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125. PRACTICE: 6 Tips for Your Unit Planning Protocol

by Lindsay Lyons
July 25th 2023
In today's solo episode, Lindsay is reflecting on the Unit Dreaming series and sharing a practice with 6 tips for your... More
I'm educational justice coach Lindsay Lyons. And here on the time for Teacher podcast, we learn how to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice design curricula grounded in student voice and build capacity for shared leadership. I'm a former teacher leader turned instructional coach. I'm striving to live a life full of learning, running, baking, traveling and parenting because we can be rockstar educators and be full human beings. If you're a principal, assistant superintendent, curriculum director, instructional coach or teacher who enjoys nerdy out about co creating curriculum with students. I made this show for you. Here we go in this episode of the time for teacher to podcast. I am actually reflecting on the unit dreaming series that we just had. So if you haven't listened to any of the episodes, go back and listen to one, you can definitely listen to this one first. That's fine. But I think this is going to be really helpful in if you haven't listened to them thinking about uncovering as you listen, what are the patterns that you see across guests? What are the aha moments as they dream up a unit?

What are the implications for my unit design protocol that I share with my team or my staff. If you listened to them previously, I want you to listen this episode thinking about the importance of reflection. And I'm kind of curating the responses from the last couple of minutes of each of the six episodes. And what the guests are really telling me was helpful for them so that I can refine my unit planning protocol. So let's get into it. In this episode. I am sharing six big kind of learnings from the guests of the unit dreaming series this summer. So we had six guests, we dreamed up six units together. And now I want to go back into the final minutes of those episodes and really think about what they offered me as a reflection in terms of how it felt to engage in the process. So thinking about this unit planning protocol, what worked, what didn't, what did we change? What do we emphasize more of and and kind of what are the big aha as we're going through it? Where do we spend more time in terms of actually implementing this protocol coaching using this protocol? So let's get right to it. The first tip is to really spend time clarifying the driving question and let it focus you if you do not get this right.

And I had a feeling going into this series that this was helpful just for my own work, but it it was just really solidified in not one not to like several guests really having this moment of aha and even even guests, I, I'm thinking of um one episode two where we didn't quite land on it. We, we were kind of like still brainstorming almost driving question or unit ideas as we were leaving the episode. But I think the conversation was really valuable because it really emphasized like we, we missed kind of like this key step at the, at the beginning. That's a different tip, but we missed this key step and therefore didn't lean on a driving question and therefore everything else was a struggle. Whereas in some like episode 1 18, Debbie Tanen mom talks about the driving question. She had this moment of like, I really thought I had a paraphrasing here, but she was kind of like, I really thought we were doing absolutely nothing. And I was like, why did I get on your tube and my day off? And now we've landed on it and it feels like really good, like, wow, we got there and that is the moment that you want where it clicks with the teacher. And they're like, yes, this is why I'm doing this, right?

So you might spin your wheels for a while. But as long as you're spinning in a productive direction, we're asking, we're finding questions. But OK, that doesn't feel right or you're not kind of like lighting up at that driving question. What more like, what is it about the question that's really not clicking with you? Like what would get it to that? Aha. Yes, I can't wait to do this unit with my students, right? To, to ask them to, to grapple with this question day one. So I think that is really helpful and then the other piece of this, right? The, the let it focus you piece in episode 1 21 Trey Gamage actually talked about the value of framing adult professional development as a curriculum. And talking about how often we think about PD. And I would argue that sometimes we think about lessons with K 12 students or even college students as well as one off lessons. So we don't curricular to use the term he used in the episode, curricular them. And so as a result, we don't have a depth of focus. We don't have a sustained focus throughout the year, throughout a semester, whatever duration it lasts or even if we do think of a unit, it's so short sometimes that we don't get the depth that we need to really have the deep learning experience.

We don't ask students to take what they learn and apply it to solve a problem or something, right? We don't have that depth. And so thinking about that from the lens of a PD provider, talking to leaders implementing PD with their staff, he was saying, you know, this idea of focus as a stay focused throughout the year thinking about PD as curricula. Right. That's really helpful because once we establish that driving question, the unit focus, right. We get all the things down. Now we are committed. So we're looking at our PD calendar for the rest of the year or as a teacher, we're looking at, you know, the schedule for the next three months or something. And we're saying this is where we're going, we're going deep, we're going to make sure there's a lot of student voice or teacher voice in the case of staff PD. And it will focus every other decision we make about what we're doing, not only from a planning lens but in the moment. Ok. Well, what is the best choice that enables us to answer that DQ? Right. So this is one of the biggest lessons that I have learned in all of my coaching work, including the series. We need to spend enough time to get to the aha moment for the DQ. Everything else will fall into place. Much faster, much easier, much smoother when we get there.

If we get it wrong, it's going to be a lot more work doing all the other pieces. Ok. Let's move to unit planning tip number two, invest in a reusable unit arc. I've said this before, but I I think this also was another piece of it. It deepening. So by the end of episode 1 22 Phil Gezi who talked about his um thermal chem unit said he felt like he had a solid skeleton is the term he used to be able to reuse in different units so that he could incorporate the justice base and, and really human. He was talking about like the human connection elements, the sense of belonging, um positive psychology, all the things that were not necessarily content related, they weren't teaching the standards, they weren't gonna be on the state test or whatever, you know, but they were like the human pieces that he really wanted to always see in his curriculum and just didn't know how that could even fit in. And so when he thought about the unit arc in a way of we are identifying a problem and we'll talk about this in a, in an upcoming tip too. This is a great insight from him. But if we're thinking about it as we identify a problem and then we're using the rest of the unit to learn about the content to then use the content and skills that are all testable and all the things that traditional teaching is focused on, then we can return to that driving question so that students use it to apply to a problem to solve or address a problem that felt much more aligned, connected important to him.

Um And, and I think that emphasis on him saying, you know, that, that skeleton that I can reuse in different units is exactly what we want because this is a huge lift to develop a new curriculum. And so anything we could do to streamline the process to make it a little bit easier to make it more familiar to students, like, OK, we're gonna be presented with a problem at the start of a unit. I'm going to learn with that motivator in mind that I wanna learn enough to solve that problem or address that problem in a meaningful way to impact my community. OK? Now we're gonna come back to, I'm going to have a chance to use my voice to use um to really step into my leadership role, right? I think that's, that's really cool. And, and actually Debbie too, um like the simplicity of the unit a outline, I had been using the template that I've shared before with you all on the podcast uh of focus protocol resource. It's kind of like three columns and you answer one kind of note in each column for each lesson. So it's really streamlined and she really liked the streamlined piece. I think I'll keep that. But one of the things I've been using, I talked about this on one episode where I talked about Desi's um investigating history curriculum in the state of Massachusetts.

I've been using for them very specifically uh GPS as the acronym and I think acronyms can be great. So we just remember them a little bit easier and our GPS system navigates us. So I think it works for instead of focus protocol resource, green light protocol source. So the investigating history curriculum desi and um there are folks there had had really thought about and talked to the pilot teachers for this curriculum using the term green light to indicate the focus content. So again, I used to use focus. Now I use green light because that's the content or kind of when the light goes on that you're kind of saying, OK, the students have enough now they are ready to move on to the next thing. The next lesson, the next content, understanding whatever it is the application phase like the green light is is go they're ready. And so until we get to the green light, we're kind of sticking with that piece that focus. Um And so this focus, you know, could extend to multiple uh lessons, but I would kind of dive down and find my niche like this is a sub focus of this larger focus area, for example, during the build the base phase of unit Ark. So green light, that's your content focus protocol that stays the same, right?

That's that's the activity you're doing that is often centering student voices, students are talking or grappling for 75% of the time. And then the source which I adapted from resource just because the invest in history curriculum is a not, you know, it's really a nod to the emphasis on source analysis that they do there um but some sort of text, right? It could be a written document, it could be a video of resource, right? A source that we're using. So GPS screen light protocol source, feel free to use that in your your planning, streamlines everything. And it's memorable. Next unit planning tip. This is tip number three, Dr Goldie Mohammed's Hill model on lock deep learning. I mean, I have known this, I love this. Uh But in episode 1 24 Jason Reagan, he actually thought through a unit that he had done before, kind of, he had built upon a design project that he's done with students. But he really credited Doctor Mohammed's framework as the reason that it was able to be taken to a deeper level. So he actually even used three of the pursuits, criticality, identity and joy from her framework to um kind of make them into almost like a rubric or like a core component of the unit's summit of project and like assessment of design and uh packaging for various products.

So I think that's super cool. And I I highly thesis doing either a, a staff reading book study, uh buying your staff this book, reading it yourself as a leader. If you haven't. Doctor Golden Star Mohammed's cultivating genius and unearthing joy if you're interested and you love this podcast, you can listen to her episode of this podcast, which was on a few months ago, I believe in March super good she is brilliant. I think asking the questions that she asked specifically around identity criticality and joy, like those are the specifically that got Jason and I to think about deepening this project a little bit. So I typically have been using in this series and in my coaching, using that at the front end in time in terms of like the brainstorm. So almost right before the driving question, because we want those elements to be present in the driving question and thinking about how students will answer them. I think this kind of deepened for me. If this is the thing that makes the shift, then we definitely do want to front load it, adding minimum. We want to use it as a check. If we've done this brainstorming in some other way for the DQ to incorporate these things, then we want to use it as a check for the DQ.

So we write the DQ seems good. Got the aha moment from the teacher. Now, let's look, does it have an opportunity to explore on a deep level identity criticality and enjoy it? And if it doesn't, we need to rework it? Right. So again, I think you could see why I would want to front load it so that we're not redoing when we've already reached the. Aha. Let's go to unit planning, tip number four, learn about societal problems. So this is kind of the thing I've hinted out a little bit from, from Phil in episode 1 22 where he kind of reflected at the end and we were kind of still playing around with different ideas at the end, honestly, of his, his episode and, and maybe hadn't really leaned on the, aha yet. And I think that's ok because one of the things that he came away with and I just thought this was brilliant and so insightful and, and reflective was he was saying it, it would be really helpful if he knew more about the problems in the world that are connected to the content areas we teach. And I don't think that that is typical of like PD that were offered. If that makes sense. I think often as leaders, we think about the technical, we think about the standards. But do we ever introduce or even give opportunities for kind of personalized PD and then sharing out of problems, current events, injustices in the world that are related or even potentially related?

Maybe we even do an interdisciplinary brainstorm. I think there's a lot of ideas here that we could do. But thinking about each of these things, I think that would be really, really cool to have as part of a personalized PD plan as part of a staff conversation around unit development or unit dreaming. And then I think Phil's point was really like, if I have that, then we can from there develop curriculum because I have those ideas of the real world authentic connections that are related to justices or injustices in the world. Now, I don't have to kind of like force it in, right? As like this add on, I don't have to add justice and stir as I've said before, but it's central to everything and it's because I have this kind of, I would suggest an ongoing stream of information, identify one source, for example, I love podcasts um and engage with it once a week, get some kind of set steady stream of new justice related information and maybe it doesn't always connect perfectly to your content. Maybe there's a podcast or a uh news show or something that is perfectly aligned you could use. For example, rethinking schools is great.

You could kind of search for your content area in their search bar. They might have something that, that strikes something in you. But I think it would be really cool to have kind of this ongoing opportunity to take in information and then share it with your team. I wanna pause here. We're, we're done with four tips and I wanna just note that I have done a youtube video tutorial. There are always five minutes or less you can watch that. Maybe we'll use that as today's episode, Freebie. Um and, and watch that if you're interested in running a staff meeting or a team meeting on unit dreaming. So it gives you the whole agenda. There are links in the agenda to some of these things that I've mentioned. And then it also gives you a slide deck and like prompt by prompt kind of questions or, or ways to structure the conversation about unit dreaming, you're basically just going from like spark to thinking about this. So, so Tip four actually is a perfect segue into that because if you have a spark and that's kind of how you open the conversation or the meeting, sharing about this thing that we just learned or this is a current event that's related to our content, share those sparks and then take the spark and build it into a unit outline or a project idea and just do that little quick brainstorming.

You don't have to build a unit in, you know, a 45 minute meeting or something. But get familiar with the practice of um what Doctor Mohammed on the show before has called curricular fluency. She writes about this in unearthing joy. I think it's brilliant. And so that was really the inspiration for um that resource that I'm doing a walkthrough of in that five minute youtube video. So check that out back to our regularly scheduled program here. OK. Unit planning at number five, we other models and structures. So Doctor Bay mclean talked about the science based five S approach on episode 1 20. Uh We talked about it. I always call it a unit A right? She uses the very science E five E approach. I've used it before in non science classes. And she made that point as well. We can, we can do that, right? We don't have to uh silo things into like this is a science framework or this is, you know, if it works, use it, right. She also shared her own steps. So she does uh the podcast and the organization Stem for real, which is amazing. So it's STEM four, the number four real check it out.

But she talks about her approach is SHS and she has all these great acronyms and, and things, but this one is Standard Hook Society and this is often the same kinds of things that we're trying to get at. And maybe hers is just less clunky and really resonates with people, right? I often take people in like a million different directions and sometimes that's necessary and sometimes people just want like, OK, give me three letters to remember and then I'm diving in, right? So what's the theater I'm trying to teach, what is the Hook? What's the thing that's gonna get people interested? What's, you know, often for her, it's like a um like a science observation or, or something where really they're digging into the science and they're looking at maybe an experiment or something and then society. So like, what's that kind of injustice, connection or justice connection, love it. If there is any strategy or framework out there that complements this approach that I often talk about please use it, I use it to, to override the approach that I am suggesting if, if you want. But I think we don't need just like one approach. We want to like take a little bit and learn a little bit about everything because each teacher is different and each teacher is gonna need a different approach. So final unit planning tip number six, talk it through with someone.

So in their episode 1 23 Gwen and Nancy Joan did talk about this and, and you know, almost every guest had had mentioned it in some way as well in their reflection, being able to talk through ideas with another person. Wasn't that it was me, right. It was just, it was anyone being able to have the space the time the connection was, I've heard things like energizing, clarifying just all around helpful. It would be great if everyone had a coach to do this work, it could be um that you have a career coach. It could be that you have your team right? In your team meeting, it could be a colleague down the hall. It could be a teacher in a different district or someone that you met in a educator group online on Facebook or something, right? Someone to brainstorm with someone to talk this through with. Ideally someone that's also in the field in general, at least in education, but it could be someone who isn't right? Just to have your ideas kind of out there out loud in the world. Um You could even, I've done this before, even record on like your, your voice notes app or something on your phone and then just listen to it later.

So stream of consciousness kind of record some ideas, listen to it later with kind of like a coach lens, right? OK. So where would I do this or how would this work or? Ok. Did I consider this go back through with the framework, do that as a checklist? Right? But I think, I think that's what I would suggest, thinking about find or identify for each teacher, someone that they can talk to. If it's not your staff space or your team space, have them have someone. If it's not an instructional coach, literally just identify someone and then make space, give teachers space time to do this space and time. There we go. All right, final tip. Let's wrap up this episode, whatever process you share with your team, ask teachers to reflect. I said this at the top of the episode, this reflection piece was huge for me. I really appreciated hearing just the two minutes it took for people at the end of the episode, they've created something beautiful, what was helpful, what was not helpful in this process, right? They're the experts about what is helpful or not, right? And so I think it's really important just like we would tell teachers remember to do their reflection with students at the end of the unit. That's often the most important part, do this with our teachers and ask them and truly listen.

All right. That is our episode for today. Don't forget to check out the freebie. If you want all of the show notes and all of the things. It's Lindsay beth lions dot com slash blog slash 1 25. If you're leaving this episode wanting more, you're going to love my life, coaching intensive curriculum, boot camp. I help one department or grade team create feminist, anti racist curricula that challenges affirms and inspires all students. We weave current events into course content and amplify student voices which skyrockets engagement and academic achievement. It energizes educators feeling burns out and it's just two days. Plus you can reuse the same process any time you create a new unit which saves time and money. If you can't wait to bring this to your staff, I'm inviting you to sign up for a 20 minute call with me. Grab a spot on my calendar at www dot Lindsay beth lions dot com slash contact. Until next time leaders continue to think. Big act brave and be your best self. This podcast is a proud member of the Teach Better podcast network. Better today, better tomorrow and the podcast to get you there, explore more podcasts at teach better dot com slash podcasts and we'll see you at the next episode

125. PRACTICE: 6 Tips for Your Unit Planning Protocol
125. PRACTICE: 6 Tips for Your Unit Planning Protocol
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