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Curriculum & Instruction: A 30,000 Foot View

Professional Growth

It’s so important to understand the people you serve. Any good boss knows the needs of his employees. An excellent coach knows what motivates her team members. Teachers know what gifts and needs their students bring to the classroom. But it can also be helpful to hear about the experiences of counterparts — those who hold the same position you do — in other districts.

Does anyone else struggle to find time to visit all the classrooms I need to?

Am I the only one who’s out of my depth when it comes to such-and-such a pedagogical practice?

Does ANYONE else have the same kinds of staffing and turnover issues that I do?

A few months ago, we asked several hundred people who work in school districts in Curriculum & Instruction to tell us about their work so we can better serve the front line of education. Here are some of our key findings.

A background in education

No surprise, the vast majority of those working in C&I came from other roles in education. Yet just how many was striking… 95% of those who responded had prior experience in K12.

Where did you work prior to your current role?

“Describe a typical work day.”

What is a typical work day? The short answer is, “It doesn’t exist.” That falls right in line with others who work in schools: teachers have their hands full with countless varied tasks; the same is true for principals, special educators and so many others. Respondents described everything from working with technology to school improvement plans to grant writing to taking on lunch and bus duty to working directly with students and their parents to our favorite, “Learning.”

The questions were open-ended, so this data simply provides a general snapshot — just because someone didn’t specifically call out “curriculum work” doesn’t mean it’s not part of their day, of course. This word cloud sheds light on the top themes of what people said they spend their days doing. Far and away the most commonly mentioned items were coaching teachers/providing instructional support, and planning/providing professional development.

Word Cloud showing Curriculum & Instruction Directors Typical Day

“What do you love most about your work?”

It’s clear that at the end of the day, C&I is all about people: teachers, students, teammates and staff. 46% of those who responded said what they love most is supporting teachers.

“What do you love most about your work?”

Responses add up to greater than 100% because respondents could choose more than one option.

“I love learning and helping other people grow and realize their “ah-ha” moments in building student success — our students are our future. Supporting teachers in this work is an important endeavor.”

“Working with teachers to improve instruction (coaching, collaboration, professional learning, facilitating opportunities for growth).”

“Partnering with learners of all ages! I love pouring into the educators and supporting the amazing work that they do! It is an honor to have the opportunity to work in so many different classrooms across our district. I also love when our educators lean in to their continuous learning through our PLM and through in-person professional development sessions. I am inspired by my work with such dedicated professionals!”

Nearly as many mentioned supporting students:

“I love working with students and seeing them “beam” when they finally grasp a concept that was hard for them. I also enjoy the work I do linking students with books.”

“Students! When they succeed, we succeed. I love talking to them, I love helping them learn, I love watching them graduate and go out in the world. When I am able to still interact with them, I know what I do in the rest of my job is important and it keeps me going.”

“I love being able to expose students to new topics and fields where the beauty of math is apparent and on full display.”

And being able to observe growth — in students or in teachers — is a huge motivator:

“When teachers start to see their work changing from ‘one more thing’ to doing ‘this new thing in place of’ something less meaningful. When light bulbs come on for students and teachers around their work.”

“I get to see teachers and students work very hard, solving problems in innovative ways. When they succeed, they are really proud because they know they accomplished something great. This in turn spurs them on to do more great work. This is what I love — fueling curiosity and excitement for learning.”

“When I get to work with teachers that want to grow and them being able to identify their success. See their eyes light up, voice of excitement and tears in their eyes. When you can walk thru a campus and in 96% of the classes you tell yourself, ‘I would put my kid in that room.’ When you see a campus bloom and grow that others did not see the potential.”

And for you eagle-eyes who are wondering about the “Working with People” category, these are the responses from people who said they love working with their team members, administration, parents, or just “people.”

Honorable mentions for the “What do you love most about your work?” category include:

  • The variety of the job
  • Developing and planning professional development
  • Supporting administrators
  • Learning
  • Teaching

“What are your greatest frustrations and/or challenges in your work?”

Of course, every job has those I-could-just-pull-my-hair-out moments. And to be fair, there’s a difference between what is frustrating and what is challenging. With that said, there were some clear trends.

“What are your greatest frustrations and/or challenges?”

Hover to view all categories. Responses add up to greater than 100% because respondents could choose more than one option.

This will come as no surprise: nearly 1/4 of those who answered said that a lack of time is their greatest challenge:

“Greatest challenge is not being able to focus on what matters most…which is connecting the curriculum to engaging lessons that technology can make more engaging for students. Also supporting teachers/staff in this effort. The more time spent on frivolous things, the less on what matters most.”

“It is challenging to provide the PD in the moment and still be thinking ahead of what our needs are and will be down the road, 2, 3, or 5 years from now. I’m trying to stay current in my own understanding while still having to find time to instruct my staff.”

“TIME! Lots of great things to do, not enough time. Curriculum needs are so great, and not being addressed.”

Staff members who aren’t engaged or haven’t bought in came in at #2:

“Staff taking responsibility for their own professional learning and improvement.”

“Getting teachers to buy into coaching.”

“People not following through; lack of ownership.”

And of course, while supporting instruction is one of the primary reasons those in C&I get up in the morning, it can be its own source of challenges as well.

“Implementation with fidelity of current practices. Having purposeful instructional strategies taking place in the classroom.”

“I love my job; however, it requires patience and multiple means to help some educators embrace the research and science that currently supports best practices. It requires teaching people to interpret the appropriate data, to understand the ‘why’ behind change, and the identification of the research-supported strategies and resources that support individuals in developing the knowledge and the practices that meet the individual needs of each student.”

“Differentiating support for the needs of a wide variety of instructional staff in order to streamline improvement and make it effective.”

“What do you wish you knew more about to help you in your role?”

It’s a learning-focused role, so we weren’t surprised at the incredibly wide range of areas and topics that C&I staff members are looking to learn more about. Yet some themes appeared more frequently than others. Here are the top ten:

  1. Coaching teachers
  2. Technology
  3. Motivating staff
  4. Time/efficiency
  5. Identifying available resources
  6. Pedagogy & instructional strategy
  7. Professional development
  8. “Everything.”
  9. Funding/budgeting
  10. Curriculum

Responses from the “Coaching Teachers” category:

“I need to continue to refine my listening and questioning skills. it’s not my job to ‘fix’ things, just push teachers to reflect and refine their practices.”

“How to help teachers effectively assess what students know and understand.”

“A greater list of “look fors” when observing a classroom. Also, a quick checklist that can be used post pop-in observation.”

“How to be an effective coach. I have never had formal training in how to coach teachers.”

“Best models for teachers on a temporary certificate. Ways to best support teachers who are stepping foot into a classroom for the very first time and have no educational experience.”

And some that fall under “Technology”:

“I wish that I were better schooled in technology. I was too old to get a lot in college and got none in high school. So I have had to learn skills on the fly. I would love to have more confidence with technology.”

“Technology’s role in increasing my own efficiency.”

“How to best utilize software (or to even program so I could make the things I imagine).”

And lastly, of those who said they want to learn more about managing time and being more efficient, here is my all-time favorite response:

“How to alter time and space to help me spend more time in classrooms.”

If you work in C&I, perhaps you can identify with much of what others have said above. Hopefully it provides a sense that you’re not alone in this important work. As you face the daily challenges and joys of providing instructional support, don’t forget to check out Frontline’s Resource Center, full of helpful content for school and district leaders of all kinds. And for in-depth stories from others who work in C&I (as well as other roles like HR, superintendents, principals and more), be sure to give Field Trip, our podcast, a listen on your next ride home.

An enormous “Thank you!” to everyone who took time from (very busy) schedules to answer these questions. As a parent with kids in school myself, it’s inspiring to hear from educators who so clearly pour themselves not only into students, but into the teachers who spend time with our children every day.

Ryan Estes

Ryan is managing editor for the global award-winning creative team at Frontline Education. He spends his time writing, podcasting, and creating content for leaders in K-12 education.