By Patricia Wright
Editor’s note: The Connected Action Roadmap (CAR) has been endorsed by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) and the Partnership for Collaborative Professional Learninging, which consists of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association/Foundation for Educational Administration (NJPSA/FEA), the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA), Learning Forward NJ, the NJASCD, the Educational Information and Resource Center (ERIC), the New Jersey Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and NJEA. CAR has been implemented in several schools and districts in New Jersey that have been participating in a four-year pilot.
The Connected Action Roadmap (CAR) framework represents a systemic approach to building the capacity of educators by developing professional learning community (PLC) teams that are focused on curriculum, instruction and assessment. It puts the ownership for instructional decisions back where it belongs—in the hands of the educators who teach our students.
CAR uses an easy-to-remember and easy-to-follow metaphor of a journey. Student learning as the destination, a collaboratively developed, viable curriculum as the map, PLCs as the vehicle, assessments as the guideposts, teacher/principal effectiveness as the drivers and climate and culture as the terrain.
CAR is not a program. It is a process for building the key components of effective schools. The process will look different in every school and every district depending on decisions made at the local level.
CAR is not a step-by-step process that says if you just do “this,” you will see student improvement. We have been sold that bill of goods throughout our careers, and it has resulted in an unproductive trend to outsource our professional practice. CAR represents the structures and processes needed to improve schools from within. It is an opportunity for schools to shift from a focus on compliance to a focus on practice and to set the foundation for a strong system of curriculum, instruction and assessment.
We hope we can send educators a different message—not about reform but refocus—a refocus on the practice of education.
Let’s use the analogy of a journey to understand the CAR vision.
Every school starts from a different location; however, every school is focused on the same destination: student learning. The CAR framework uses a set of guiding questions to establish a schoolwide focus on student learning:
If we are to reach our destination, we need a vehicle to get us there. That vehicle is the PLC. It is the job of collaborative teams to answer guiding questions. The CAR framework outlines 10 conversations that PLC teams must have to provide the most effective answers to the guiding questions. (See PLC Conversations list below.)
A map or GPS
The next tool required for the journey is a map or GPS. The answers to the guiding questions make up the curriculum map. This map must include the standards, the agreed-upon specific student learning objectives unpacked from those standards, and the effective instructional plan that will ensure that all students reach the destination by mastering those objectives. Curriculum must be directly related to daily lessons in order to truly drive instructional decisions. This must mean more than just simply putting the standard number on lesson plans and calling it alignment. True alignment comes through PLC discussions regarding the connection between standards, student learning objectives, instruction and assessment.
Even if we have a viable map, we also need some guideposts along the way like the gas station on the right or the shopping mall on the left. Common formative and summative assessments are educators’ guideposts. They allow us to determine daily if students are getting closer to the destination or if they have veered off in the wrong direction. The elements represented by the circles inside the framework (see illustration) represent the practice of education—PLC teams collaboratively use guiding questions to develop, implement, reflect on and revise curriculum based on student data.
In the illustration, notice the perimeter of the framework—the terrain on which each school travels—the culture of the school. The culture is made up of three components: the climate, the degree of shared leadership and the effective communication of connections. A school’s culture can be the greatest asset or the greatest barrier to the collaborative process of enhancing teacher practice and student learning.
Finally, the knowledge, skills and abilities of teachers and principals are drivers on this journey. The more educators engage in conversations related to curriculum, instruction and assessment, the more effective they become. The more effective they become, the more effective the collaborative process becomes, creating a true cycle of continuous school improvement. Evaluation systems will only be effective in improving learning if both teachers and administrators are engaged in meaningful, ongoing and focused conversations about their practice and student learning.
CAR puts the ownership for instructional decisions back where it belongs—in the hands of the educators who teach our students.
Earlier this year, talented teams of educators from across the state worked with the NJDOE Office of Standards and Assessment to unpack the English language arts (ELA) and math standards into clear specific learning goals and place them into suggested units of study—the first two conversations of the CAR process.
These units are available on the NJDOE website, nj.gov/education. Districts can now have teams of teachers build out the units of study by engaging in the rest of the CAR conversations, which are focused on implementing, reflecting on, and revising the curriculum.
Why unpack the standards into clear student learning objectives? What are the potential outcomes of shared student learning objectives and shared units of study?
The DOE Instructional Units will not be mandated. This is not an effort in compliance. This is a joint effort to create systemwide change and enhance the potential of every educator in the state to support every student in the state in reaching their greatest potential.
The CAR framework uses a set of guiding questions, listed in this article, to establish a schoolwide focus on student learning. The CAR framework outlines 10 conversations that PLC teams must have to provide the most effective answers to the guiding questions. They are:
In closing, I want to thank the DOE and the educational organizations in New Jersey for believing in this vision and for coming together to model collaboration on behalf of our students.
We hope we can send educators a different message—not about reform but refocus—a refocus on the practice of education. Our message is one of process and practice, not programs and compliance. It is my hope that we can continue to work together and to support educators who want to explore the possibilities the CAR vision can have for their own schools and districts.
Patricia Wright is the executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. She has been a teacher, reading specialist, assistant principal, principal and superintendent. She also served as the chair of the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force and co-authored the New Jersey Bar Foundation’s Anti-Bullying Curriculum. She is the developer of the Connected Action Roadmap (CAR) which she writes about here. A recipient of the Dr. Ernest L. Boyer Outstanding Educator Award by the New Jersey Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (NJASCD) in 2018, Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.