Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes to us from Kelsey Glass, a post-secondary success facilitator at Goodwill Industries of Denver and a former Public Allies Fellow here at Eagle Rock.
Mention Goodwill Industries and most people think of the retail stores where you can purchase clothing, furniture, housewares, and other goods for bargain-basement prices.
And that’s an accurate portrayal. But what most people don’t realize is that Goodwill Industries of Denver uses the profits from its retail stores to fund multiple workforce development programs that impact more than 20,000 young people, adults, and differently abled people annually.
Goodwill Industries of Denver’s Youth Career Development Service (YCDS) tackles metro Denver, Colorado’s school dropout rate — among the highest in the nation — head on. We employ teachers who equip students with both job and life skills, introduce them to career options, help them prepare for post-secondary education, and connect them with mentors in the community.
With 40 teachers in 33 high-need middle and high schools in Denver Metro and Northern Colorado, the Youth Career Development Program makes a huge impact on our community. It serves 18,000 youngsters through classroom instruction, case management, group mentoring, mock interviews, job and life-skills coaching, career fairs, campus visits, guest speakers, and internship development.
Goodwill’s teachers facilitate a robust post-secondary and workforce-readiness curriculum through daily instruction in Grades 6 through 12. Our programs have increased the likelihood of graduation and improved the potential for career success over the past 17 years. Despite this success, we are committed to continuous organizational improvement to provide the highest-quality instruction to our students.
As part of that effort, we began to search for a new curriculum structure back in 2011 that would encourage depth of understanding for students, create a common language for staff, be a tool for more intentional planning, and encompassed educational best practices.
As a former Public Allies Fellow at Eagle Rock, I knew Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center (PDC) had an expert staff that could guide us in a curriculum restructuring process. However, we brought some unique challenges to the table.
For one thing, our teachers work full time at 33 schools within six school districts, which limits our opportunities to meet and learn as an entire staff. Another challenge is that many of our teaching staff members have never participated in a traditional teacher education program. Although these talented individuals bring a broad base of experience working with urban youth — street smarts —some of them come to Goodwill with little or no formal teacher training.
In January of 2012, we contacted Eagle Rock. As we shared our challenges and desired outcomes, Michael Soguero, the PDC’s director, steered us toward a two-pronged approach that would accomplish our goal of providing students with the best education and opportunities possible. First, it was suggested that we set a foundation for learning with curriculum redesign. Then we could focus time and energy on continual improvement of instructional strategies. This was the foundation for our relationship with the PDC.
Michael suggested Understanding by Design (UbD) as a new curriculum structure. This strengths-based approach was particularly appealing because we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. Instead, we wanted to utilize the foundation we had built over the years to form a more rigorous and intentional curriculum.
This opportunity sparked interest and excitement in many of our teachers. Ten of those instructors were so committed to learning from Eagle Rock that they volunteered to participate in a group called the Curriculum Task Force (CTF). This task force would lead this change internally.
During the summer of 2012, the CTF participated in intensive training with the PDC in both Estes Park and Denver, learning the ins and outs of UbD and how to apply it to our curriculum.
Our first retreat at Eagle Rock gave the CTF the opportunity to envision success. If we were successful, what would a student look like after participating in our classes? This collaborative experience not only engaged our staff in visioning, it produced goals that guided our UbD learning process that summer. The learning and engagement was so powerful that it continues to guide us a year and a half later as we start Year Two of our curriculum re-design process.
Eagle Rock not only offered valuable training and support for curriculum re-design, but has acted as a guide, resource, and sounding board as we grappled with how to effectively communicate and implement this change. Michael guided us in change management, helping implement UbD in manageable steps for our staff.
In addition to helping us re-design curriculum, Michael has also offered invaluable guidance on building our toolbox of instructional strategies. This past July, Michael and two other Eagle Rock School instructional specialists offered a full-day training to 20 of our teaching staff covering four specific and easily adoptable instructional strategies. Goodwill teachers learned strategies for deepening student motivation, engagement and learning. They walked away feeling better prepared to begin the 2013-2014 school year.
Our work with the Eagle Rock PDC in curriculum and instruction has been such a benefit to us that this summer the Curriculum Task Force took their new knowledge and skills to the entire Youth Career Development Program staff. Curriculum Task Force members trained their peers through a series of five curriculum modules on UbD basics and how to begin to use it to plan their classroom instruction. Despite early concerns about the training and the gradual adoption of UbD, we have seen increased motivation and satisfaction in our teachers. In fact, a teacher wrote this about the modules covering the new curriculum structure in an email recently:
“I just went through all the modules and I feel more confident about teaching. I feel like I have more tools to be an effective instructor with more sound, comprehensive and purposeful lesson planning ideas.”
When we tell our partner schools that we are adopting an UbD structure, we increase our credibility and align ourselves with what many districts are adopting as best practice. Also as a result of our work with the PDC and embracing its recommendations, The Youth Career Development Program has created a curriculum specialist position that will continue to lead the adoption of UbD, working closely with staff members to assist them in their use of the new structure and supporting them with instructional coaching.