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What’s in a journey to curriculum implementation? A lot, it turns out. When multiple educators are using the same program or application, it’s essential that they all receive the training, resources and clarity of purpose to understand the value from that program. 

In this article, we discuss strategies for improving curriculum implementation in schools.

Enhancing Curriculum Implementation

To achieve successful curriculum implementation, the planning must include a framework for generating initial buy-in as well as for teacher success and enthusiasm in the long-term. This framework is established in the onboarding process, which encompasses initial training, follow-up, and ongoing support afterwards. Implementation should also include sharing milestones and status updates as the process evolves throughout the lifetime of the implementation.

Moreover, curriculum implementation starts with a vision to unify planning, garner buy-in from stakeholders and end users and inspire a successful onboarding process. By focusing on this, schools will have a better return on their curriculum investment later. Leaders need to know upfront what success should look like and plan how to achieve it. If they take shortcuts, they are not nearly as likely to be successful and results will be inconsistent.

6 Steps to Successful Curriculum Implementation

At the core of this of curriculum implementation is communication that involves:

  • Mapping a strategic vision
  • Building a stakeholder team
  • Providing opportunities for feedback (and listening)
  • Harnessing buy-in and enthusiasm among end users
  • Sustaining commitment in the long-term
  • Cultivating a culture of support

As districts undertake this process of change, one piece of advice is to put in preparation time up front and listen to end users, because they’re the ones that will guide what’s realistic.

Step 1: Mapping a Strategic Vision

A foundational step in leading a curriculum implementation is to keep a main goal in mind. Keeping this goal in a constant line of sight ensures a more direct path between where you are now and where you want to go.

This is especially important for those who are going to be responsible for implementing. When leadership knows the main goal and can communicate that well, it helps with gaining support from those that are going to be responsible for implementing.

Compelling visions offer a clear purpose, end goal and process for achieving it. Most people perform tasks better if they understand how it fits into the big picture. What do leaders want teachers to get out of the program they’ve been asked to invest time and energy into learning? How will the program support students?

So, what makes a vision for curriculum effective? An effective vision is specific and measurable. If leaders can’t measure it, they can’t manage it. If the goal is too vague, leaders won’t know if they’re being successful or not as measurements become subjective.

For example, an ineffective vision is we want students to do better or we want to increase student engagement. One teacher may think their students are doing better or are more engaged. But how? What’s the bar? How would that impact students in a measurable way? If a vision can’t be defined, leaders don’t know if it’s successful or not.

To craft a specific and measurable vision, use SMART Goals.

Another critical element for a vision is that it connects to a greater sense of purpose among the staff. A connection between the school’s mission and the initiative being planned can increase the likelihood of the initiative being viewed as important.

Step 2: Building a Stakeholder Team

Once leaders articulate the vision, build out a communication plan for different roles to ensure everyone receives relevant and adequate information.

Start by identifying the different roles people play, whether they’re a stakeholder, influencer or end user. A stakeholder usually has a vested interest in the initiative because it affects them or their department. An influencer might be an expert, but if they are not directly affected, then they are not a stakeholder.

These roles inform the communication plan for each group. For example, stakeholders and influencers just need high-level overviews, whereas end users need to know how to implement and what they need to do to be successful.

As leadership works to tailor communication for these different groups, it’s important to recognize which communication methods will be most effective, whether email, phone calls or in-person meetings.

Step 3: Provide Opportunities for Feedback

As this communication plan takes shape, it’s also relevant to consider avenues for these groups to communicate with leadership. Leaders should incorporate stakeholders, influencers and end users early in the process and to get their feedback to make them feel that they are listened to, that they have a voice and that they are part of making this initiative happen. They will have a vested interest in the initiative’s success and an emotional attachment then, and this helps with buy-in.

The feedback step often works best when it uses multiple avenues of requesting feedback. This may include surveys, requesting feedback over email, classroom observation and in-person conversations or round tables.

Consider opportunities for gathering feedback from stakeholders and end users to refine and optimize the curriculum implementation process. It’s also a good idea to have a retrospective, which is where end users and stakeholders discuss how aspects of onboarding went to understand what worked and what didn’t. No rollout is going to be perfect, but a retrospective allows leaders to incorporate this feedback in future roll-outs.

Understanding the value of feedback for buy-in and efficacy helps leaders recognize those opportunities, build in structure for generating feedback and incorporate changes as the implementation progresses.

Step 4: Harnessing Buy-In and Enthusiasm Among End Users

Time is a major hurdle for teachers, so when leaders begin to connect with end users and introduce them to the initiative, it’s essential to communicate how this initiative fits into teachers’ work, current expectations and instructional priorities. If it’s relevant, share with teachers that it’s okay to put other things on hold in favor of getting this new initiative rolled out.

As end users begin to explore and use the curriculum in their own classrooms, leaders must cultivate and nurture their enthusiasm by making sure the end users have quick wins, which will encourage them to continue implementing and seeing the benefits of it.

Not everyone is going to be an early adopter, so encourage those who are to talk about the excitement that they have and the benefits they see. This will resonate with their peers especially if there’s still some trepidation around getting started. When people can see a colleague succeeding it instills confidence they can do it themselves.

On the other hand, some people will be less inclined to implement. Leaders often know who these people may be in advance. A good strategy is to get them involved early and invite them to be representatives in the stakeholder or feedback group. By encouraging these people to talk about what their concerns are and addressing them, the process is better for everybody. 

Step 5: Sustaining Commitment in the Long-Term

Building on these more short-term strategies, it’s essential to maintain a routine and habit of communication, support, and refresher training. It is easy for something that was top of mind at first to move to the backburner. Keeping the routine recognition and training opportunities reengages those involved.

To manage a long-term curriculum implementation, leaders should also plan also for years two, three and beyond. There will be more detail for year one because it’s usually a bigger lift rolling out the program, but in those later years, leaders can incorporate those ritual or habitual things that need to continue to occur with the dates and times if possible.

This sort of future planning could resemble something like: “there will be a training in the first quarter of year two to make sure that any new teachers get the training that they need to onboard and that others get a refresher training.”

Another way to re-engage users is to build in incremental goals and different phases, which reinvest that emotional connection.

Step 6: Cultivating a Culture of Support

Another aspect of a successful curriculum implementation is establishing lines of support for teachers. To invest their time, teachers need to feel confident that they will have the necessary resources both in the short and long-term as they implement. Having plans for initial training and onboarding as well as ongoing support throughout the life of the initiative is essential.

Having this foundational support that’s ongoing and accessible takes away the intimidating part of change because it’s important that folks feel open and safe to ask questions and be vulnerable.

Another aspect of ongoing support is documenting resources. Curriculum implementation isn’t effective when all the knowledge about how to do something or how the initiative will work is in people’s heads. Having written documentation and communicating where to find those resources is also critical. This could be through a district website, portal, internal drive, or binders, etc.

Finally, share with the end users that if the initiative involves the use of a tool, curriculum, or technology that they purchased from a vendor, there is usually support embedded in the tool being used, such as tool tips and guides.

In the end, change is complex, but it is a reality we all have to undergo, manage and lead. Having a process that’s rooted in communication will help build support, accountability and growth.

This blog was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for information, accuracy, and relevance. Staff Writers Team

Staff Writers

Founded in 1999, provides educators with solutions to prepare their students with critical digital skills. Our web-based curriculum for grades K-12 engages students as they learn keyboarding, online safety, applied productivity tools, computational thinking, coding and more.

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