Sharing ideas on Education, Leadership and Life

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Differentiating for our Teachers/Goals vs. Curriculum

There has been a lot of talk on Twitter lately about assessing schools and coming up with goals for our schools. I had one of those eye opening experiences yesterday at a faculty meeting. (Note: This is not to be understood in a negative way but the same way we have to differentiate for our students we have to differentiate for our teachers and I misread or misjudged their readiness) As a school we have defined two areas of growth; one being technology and the other incorporating more 21st Century skills. To that end each of our classroom is equipped with a projector some had Smart boards and others have the Smart software but use a Smart slate. Using Hebrew with the Smart software is a bit tricky and at our faculty meeting I showed my teachers a Web site that has created Judaic Smart lesson plans in Hebrew ( there aren’t a lot but where we don’t have to recreate the wheel why should we) My presentation was followed by a discussion. The discussion had two themes:
1. Technology doesn’t fit in with the Hebrew Language curriculum we use. (We use a Hebrew immersion program which has a certain style and uses a unique approach. Also they have no Smart software available)
2. The focus needs to be the learning not the Technology.
It was clear to me two things from this conversation. That my teachers don’t know the vast benefits that using technology can have on student interest, engagement, and ultimately learning, and that there is some confusion about between curriculum and goals.
The first point is going to take time and practice on their part to become more comfortable with technology and to see the benefits of it. I did point out some immediate benefits but as an educational leader it is something that I will be working on with them during the course of the year.
To me the second point was more telling that to some they saw the curriculum as the be all and end all. To help deal with this problem I sent out the following email:

Dear Faculty,

At yesterday’s faculty meeting we spoke about the importance of using technology. The discussion that followed was about using technology given the Tal Am curriculum (Hebrew Language curriculum) and shouldn’t the goal be learning. Yes the goal should absolutely be learning and at the bottom of this email I have copied something a posted on my blog about that very point.
However what became clear to me is that we don’t have clear goals about what we want from our students. I know we are working on benchmarks but I think this discussion is just as important if not more important.
The goal we have for ourselves and our students Cannot be to teach the Tal Am Curriculum. Curriculum is a means to an end. For example if we want our students to be lifelong learners and be able to read and understand the Tannach (Bible) and mifarshim (commentaries on the Bible) in the original text, then we accomplish that by having an Ivrit (Hebrew) curriculum. If preparing our students for the skills they need for life means using technology than the same way we use to Tal Am to accomplish one goal we use technology to accomplish another goal.
Here is a quote about curriculum: More important than the curriculum is the question of the methods of teaching and the spirit in which the teaching is given”- Bertrand Russell

I believe what Russell is saying is that more important than the curriculum is how we are teaching and what methods we are using to convey the material to the students.

What should our goals be and what drives that decision. The answer to that is our mission statement. The mission statement is something we need to use as a guide to school policies and what drives the decisions we make in the classroom. I will be sending you a Google Doc. with the mission statement and what I my goals are for our students based on the statement. I have bolded what I think are the key phrases in the statement. I would ask that over the next few weeks you add what you think should be our goals for our students based on the mission statement. I would like this to be the focus of our faculty meeting on October 19th.
As a reminder I would like your personal goals for the year after sukkot (Jewish Holiday).

Here is the piece about Technology

Technology A Means but Not an End
Today our in-service was devoted to learning about incorporating more technology into the classroom. We learned about using Jing, Voxi, Kerpoof, Google squared, as well as using Smart software in our classrooms more effectively.
The in-service as a whole was very informative and productive. Technology is very important in a 21st Century classroom. Technology helps with having the students more engaged and active participants in the learning process. Technology also allows us to make learning more relevant and tap into student interest.
My fear or concern is that certain teachers may see this as not only a means but an end.
What do I mean?
I have been in classrooms where the teachers use the Smart board and Smart board software as well as other technological tools in their classrooms but they still use assessments that test only memory as opposed to critical thinking skills. Or they use the technology but don't differentiate in other areas.
My previous post spoke about what makes a great teacher, in all the different answers that the faculty gave no one said that "using technology" is a quality needed to be a great teacher.
Rather technology is a means. Technology allows you to connect with your students, which is a quality of a great teacher. Technology allows you to differentiate to meet student needs, which again is a quality of a great teacher. Technology shows a willingness on the part of the teacher to grow as an educator, again a quality of a great teacher.
Therefore with all this talk about technology we need to remember that it is only a means to improving education but not an end. The focus must always be on the learning

Gmar Tov

P.S. I thought this was just a nice quote
If a child can't learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

Ignacio Estrada quotes

End of email

This taught me two very important lessons:
1. We need to differentiate for our teachers just like we differentiate for our students
2. I wonder how many other teachers confuse curriculum with goals. I think we as administrators need to make clear to all our teachers that we need to be teaching,and our students need to learning the skills that we fell are important and meeting the goals that we as a school have established for our students. We accomplish that by using our curriculum but in no way should finishing a booklet as part of a curriculum or finishing a math unit be the goals we want for our students.



  1. Hi. I teach at a Jewish Day School in Jacksonville, Florida. We also use the Tal Am curriculum :-)
    We are also embracing 21st century learning in many amazing ways, in both general studies and Jewish studies classes. I invite you and your teachers to take a look at our school website and classroom blogs at
    On the right-hand sidebar you will see our head of school's blog (he is a new blogger and also a new tweeter), as well as the 21st century learning blog. Below that are links to classroom blogs. For most of our teachers, blogging is a very new adventure.
    I'm so glad to find your blog and to be able to learn from you. G'mar Tov.

  2. Andrea,
    Thank you for your kind words and the follow.
    Can you share with me some specific examples of how the teachers are using Smart boards and technology with the Tal Am curriculum. You can email me directly at

    G'Mar Tov