EPISODE 16: Dr. Mark Tavernier on Practical Advice for Curriculum Development

November 13, 2017

Subscribe on iTunes

Today, I’m talking with Dr. Mark Tavernier, who is an associate professor of education at Piedmont College, focusing on curriculum and instruction.

Before that, he served as the executive director of teaching and learning, and also as associate superintendent of instructional services and school performance at Clark County School District in Georgia.

In our chat, we’ll cover how superintendents can work to change curriculum in the district, and the importance of emphasizing critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

If you’re looking for some practical advice on curriculum development, then you’re in the right place.

Topics covered:

  • (00:44) – Background
      • (00:51) – What led Dr. Tavernier to pursue a career in education.
  • (01:26) – Curriculum Development
      • (01:46) – Dr. Tavernier discusses how he changed the curriculum at Clarke County Schools.
        • (01:46) – Shifting the focus from a test preparation curriculum to one focused on problem-solving and big ideas.
        • (02:18) – Focusing on helping kids to work collaboratively.
        • (02:36) – The practical steps taken to achieve these ends.
          • (02:44) – Making the distinction between ‘construction’ and ‘remodeling’.  
          • (03:06) – Bringing teachers together to work in teams to model collaboration.
          • (03:41) – Transforming the curriculum one unit at a time.
      • (04:26) – Dr. Tavernier identifies what he believed would be the biggest challenge to the process.
        • (04:32) – Getting the teachers on board with the process.
        • (04:53) – What the biggest challenge actually turned out to be.
          • (04:59) – Time proved to be the biggest challenge.
      • (06:02) – Setting expectations and creating a vision.
        • (06:16) – Discussing common literature to gain a common theoretical understanding of the vision.
          • (06:32) – Rigorous Curriculum Design, Larry Ainsworth.  
        • (06:41) – The practicalities of Dr. Tavernier’s site-based follow-ups.
          • (06:51) – Classroom observations, walkthroughs, conversations during planning time.
          • (07:17) – Quarterly check-ins to discuss what’s working and what’s not.
  • (08:07) – Helping Other Educators
      • (08:21) – Dr. Tavernier discusses what he thinks may hold educators and administrators back when making big changes.
        • (08:21) – Not giving people the appropriate amount of time.
        • (08:33) – Insufficient professional development.
      • (10:08) – Dr. Tavernier explains how his current experiences at Piedmont College fit in with his previous experience.
        • (10:25) – Teaching graduate students in curriculum instruction.
      • (11:38) – What Dr. Tavernier believes are the touchstones of a good literacy program.
        • (11:55) – Ensuring kids practice reading.
        • (12:19) – Exposure to grade-level literature.
      • (13:41) – Dr. Tavernier speaks on a leadership challenge he faced personally in his career and how he overcame it.
  • (16:46) – Commercial Break
  • (19:08) – Helping Other Educators (Cont)
      • (19:36) – Dr. Tavernier discusses how he thinks schools should approach technological literacy with their students.  
        • (19:36) – Overcome the issue of connectivity for students outside of school.
  • (22:33) – Parting Advice for Administrators
    • (22:44) –  The advice Dr. Tavernier would have liked to have had when he first started his leadership career.
    • (23:45) – Practical advice for administrators who are looking to make big changes to their curriculum in their respective districts.
      • (23:56) – Why it’s important to get the teachers on board first.

Rapid-fire Questions:

  • (24:46) – What do you spend too much time doing these days?
  • (25:07) – What do you not spend enough time doing that you wish you had time for?
  • (25:22) – Who do you learn from in the education space and whom do you look up to?
  • (25:51) – What are the emerging trends in education that you’re keeping an eye out for?
  • (26:31) – What is the role of technology in education moving forward?

Resources mentioned:

Where to learn more:

To get Dr. Tavernier’s personal email so you can contact him directly, tune into the show!


Pat: 0:00:00.0 Hi everyone. Today I’m talking with Dr. Mark Tavernier, who is an associate professor of education at Piedmont College. Focusing on curriculum and instruction.

Before that, he served as the executive director of teaching and learning, and also as associate superintendent of instructional services and school performance at Clarke County School District in Georgia.

In our chat, we’ll cover how superintendents can work to change curriculum in the district, and the importance of emphasizing critical thinking and problem solving skills.

If you’re looking for some practical advice on curriculum development, then you’re in the right place.

Welcome to the show Dr. Tavernier.

Dr. Tavernier: 0:00:41.1 Thanks, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Pat: 0:00:44.4 Awesome. So to get started, what led you to pursue a career in education?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:00:51.8 Well, you know, I’ve been in education for 36 years, and I actually landed in education almost by default. I had originally planned to go on to graduate school. Possibly law school.

And so I thought I’d teach for a few years to take a break from college and save some money, and ended up falling in love with it and as I just said, stayed in it for 36 years.

Pat: 0:01:16.2 Wow, that’s been a long time in education. I’m sure you’re loving every single day of that. So, before the interview, 0:01:25.8

0:01:26.0 Before the interview you had said one of your accomplishments you’re most proud of from your time at Clarke County, was moving the focus of curriculum development and implementation from a test preparation curriculum, to one focused on problem solving and big ideas.

0:01:41.5 Why was this so important to you and how did you make that happen? If you could just walk us through that whole spectrum.

Dr. Tavernier: 0:01:46.3 Sure. So, you know. I spent a good deal of time in Clarke establishing curriculum, and to be honest, focusing on criterium referenced outcomes. Primarily as measured through state achievement test scores.

0:01:56.3 And I felt like to move students and faculty, to a certain extent, to the next level, we were really going to need to move our emphasis away from purely teaching things as sort of a test preparatory mode to really looking at deeper learning.

0:02:18.6 Focusing on helping kids work collaboratively. Working on problem solving, thinking critically, being self-directed. All those pieces that really prepare kids to enter the 21st century adult world.

Pat: 0:02:36.2 So, how did you actually go about changing the curriculum at the Clark County schools? I mean, if you can walk us through it.

Dr. Tavernier: 0:02:44.5 Sure. So you know, really we weren’t talking about construction, we were talking more about remodelling. To be honest with you. And to use a building analogy.

0:02:52.6 And so, you know, we knew we had a solid curriculum, and so we felt like we needed to basically approach it from a remodelling perspective in terms of what we needed to do to shift it in a different direction.

0:03:06.4 And it basically really took the form first of really getting teachers to come together as teams and then basically we first started in teaching the adults to work collaboratively, and modelling collaboration.

0:03:20.1 How we as a group of adults could get together and think critically ourselves about what we want our students to be able to do.

0:03:26.5 So that was so basically step one is creating professional 0:03:30.6 [Inaudible] committees – basically around collaborative work of our single goal which was to get kids to engage in deeper learning. Step one.

0:03:41.8 Step two was basically, to borrow from Heidi Hayes Jacob’s 0:03:46.3 work in Curriculum21, which was to remodel the curriculum one unit at a time.

0:03:51.4 So we basically looked at one. We went course by course by course, unit by unit by unit. And really broke it down to that level. To that real micro level. 0:04:02.7 Which, in many cases involved sort of stripping back everything that we had done and looking at the outcome of whatever the assessment was we wanted to do at the end. Redesigning that and then figuring out how are we going to get kids there. 0:04:20.2 You know, by focusing on that problem solving kind of assessment.

Pat: 0:04:26.1 Sure, sure. So before you got started on the path, what did you think was going to be the biggest challenge?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:04:32.6 You know, I really felt like getting the adults on board was going to be the biggest challenge, which is why we started with the adults. And really helping them to work together to see the relevance of what we were going to do. 0:04:47.3 Because I felt like once we had them on board, the rest of it was going to fall in to place.

Pat: 0:04:53.1 Sure, so was that actually – when you actually started rolling that out, was that actually your biggest challenge? Or was it something else?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:04:59.8 You know, it ended up – that’s a good question. It was a challenge. I don’t know if it was the biggest challenge. I think the biggest challenge, which is always a challenge in our business, is time.

0:05:15.2 And that we thought we could do more than we actually were able to do. Once we got the adults on board as I mentioned, then we were all committed to creating quality products. 0:05:23.6 And quality products take time to create.

And so we thought we would get through it and create things a lot faster than we actually did. So I guess time ended up being the biggest challenge.

Pat: 0:05:36.2 Always, right? We always run out of time. 0:05:40.1 – 0:05:48.1 [Edit out]

So one thing is putting a plan in place, right? And getting everybody on board and actually setting the tone and tempo to get it started. But there’s a whole different aspect of keeping focus and staying on track as you move forward.

0:06:02.6 So how did you think you set your expectations and laid out the road map for everyone with a vision to follow through – get on board with your vision?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:06:16.7 So we did some work up front with great reading and discussing some common literature. We looked at some of John Hallet’s work, 0:06:25.5 [To Be Confirmed], some of Heidi Hayes Jacob’s work, as I mentioned. 06:32 Some Rigorous Curriculum Design work with Larry Ainsworth.

06:35 So as a group we’d adopt a common theoretical understanding of where we were going. You know, as I mentioned, we got everybody on board with that first.

0:06:41.8 And then a lot of it, from my perspective, from a curriculum director type perspective – involved, basically some site-based follow ups.

So once we got the boats in the water, got these units starting to be developed and implemented – and it was a matter of me actually going out into the field and connecting with teachers as they were doing it.

0:06:51.8 Through informal classroom observations, walk throughs, conversations during planning time, all those kind of site-based, hands on, handholding – and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but it’s sort of handholding as folks were implementing.

0:07:17.4 And as we – as I scheduled the project, also we had, basically, quarterly checkin times also – we could come back together as a group and talk about what’s working, what’s not working.

0:07:25.4 We were trying to both develop and revise what we had just done as we went through it.

And again, that’s where – as I mentioned earlier, we got tied up by time, because my vision was basically that we would come back after a quarter or so after folks had done a unit or two.

0:07:45.7 [Edit – Someone saying hello in the background] We would revise what we did and then create new. 0:07:52.0 So that was the basic process.

Pat: 0:07:57.4 Great, great. Yeah, that sounds great. So, it sounds like you were able to achieve quite a lot actually. Make an amazing impact on Clarke County schools with your approach.

0:08:07.1 But I know that educators and administrators can struggle when trying to make big changes. What do you think usually holds educators back from adapting to change? In general?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:08:21.8 I think there are a lot of things that contribute to that. As I keep saying, I think time is one element of that. 0:08:26.8 [Edit – someone saying time in the background] Is that we don’t tend to give folks time to make the change. 0:08:33.3 I think the other piece that plays into that as well is professional development. Whether – particularly 0:08:38.7 [Edit out – background] sustained professional development so that folks – as you said earlier, or you asked me earlier, is how do you build a culture for this, in support of this – and we did some upfront professional development about why we were getting ready to do what we did.

0:08:54.5 And 0:08:55.3 [Edit – background] there was some tacit professional development built into those six week or so checkin points. It wasn’t just come in and report out, move on. We did some PD and kind of looped back into some things we had talked about up front. On an ongoing basis.

You know, we talk a lot about job embedded PD, ongoing PD, those things we’ve talked about for 20 years, and I really tried to consciously do that as part of this process. And I think that contributed to it.

Lots of times 0:09:25.4 [Edit – Background] we hand folks stuff and just say, “Good luck, go do it.” You know? And it doesn’t work, or folks struggle with it initially, and then they put it on the back shelf because they’re just going to continue doing what they’re going to do, because they’re looking at 150 kids that are in a high school a day, or whatever.

Pat: 0:09:42.8 Sure, sure. So yeah, so PD is basically in the central to it. And a part from the leadership, you need the right tools and techniques, which are the educators can rely on to get them started, so to speak. Right?

So let me ask you this: How does what you’re doing at Piedmont College really fit into your previous experience?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:10:08.1 Well, I’m just getting started here, I’ve just been here a couple months. But I really look at this as an opportunity. You know, I’m mainly teaching graduate courses to mid-career educators and 100% of the students I’m teaching are in the field of practitioners.

0:10:25.9 Actually, most of them are master teachers. A few of them are sitting administrators. But I really see graduate work as being really important in our field, because it is a way to continue to push forward our agenda of providing personalized, learner-centred, student-focused instruction.

And so, 0:10:54.8 I really see it as a way to – for us to move that agenda forward. Particularly – you know, I’m teaching courses primarily in the curriculum instruction area, and so – and our field is ever changing. That’s one thing about education, it’s never static. 0:11:10.9.

That’s one of the reasons I stayed in it for as long as I did, because – I used to joke, it’s never the same year twice. 0:11:20.5 [Inaudible – Laughter] and so, — but it’s also one thing that I find very exciting and energizing and so I think it’s a way to really push teaching and learning forward for the next generation of students and teachers by doing the work I’m doing at a college level.

Pat: 0:11:38.9 I know you’ve done extensive research focused on literacy programs, what are the touchstones of a good literacy program in your opinion?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:11:46.4 Edit Out – 0:11:55.9 Again, I think that there are several components of a good literacy program. I think that kids, as we’ve known, lots of practice reading, and practice reading 0:12:10.6 [Inaudible – recording] — the leader do that practice.

12:19 I also think the component that would be left out of a successful reading program 0:12:22.2 [Inaudible] that they need exposure to grade level reading material and currently the instructional level reading material, and so kids need some strategies and instruction in on-level reading.

So if I’m a third grader and I’m still reading at a first grade level, I don’t spend all my time reading first grade books. I spend some time interacting with third grade books as well, whether that be through teacher-directed, shared experience through read aloud.

Lots of ways to address that and through instruction on the curriculum, but that’s also a piece that’s essential. 0:12:59.6 And that would be an addition 0:13:01.4 [Inaudible – Recording] are essential to 0:13:07.8 [Inaudible] So those would be the 0:13:12.0 [Inaudible]

Pat: 0:13:12.0 [Edit out] Awesome. So going a little bit personal before the next question, Mark, can you also speak into the microphone, because you’re computer is recording as well. I think you’re totally speaking on the phone. So I can hear you over the phone, but speaking on the computer as well.

0:13:40.3 [Edit out] 0:13:41 So going back a little bit in your personal life. What was a leadership challenge you faced personally in your career and how did you overcome it? If you want to share something for our listeners.

Dr. Tavernier: 0:13:51.1 Edit – 0:14:02.2 Edit Out 0:14:03.2 Ok, sure I think that – this is a challenge from probably ten or twelve years ago, but when I first came – became a curriculum leader, I was in a district that really had no curriculum.

0:14:23.0 And teachers just sort of taught. It was a fairly large district and teachers were just teaching whatever they felt like they needed – wanted to teach and some of it based on student needs and some of it not. 0:14:34.5 And so, the challenge there was basically to again, it’s sort of like the challenge I talked about up front – was basically getting everybody on board, seeing the need to focus on a particular set of competencies and getting everybody on the same page in terms of agreeing to teach them. 0:14:55.8 So that was a big challenge up front.

0:15:03.4 You know, the standards movement has been around since the ’90s, but you know just because something’s around doesn’t mean that folks are actually doing it. And so – or using it. And so that was a challenge. Probably one of my bigger challenges.

Pat: 0:15:18.7 And how did you go about unravelling that?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:15:23.8 Well, you know, the unravelling really came when we talked about that challenge with student faces in front of it. So when you put it in the context of students. And equity. Then it tends to get people’s attention.

So that you know, when you ask questions like, “Should the quality of a student’s education depend on their address?” Even though we all live in the same town, you know, depending on where I happen to live, it might dictate what kind of curriculum I was exposed to. Should that – does that seem equitable?

Or if I end up having to move at the end of every month, or think about the kinds of gaps that we could have in student’s learning because they happen to have to bounce around the city in terms of affordable living space. Or living space at all.

And so, again, looking at it from a student’s perspective, taking it out of the adult arena and putting it back into a kid’s arena really helped us address and solve that problem. Does that make sense?

Pat: 0:16:34.4 Yeah, yeah, yeah absolutely. And I’m sure it may ring a bell with a lot of listeners out there who may find some – find themselves in the same position and that will help. Thank you.

0:16:46.9 So before I move forward, I just want to spend a minute talking about our main sponsor today who is PikMyKid.

I want to take a minute to just explain what they do. Well you know how there’s a lot going on at every school at the end of the school day. Kids getting into cars, buses, traffic jams, snaking around the school neighbourhoods, pedestrians all over the place. What’s on the hearts and minds of all of us is the safety of our children.

0:17:13.6 But walkie-talkies, clipboards, bullhorns, and paper car tags is not the best use of today’s technology to make our children safer.

0:17:22.1 So what PikMyKid does, is it provides a comprehensive set of tools to manage all aspects of student safety at school. They have a real-time parent notification system, a panic button feature in case of in school emergency, visitor management and a complete school dismissal system so that parents can manage their daily pick up of their children right from their app and also receive real-time notification when they get in a car, or a bus or walks home.

0:17:53.1 So the biggest win for schools and school districts with PikMyKid adoption is the system is more efficient, lesser teachers are used to manage the dismissals and also a surge in parent engagement in schools. That is critical.

PikMyKid has consistently seen over 75-85% parent engagement on the platform. And now schools actually build on top of this engagement and leverage this parent activity for other aspects for school functions. And that’s in a short what PikMyKid does, so what do you think Mark?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:18:31.4 That sounds really exciting Pat. The comprehensiveness of PikMyKid just sounds like a win-win for everybody. The students, the parents, the teachers, the school administrators, you know, as you said, not only in terms of parent engagement, but the comprehensiveness of the dismissal piece, weather related, early issues that come up from time to time in schools, etc. That sounds fantastic.

Pat: 0:18:57.4 The engagement piece has been really big because getting 70-80% of the parents on the same platform, that has been critical. So yeah.

0:19:08.6 Shifting gears here, shifting gears a little bit, how should schools approach technological literacy with their students.

This is a big, not a problem, but a challenge which a lot of districts are facing today. With advent of so many platforms and technology platforms, which are in use today. So how would you address that?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:19:36.5 Well, I think that you know, the first step – there’s a couple of pieces that has to happen first. And first, I think the biggest issue that right now that schools are dealing with, is connectivity.

And finding a way to assess connectivity in terms of our students being able to connect outside of school and if they are great, and if they’re not, or some of them are not, why not, and where is that, and how do we go about addressing it?

And there are getting to be more and more low cost solutions for addressing student connectivity at home through traditional internet providers who are providing low cost connectivity all the way up to other kinds of creative solutions that could happen.

0:20:23.2 Then – so that’s issue to me, number one, is connectivity. And that – you tend to get the cart before the horse and deal with devices first and connectivity second, and I think connectivity should be addressed first and then looking at devices and how we as a district school system going to deal with devices and making a plan up for that.

0:20:44.6 So, I think – but I think once we have the connectivity and the device issues solved, then I think that it levels the playing field and I think that things actually become more and more platform neutral. To be honest with you. As we see things getting more and more digital. You know, costs have come down. Like I said, platforms have levelled out in terms of being less specific.

Pat: 0:21:17.0 Yeah, yeah so you know, pardon my ignorance here, but I’m a little removed from the actual ground level. So is connectivity still a problem at schools?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:21:28.9 Not at all. I don’t think at all at school, I’m mainly thinking about connectivity at home.

Pat: 0:21:37.6 Ok, go back home.

Dr. Tavernier: 0:21:38.2 Thinking about home connectivity. I don’t think at schools it’s a problem at all anymore, to be honest with you.

Pat: Yeah, I think they’ve gone past the problem, especially in the US.

Dr. Tavernier: 0:21:48.4 And I don’t – there may be some remote areas and things where maybe schools out in remote areas where it is still an issue, but I don’t think it’s a wide spread issue anymore.

I think it’s mainly an issue about, if we’re going to have devices, or if we’re going to expect kids to get on devices when they leave school, if we’re to make learning truly an any time, anywhere thing, than we’ve got to deal with connectivity at home.

Pat: 0:22:13.0 Absolutely. And everybody has to have a level playing field than.

Dr. Tavernier: 0:22:17.4 Right, yeah. And again, it goes back to that whole philosophy of if we believe learning takes place anytime anywhere, which we as adults know that is true, because that’s what we practice, than we have to deal with it in terms of kids.

Pat: 0:22:33.0 So going back to your time as an associate superintendent. What advice would you wish somebody gave you when you first started? Now looking back at it.

Dr. Tavernier: 0:22:44.9 The advice I wish somebody had gave me is – it’s an interesting question. I’ll go back to my building analogy and that is that I wish someone had told me that as you’re implementing change, you need as the change agent, as the implementer, you really need to think about change something in terms of is it new construction?

Are we building something from scratch, or are we going to remodel something that already exists? And how you as a leader go about approaching an issue or a problem or a project really – it’s a different approach depending on whether it’s a remodel or something that you’re starting from scratch.

0:23:26.3 And time, as I mentioned up front, is a factor in both. You know, So that would have been my advice that not everything needs to be new. And sometimes you can build on things that already exist and end up with an even better result.

Pat: 0:23:45.8 Great. So to tie it all together, what practical advice do you have for administrators who are looking to make big changes to their curriculum in their respective districts?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:23:56.4 Get your teachers on board first. Doing that through helping them understand why you’re going to engage them in making a change. I think that’s the key piece, is really teacher engagement and teacher involvement from the beginning. We create an environment where we as adults are learners first and we’re going to use that learning to hopefully improve student learning.

Pat: 0:24:26.5 Absolutely. So get the teachers sign off is critical to success of any curriculum change. Right. Because they are the tip of the sword.

Dr. Tavernier: 0:24:36.0 Absolutely. They are the key in all of this.

Pat: 0:24:37.9 So before we wrap up, we like to ask all our guests a few rapid-fire questions. Your questions will be quick but your responses don’t have to be. 0:24:46.2 You ready? How do – what do you spend too much time doing these days?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:24:54.7 Reading.

Pat: Reading, that’s good.

Dr. Tavernier: 0:25:02.4 Reading. I know you can never spend too much time reading, but I’m always out looking for things. Reading and reading and reading.

Pat: That’s a good thing. 0:25:07.7 So what do you not spend enough time doing wish you had time for?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:25:11.7 Processing. Taking what I’ve read and actually thinking about how I might want to use it. So my information overload sometimes. As we all are.

Pat: 0:25:22.3 Who do you learn from in the education space and whom do you look up to?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:25:26.9 You know, I can’t name just one person I look up to. I learn from anybody. Anybody that’s a practitioner that’s out there. Right now I’m learning a lot from the Council of Chief State School Officers 0:25:45.7 and this jobs for the future organization 0:25:46.7 that – I learn from anybody and everybody that’s out in the field.

Pat: 0:25:51.4 Absolutely, that’s fair enough. So what are the emerging trends in education that you’re keeping an eye out for?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:25:59.2 You know, this whole concept of personalized learning. And I don’t mean just digital learning, but this whole idea of how we are going to operationalize this notion of personalized learning where we provide meaningful learning experiences to all students.

That’s the new trend to me that’s out there that we’re going to really have to keep an eye on in terms of how that might play itself out from a curriculum instruction perspective. 0:26:23.4 How we manage that. And how we operationalize that in the classroom. I think that’s the next piece that’s out there to me on the horizon.

Pat: 0:26:31.7 So what is the role of technology in education moving forward?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:26:35.6 Edit out – 0:26:46.8 I think technology is going to become more and more of a centre piece or a hub in terms of curriculum instruction. That we’re going to see technology – digital platform, digital will be at the centre of all that we do.

0:27:03.6 You know, from books and resources to ways to respond to each other, to ways to connect. I think that technology is going to be a centrepiece.

Pat: 0:27:14.6 Absolutely. That was great. If listeners want to learn more from you, what is the best way for them to reach out to you?

Dr. Tavernier: 0:27:24.9 Sure. The best way to connect with me is by email. My email address is [REDACTED].

Pat: Awesome. Thanks for sharing that Dr. Tavernier. Again, I just want to say thank you so much for your time today, it was great being able to pick your brain. I’m sure a lot of listeners will have gotten a lot out of it and thanks again.

Dr. Tavernier: Thank you, it was a pleasure.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to top