Adopting and implementing a new curriculum is complex. It requires high quality materials for teachers and students, best-in-class professional learning for district and school leaders and teachers, and a commitment from leadership to go all-in to transform teaching and learning. 

Rutherford County Schools (RCS) went all-in with BetterLesson and OpenUp Resources to bring the acclaimed EL Education K-8 Language Arts Curriculum to their 26 elementary schools. The transformation has been incredible. 

To choose the EL Education curriculum, RCS engaged in an adoption process required by the Tennessee Department of Education. The district formed a committee of teachers, coaches, and administrators that reviewed the state-approved curriculum in depth. “We did vertical curriculum walks, horizontal walks, and everything in between to evaluate the curricula available to us,” says Ann H. Haley, elementary coordinator at RCS. “Teachers who would be using the curriculum product went back to their classrooms and used it for two weeks before reporting on its strengths and weaknesses to the committee. We were very thorough.” 

When BetterLesson started working with RCS, their challenges mirrored those of other districts across the country: shifts to remote teaching and learning, COVID closures, trauma for students and teachers, and teacher retention. Together, BetterLesson and RCS crafted a comprehensive plan to support teachers and leaders in implementing their newly chosen curriculum while remaining sensitive to the other issues at hand. 

Year 1: Workshops

In their first year, RCS chose to support its teachers with BetterLesson’s comprehensive in-person teacher and leader curriculum EL launch workshops and intensive curriculum mapping. As part of a strategic learning journey, BetterLesson workshops guide educators to set clear goals, identify manageable implementation steps, and create a plan to reflect on results for a sustainable change in practice. They provide a collaborative opportunity for educators to understand new skills and practices, which is essential, especially when implementing a new curriculum.

“We had two days of in-depth training for everyone who would be implementing our new curriculum,” says Ann. “With past curriculum, teachers were doing the heavy lifting on their own in the classroom, and we knew we had to change that.” 

After delivering the launch workshops to all teachers and leaders, BetterLesson continued to support this shift in instruction with leadership coaching and additional workshops that encouraged educators to try something new, measure results, and learn from what they have tried. 

The impact on teachers and students after that first year was indisputable.

I get chills when I talk about kids. What changed for some was the love of reading. With our fifth grade boys who were reading Esperanza Rising, they loved it. For our ESL students, more than ever before they felt like they had something to offer and share during ELA lessons. I would go into classrooms and kids would talk to me about books!

Ann H. Haley, Elementary Coordinator at RCS

At the end of the first year, Ann, along with Lisa Kegler and Karen Williams, the district ELA Specialists, with the support of BetterLesson Vice President of Professional Learning Jenna Keaney, thought strategically about going deeper with implementation. RCS decided on a model school initiative in four of their elementary schools. Two of the model schools would focus on deepening implementation in grades K-2, while the other two schools would focus on grades 3-5. 

Year 2: Model Schools, Coaching, and Learning Walks

School leaders with RCS  decided their model schools would get additional sessions with their BetterLesson coach to plan their teaching in grade-level teams. ELA specialists Lisa and Karen engaged in BetterLesson’s 1:1 Coaching, engaging in new learning focused on outcomes, then implementing what they learned. Teachers participated in four cycles of workshops focused on grade-level planning.

Quarterly Learning Walks were used across schools to measure progress, identify trends, and inform the focus of additional workshops and coaching. Collaborative planning allowed teachers to share success and challenges across their PLCs, and model schools helped other teachers in the district to see the changes in student reading, writing, thinking, and speaking in action.

Our second year, has been wonderful. Teachers know where they want to take students and they're going there. Our leaders are really impressed with the level of writing kindergarteners and first graders are doing in this curriculum. We keep telling the teachers over and over again, this curriculum allows you to teach a child how to write and not what to write. Students are gaining so much knowledge and lessons allow you to focus on getting all of that knowledge on paper.

Ann H. Haley, Elementary Coordinator at RCS

Year 3: Expanding Model Schools and Onboarding New Teachers

For year three, RCS plans to expand the model school initiative and continue to offer workshops, learning walks, and coaching across the district. In addition to helping model schools go deeper with implementation, new teachers will be supported in launching curriculum district-wide. Ann is most proud of being able to offer the same high quality, in-depth curriculum launch provided two years ago to new teachers entering the district. In addition to offering two full days of professional learning this summer, RCS will offer two-hour virtual sessions after school once the school year begins. The commitment to making professional learning available to all educators is an equity move that will continue to move the needle on implementation. 

Ongoing Partnership

The partnership between RCS’s leadership and the BetterLesson support team is mutually beneficial. “RCS helps us anticipate things that may be a challenge with the curriculum so that we can develop responsive professional learning in support of that. The RCS partnership has informed our planning and their work is emblematic of work across the country,” says Keaney. “The trust the leaders have put into BetterLesson inspires us and helps us determine what works to support teachers and leaders.”

Ann thinks the feeling is mutual. “The level of BetterLesson’s support and knowledge is at another level … BetterLesson is invested in us. They listen to us and listen to feedback.”

“I have spoken to every teacher in the district this year and I asked them to give me a celebration. And if their celebration was ‘I tried the Skills Block,’ or ‘I attempted the ALL [Additional Language and Literacy] block’ I would say ‘Thank you for doing that! My celebration is that you did that and I’m so proud of that.’ It is so important to celebrate that teachers are getting into a new curriculum and trying it. If you give them support and time, they’ll make it wonderful.“

BetterLesson’s student centered literacy element includes an EL Education focus area in which we train educators in the EL Education Language Arts Curriculum to make shifts to student-centered language and literacy instruction. 

To learn more about how BetterLesson partners with curriculum publishers and school districts to transform teaching and learning, contact BetterLesson today.

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