One means of ensuring that improvements in curriculum, instruction, and assessment (CIA) are driven by the school’s mission, vision, and values, is for school leaders to answer questions such as:
- What are the primary objectives of the school’s existence?
- What are the desired characteristics of our graduates?
- How does our school distinguish itself uniquely from others?
By clearly identifying the school’s focus and purpose, leaders can then address the design, development, and/or improvement of its CIA practices. School leaders need to know where they are going and involve themselves in the establishment of CIA programs and practices that support unified school-wide priorities and goals.
By clearly identifying the characteristics of what the school hopes to see realized in their graduates, school leaders can lead a process of universal design in their curriculum. They begin by clarifying the knowledge, skills, and competencies expected of their graduates, and then utilize a backward design approach to the development of CIA.
By clearly identifying how the school distinguishes itself from other schools, school leaders assist their teams in articulating the school’s unique selling proposition (USP). Every trusted business or product has a distinct USP. Here are a few very famous examples:
- Avis: We are number two, we try harder.
- FedEx: When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.
- M&Ms: The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hand.
- Domino’s Pizza: You get fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less or it’s free.
For schools, this work needs to be born out within the CIA philosophy of the school. For example, if a school’s USP is “connecting learning to real life,” then that branding needs to be integrated into as much of the CIA as possible; determining the teaching objectives and standards, shaping the instructional methods, and ensuring assessments are connected to skills and knowledge attached to life examples. Otherwise, the USP is not authentic and will work to decrease trust levels. Schools must be genuine in the pursuit of their mission and vision. Here are a few examples of excellent USPs for schools:
- Orange County Public Schools: Leading students to success.
- Sarasota Learning Cottage: Where love & learning meet.
- San Antonio Christian School: Boldly Christian. Undeniably Academic.
- Blake School: Leaders are made, not born.
- Chadwick International School: Think. Do. Lead.
- The Raleigh School: Designed with your child in mind.
Note that each of the USPs above address a perceived need of the families they wish to attract. Parents want their children to succeed, to love learning, to be bold in their faith and yet academically challenged, to become a leader, to be a thinker and a doer, to learn in an environment that recognizes their unique learning style and differences. Also, note that all of these USPs are short, easy to memorize, and foster a positive emotion (e.g., success, love, boldness, compassion).
School leaders must ensure that their school’s USP is authentically supported throughout CIA practices. When schools are able to clearly articulate their USP and authentically support the fulfillment of their proposition, then they are trusted to a greater degree. Schools that are unable to deliver on their USP will struggle to secure a high level of trust and should immediately develop a USP that reflects what the school can genuinely provide.
©Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.