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Written for the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators’ newsletter, November, 2013

I have a bookshelf filled with maps, some of where I’ve been and some of where I want to go.  Sometimes I’ll trace an imaginary path on a map trying to visualize the contour of the land or the view above treeline.   Later, when I travel the actual trail, I’m always astonished by the beauty, realizing my imagination didn’t come close to seeing the magnitude of the place.

Santa Fe Baldy and Lake Katherine

Santa Fe Baldy and Lake Katherine

On a second trip to Santa Fe Baldy in New Mexico a fellow principal and I looked at our map and saw a small mountain lake located just a couple of miles over a ridge from where we were camped.  We decided to explore Lake Katherine the next day.  What we found was a pristine snowmelt lake bordered by spruce forests and steep snow-covered rockslides.  I carry memories of that beauty in my mind to this day.

Lake Katherine

Lake Katherine

Without our map we would have missed what became a highlight of our trip.  Having a map opens new possibilities.  If you can orient yourself and determine where you are, a map can help you find your way to some pretty neat places.

I recently visited our third grade classes over several days.  I knew from their curriculum map that they were representing data so I had a preconceived idea of what I would see.  The reality of the learning and engagement blew me away.  Students were excited about the data they’d collected.  They worked in teams, determining how best to represent their data to the rest of the class.  Some used line plots or bar graphs while others chose to show their data with pictographs. The teachers provided sentence stems so students could practice using carefully crafted language to express their findings verbally to their classmates.

What I saw in those classrooms was evidence of teacher collaboration around a shared curriculum that had been developed from Common Core State Standards.  I heard similar language and saw similar (not cookie cutter) approaches to teaching.  Teachers were using formative assessment and curriculum maps to determine where students were and how to move forward.  Best of all, students knew their locations and were excited about their future direction.

As educators we sometimes hear comments about how limiting required standards and curriculum maps are as if they stifle our creativity.  These are not lockstep scripts for teachers to follow but outlines of instructional direction which expert teachers can use to “stay found” on a path of learning.  Far from limiting our adventures in learning, deep knowledge of the curriculum opens possible side trails that might lead to significant learning for students based on their interests and skills.  A good map gives us the confidence to explore levels of learning we might otherwise miss.

Enjoy your learning journey.  Remember to pack your map. 

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