This fall, Great Minds® is expanding the Wit & Wisdom® Coaching Series with a new offering: Teaching with a Focus on Urgency. In this post, implementation leader Kelly Cardona describes how the series helped her team navigate a new curriculum and strengthen implementation.
During my time as an instructional coach and literacy coordinator, our district adopted and began implementing Wit & Wisdom. Transitioning to a new curriculum can be challenging. While the teachers I worked with had expertise they could leverage as they began teaching Wit & Wisdom, they struggled to find their footing, especially with Wit & Wisdom’s integrated approach to instruction.
Teachers were accustomed to teaching isolated skills and assessing students’ mastery toward a standard within each lesson. Since Wit & Wisdom lessons teach reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language simultaneously, teachers who were used to focusing on one skill or standard each day found it challenging to identify each lesson’s purpose and to focus instruction on these goals. As a result, many teachers tried modifying Wit & Wisdom lessons to align with their usual way of doing things. I noticed that, without a focus on the lesson’s stated learning goals, teachers struggled to effectively pace their lessons, so student engagement waned.
To better support teachers in finding success and joy with this instructional shift, we began the Teaching with a Focus on Urgency coaching series (view the agenda for an overview). Throughout the series, educators explored how to lead more engaging instruction by focusing on learning goals and pacing lessons accordingly.
Now, as a Great Minds implementation leader partnering with other schools and districts, I recognize how common my district’s early implementation experience is. I want to highlight the value of the coaching series for all schools and districts implementing Wit & Wisdom by sharing two aha moments from my experience.
Aha Moments from the Coaching Series
Transitioning from isolated skills instruction to an integrated approach requires a shift in preparation. Since the teachers I worked with used skills-based instruction, many prepared for Module 1 by cutting instruction found in the Module Overview that did not seem skills-based or by supplementing Wit & Wisdom with additional skills practice. Consequently, the daily lessons I observed did not always match the learning goals in the Teacher Edition.
Through the collaborative processes in the Teaching with a Focus on Urgency series, teachers discovered the powerful backward design of each Wit & Wisdom module. They realized how the preparation protocols made this intentional design clearer. The Module and Focusing Question Arc Study Protocols helped teachers note how knowledge and skills develop over the course of a module rather than in single lessons.
By the end of the series, teachers and coaches could use the preparation protocols to preview the development of knowledge and skills, identify daily learning goals, and create what/why T-Charts that clarify how each section of a lesson helps students achieve these goals. Once teachers better understood each lesson activity’s purpose, I noticed that they more effectively communicated this purpose with students. Students then engaged more because they understood what they were learning and why.
Students need support with mentally transitioning between lesson sections. Early in our implementation journey, I observed my colleagues lingering in the lesson sections that excited students most. Some teachers felt like students succeeded during engaging discussions, so these teachers hesitated to implement new routines or move into parts of the lesson that require students to productively struggle. Such choices affected pacing, often causing teachers to struggle to complete a lesson.
The Teaching with a Focus on Urgency series helped our team identify how to best support students as they mentally transition between each lesson section. During the series, we discussed how visuals such as focus walls and daily agendas could help teachers and students move through a lesson. Focus walls displaying the Essential, Focusing, Content Framing, and Craft Questions help students and teachers make connections between what they’ve already learned and what’s coming up.
During observations, I noticed that one teacher kept an agenda on the whiteboard. In the final session of the coaching series, we discussed how clearly and purposefully this teacher explained the connection between activities and facilitated students' transitions between tasks. After we discussed this successful approach, other teachers could implement the strategy as well. We continued to identify what individual teachers did well and amplified the impact of these approaches by sharing them with the team.
Perhaps your school or district faces challenges like the ones I described, or maybe you have encountered different hurdles in your implementation. The Teaching with a Focus on Urgency coaching series is responsive to observations at your school site—your aha moments will depend on what your team experiences through the sessions.
While the coaching series supported our team’s transition to a new curriculum, teams further along in their implementation journeys can also benefit from coaching. Great Minds also offers a series as a part of the Wit & Wisdom Coaching Series that focuses on fostering productive struggle. Whether your school or district has used Wit & Wisdom for one year or five, both coaching series can strengthen implementation and deepen your team’s understanding of the curriculum.
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Kelly Cardona is an implementation leader for Great Minds. In this role, she supports districts and schools in successfully implementing Wit & Wisdom through job-embedded leadership consulting. Before working at Great Minds, Kelly spent 19 years as an elementary and middle school educator in New York City and an instructional coach and district literacy coordinator in Virginia. Kelly holds a reading certification, a master's degree in teaching from Fordham University, and a master's degree in K–12 leadership from the College of William & Mary.