a house without having it inspected. You wouldn’t make such an important investment without ensuring a strong foundation and the presence of all the components you need to be sheltered, safe, and thriving for the long term.
Districts are spending thousands to millions of dollars on new materials, and the materials we choose will impact a generation of students. We have to do everything in our power to choose the content that will best prepare the kids we serve for college and career.
As educators, we are experts in our field and you don’t have to be an EdReports reviewer to advocate for better instructional materials. EdReports reviews are free and accessible to all. It’s the reviews that help us to prepare for those important conversations with school and district leaders and allow educators to provide very specific feedback.
My colleagues and I saw for ourselves what a difference it makes to use evidence to advocate for (or to warn against) programs rather than approaching the conversation cold. The confidence and preparation to question what is being put in front of our students is a part of how we’ll approach instructional materials adoptions for this school year and all of the ones that follow.