Explorations in Instructional Leadership: Scope and Sequence

A scope and sequence document in education outlines the content to be taught and an approximate timeline for learning. A document like this typically includes the standards to be addressed and key outcomes. Throughout my educational career I have worked in places where we were expected to use and follow a scope and sequence with no deviation, with everyone on the same page on the same day. I have also worked in places where we had to develop our own scope and sequence with no guidance or expectations or resources provided. In fact, for the majority of my teaching career I had no access to teachers’ edition textbooks and had nothing but the state standards and my professional learning to guide my planning. I have been a leader in systems across this continuum as well.

There are pros and cons to all of these systems. When there is no scope and sequence in place teachers have autonomy to do what they feel is right for their students. You often see great enthusiasm, passion, and creativity come out. You may also see widely different results in terms of student learning. You may see less professional collaboration. You could walk into three classrooms of the same grade level in the same school and see significantly different examples of student learning. Teams in these situations often struggle to have a true Professional Learning Community (PLC) as they are not working towards common outcomes.

When there is a scope and sequence and everyone is following it, a system can measure student learning by shared outcomes. A child’s success is less likely to depend on the interests of the teacher and more likely to align to the grade level expectations. A well designed scope and sequence can lead to common assessments, a targeted approach to instruction, and quick support for students who might struggle. All of these structures can build a stronger Tier 1 system of instruction, lessening the need for interventions and services at higher levels.

I entered a system with no scope and sequences in any content area and wide variations in teaching and learning, with teachers proud of their autonomy and freedom. Incredible things are happening in some classrooms, but a system made up of pockets of excellence is not cohesive and not equitable. We are not serving all students. Over the last year and half we have implemented a robust Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) which has led to teachers recognizing that more coherence would help serve all students better. We have hit a tipping point in our system where teachers are identifying the challenges of not having a scope and sequence and are now seeking out resources and structures that will provide greater support for all students and more opportunities for collaboration. It is so powerful to have a grass-roots movement building because the end product will be designed by and for teachers, with ownership and understanding built in the development process. I can’t wait to see where this work takes us!

This post is part of a series called Explorations in Instructional Leadership. I plan to use this series to dive into some of the topics that are rising to the surface in my work, topics that I am researching for future study, and topics that impact student learning and pedagogy.

Introduction to Explorations in Instructional Leadership

The Science of Reading

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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