Clear Communication Results in Trusted Curriculum

Clear Communication Results in Trusted Curriculum by Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.

Clarity in communication is essential when developing and improving the school’s curriculum. This is especially true at a global level – ensuring that all disciplines are integrated. This is where meaningful, clear, and easily accessible communication is necessary.

Through clear communications, curriculum leaders rectify the reality of departments, and at times individual teachers and classrooms, operating in isolation, with little to no communication flowing from class to class or department to department. This is an odd challenge since communication is one of the central elements of curriculum. “In the service of educating the public, curriculum is characterized by spirited and informed communication.”[1] Yet, when it comes to an interdisciplinary approach to curriculum design and improvement, clear communication and coordination can be a very challenging task. Even curriculum theorists recognize the fundamental element of clear communication as essential to the function of curriculum.

Curriculum theory is the scholarly effort — inspired by theory in the humanities, arts, and interpretive social sciences — to understand the curriculum… Rather than the formulation of objectives to be evaluated by (especially standardized) tests, curriculum is communication informed by academic knowledge, and it is characterized by educational experience.[2]

If the very nature of curriculum is communication, then for it to be fully functional and integrated into a global design, the system of communication must be able to reach and connect with all school areas and disciplines. “Communication across the curriculum programs (CXCPs) are designed to increase student communication competence and enhance student learning. Yet, the designs and structures of such programs are inherently problematic when they fail to account for discipline-specific communication practices.”[3] CXCPs that are meaningful to the interdisciplinary improvement of the curricular program must provide avenues by which each discipline communicates in ways that are both meaningful to their unique areas and provide communication clearly understood by those outside of their discipline.

Currently, many schools use a systems approach, known as Total Quality Management (TQM), for improving the system in which people work. This approach, also drawn from industry, represents a paradigm shift emphasizing client priority (in our case, students), extensive data collection and analysis, self-monitoring and inspection, collaboration, communication, cooperation, and team responsibility.[4]

For clear and effective CXCPs throughout the school, all TQM elements must be addressed. Trusted school leaders meet this challenge by consistently establishing “professional-development and administrative maps that model the very practices that teachers should be considering for their learners. This creates a cycle of communication and openness breaking from the past tendency toward separateness between leaders and staff.”[5]

A central tool and practice for providing clear curricular communication is curriculum mapping. Meaningful, purposeful, and easily accessible curriculum maps are key to effective and clear communication across disciplines; and when embraced and competently implemented, result in deeper and more meaningful learning experiences for students.

Curriculum mapping promotes a significant transition into 21st-century solutions to age-old problems of articulation and instruction. It is a new form of communication relying on software and the web to foster immediate review by the individual teacher and by targeted clusters of K–12 teachers vertically and across grade levels and departments.[6]

For example, I have personally witnessed the advantages of the Atlas Curriculum Mapping software, produced by Rubicon.[7] Through intentional faculty PD in the use of Atlas over the course of several years, we experienced tremendous improvements. Not only improvements in curriculum quality on a school-wide level, but improved levels of faculty collaboration – as well as an increased level of trust in the academic program. Through the implementation of Atlas, our school moved from a wide, varied, and disconnected curricular program, to a meaningful, interconnected, and intentional program driven by our core values and standards – and able to produce data and evidence to support this new reality.

Clear communication can be a major challenge in guiding the development and improvement of the school’s curriculum, but it does not need to be. At the risk of sounding like a software commercial, with tools such as Atlas, through intentional PD and modeling, school leaders can meet the challenge of clear curricular communication better than ever before, and in that process gain higher levels of trust in their leadership and in the curriculum.

©2016 Toby A. Travis

[1] Willam F. Pinar, What Is Curriculum Theory? (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2012), 381-382, Kindle.

[2] Ibid., 11-14, Kindle.

[3] Colleen Garside, “Seeing the Forest Through the Trees: A Challenge Facing Communication Across the Curriculum Programs,” Communication Education 51, no. 1 (2002): 51.

[4] Allan Ornstein and Francis P. Hunkins, Curriculum: Pearson New International Edition: Foundations, Principles, and Issues,” (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2014), 5, Kindle.

[5]  Janet Hale and Richard F. Dunlap, Jr., An Educational Leader’s Guide to Curriculum Mapping: Creating and Sustaining Collaborative Cultures (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 2010), 203-205, Kindle.

[6]  Ibid., An Educational Leader’s Guide, xiii, Kindle.

[7] For more information visit Atlas Rubicon, accessed 23 August 2016, http://www.rubicon.com.

[8] “Atlas Curriculum Design,” Rubicon, accessed 20 June 2016, http://www.rubicon.com/AtlasCurriculumMapping_Capabilities.php.

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