EL Education’s ELA Curriculum and Virtual Teacher Training Are Equity Moves for Big Districts
The pandemic of 2020 has exposed growing inequities in literacy achievement and access to high-quality curriculum across the country and within large school districts. Add to this the challenges of preparing teachers to deliver a literacy curriculum in new ways—online or onsite while socially distancing. One might think hurdles like these would trigger a pause in new curriculum adoption. But EL Education’s Associate Director of Partner Development Caitlin McKenzie says instead that leaders across the country are eager to embrace EL’s curriculum and teacher training as moves toward equity. “Districts are even more committed to finding a curriculum that works for all students,” she says. “They have an incredible sense of urgency. Now is the time for all of our kids to get high-quality curriculum because literacy is not just about learning to read. It’s also about racial justice and equity for all kids.”
Between March and August, McKenzie and her team onboarded more than 4,500 teachers and leaders in Des Moines (Iowa) Public Schools, Hamilton County School District in Tennessee; Richmond Public Schools in Virginia; and Cleveland Metro Public Schools in Ohio.
"We want all of our students to discover the love of reading, to be problem solvers who can understand people who are different from them, and who embrace the power of words. We chose this curriculum and partnership with EL because it offers the whole package: foundational skills, rich texts, engaging lessons, and strong professional development to build our capacity to deliver the curriculum consistently across our district.”
Autumn Nabors, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Richmond Public Schools, underscores the point. Richmond launched the curriculum in July for more than 19,000 students in grades K-8. “We wanted texts that look like and reflect our Black and Brown students by authors, characters, stories.” says Nabors. “The incident with George Floyd just strengthened our belief that our desire to have a literacy curriculum grounded in social justice.”
In Hamilton County, Tennessee, a district that reaches from urban downtown Chattanooga to very rural mountain communities with no internet access, Dr. Yvette Stewart, Director of Elementary Education, is equally hopeful about the curriculum’s potential for leveling the playing field. The county’s student population is 30 percent Black, 14 percent Hispanic, and 54 percent White, but often, says Stewart, “where you live in the county is really what determines your resources and what influences your access and barriers. We want all of our students to discover the love of reading, to be problem solvers who can understand people who are different from them, and who embrace the power of words. We chose this curriculum and partnership with EL because it offers the whole package: foundational skills, rich texts, engaging lessons, and strong professional development to build our capacity to deliver the curriculum consistently across our district.”
“Today was probably one of the best trainings I've been in...The information was exemplified well, it was slowly deciphered, and it will be retained! I thought Zoom PDs would be the WORST because of the distance, but I think being at home, relaxed in my element, helps me focus on the trainings.”
The rising demand for EL Education’s curriculum surfaced another new challenge: how to train teachers to use the curriculum without the usual on-site institute. In early March when schools across the country began to shutter their doors, the Des Moines public schools were just wrapping up an onsite pilot of extensive professional learning support for EL Education’s K-5 ELA curriculum in eight schools, and they were pleased with teachers’ enthusiasm for and success in using the curriculum.
“Suddenly,” says McKenzie, “our coaching plan came to a grinding halt.” To maintain the momentum in Des Moines and support teachers across the district to implement the curriculum for the following year, EL coaches had to figure out how to turnkey all of their professional development into a virtual format.
VirtuEL PD Is a Sparkling Success
Over three ambitious weeks McKenzie and her team completely restructured the format of their professional development to launch it virtually with hundreds of participants on a Zoom call. This pivot required a massive collaborative effort, and the result was another happy surprise. Teachers loved learning virtually, and EL’s coaches were able to learn with them to strengthen the content of the professional development and the skills of the team.
In rewriting the professional development program, McKenzie and her team were careful to retain EL Education’s signature coaching moves: joy, rigor, and participant engagement. “We designed it to keep the sparkle,” says Manager of District Partnerships Angelica Jackson, “We made the virtual space feel more personable by greeting people by name as they entered the room, playing music during transition times, being active and responsive in the chat box, and chunking the learning into 30- and 60-minute sets with breakout sessions in between. We also invited each facilitator to bring their own personality into their presentation and not be completely canned. We also did give-aways of items and gift certificates to local businesses, just to spice things up and show our support of their community.”
"In Des Moines, of more than 1000 participants, 95.6% rated the quality of the training as excellent or good. That number rose to 97% in Hamilton County Tennessee, and 97% in Richmond."
EL Education coaches also leveraged EL’s commitment to feedback and revision to improve their facilitation quickly. After each 90 minute session, participants were asked to rate their satisfaction with the session and the facilitator. Coaches debriefed that feedback daily and rolled their learning into the next day’s presentation. The result? In Des Moines, of more than 1000 participants, 95.6% rated the quality of the training as excellent or good. That number rose to 97% in Hamilton County Tennessee, and 97% in Richmond.
“These materials and EL’s staff are sensitive, appropriate, and approachable. We’ve never had teachers voluntarily give away some of their summer to do PD, but EL brought the house down by making learning both exciting and practical for teachers.”
Nabors notes that teachers learned as much about how to facilitate strong virtual learning as they did about EL Education’s curriculum. “Initially some felt that the first dive into the topic was too fast, but then they saw that the following sessions spiraled through the same ideas again and created opportunities to discuss and dive deeper into the content through workshops. The structure of the curriculum is the same way for students: the modules build knowledge and skill over time so that students get better at reading and writing, not overwhelmed by the task.”
In Hamilton County, where attending the 10-day summer launch was optional, 900 of the district’s 1500 elementary school teachers opted in because they were so hungry for a new curriculum and eager to learn how best to deliver it. “These materials and EL’s staff are sensitive, appropriate, and approachable,” says Stewart. “We’ve never had teachers voluntarily give away some of their summer to do PD, but EL brought the house down by making learning both exciting and practical for teachers.”