Episode 8 – How to Partner With Your Curriculum

Does using a textbook necessarily mean you are a bad or lazy teacher? NO! Let’s rethink that age-old myth that to be a good teacher one must create or curate everything. It’s time to replace the “Good Teacher Doctrine” with a mindset that views the teacher and curriculum in a partnership.

“It’s time to rethink the assumption that good teachers don’t use prepackaged curriculum materials.”

Thus began the article that I read recently. FIGHTING WORDS…I thought. I began teaching mathematics in 1989 as the Math Wars was heating up. In the battle between traditionalists versus constructivists, I staked my claim firmly on the side of the constructivists. And, because all the textbooks at the time were most definitely of the explicit instruction variety, I proudly bragged about not using the textbook provided. It was, afterall, a badge of honor proudly announcing whose side I was on.

Then I read How to Partner with Your Curriculum[1], by Janine T. Remillard, which is moving into a realm of thinking that I previously thought of as heresy: the textbook can be good.

It turns out I was a believer in the Good-Teacher Doctrine, as Remillard puts it. This doctrine reveres the teacher as an expert who curates/creates curriculum effectively rendering the textbook unnecessary. Using the textbook would be a sign of lazy teaching. The problem with this belief, however, is it is incredibly time consuming. It also required of me a profound understanding of mathematics, the standards, and how the math I taught fit within the K-12 continuum. Even if I could perfectly uphold the thinking of the Good-Teacher Doctrine, it is unreasonable to expect this of every teacher. Moreover, building a K-12 coherence in what and how we teach is impossible if every teacher followed the Good-Teacher Doctrine.

Remillard suggests we become partners with our curriculum. This now makes sense to me.

When the textbook is a partner, the teacher no longer has to spend an inordinate amount of time on WHAT to teach and can now focus on HOW to teach. The teacher uses her deep understanding of her students – their strengths and weaknesses – to make adaptive decisions essential for student success.

There are four strategies for partnering with the curriculum:

Look for the big ideas.

Before digging into the lesson, take time to read through the entire year or module or chapter…whatever makes sense. This provides perspective that allows the teacher better insight as to when a lesson should be repeated or when it makes more sense to move on.

Pay attention to the pathways.

Curriculum writers have likely already sequenced the curriculum to that each grade perfectly leads into the next. When teachers understand the coherence of the math content and how it fits into the K-12 progression they are better able to recognize when a student needs intervention.

Anticipate: What will ___ say?

Before using the lesson provided by the curriculum, the teacher needs to anticipate student responses and common stumbling blocks. The curriculum writers play an important role in guiding students through the year, but they cannot anticipate every contingency. It is the domain of the teacher to know her students, walk a mile in their shoes, and prepare responses to the questions students are likely to ask.

Collaborate with colleagues.

This is a no-brainer. By working closely with colleagues, teachers will be more likely to look for the big ideas, pay attention to the pathways, and anticipate student responses. Besides, working with a colleague…and reflecting with that colleague, makes our profession much more fun.

Curriculum will NEVER replace the teacher. We’ve seen teachers abdicate their authority to the teacher notes in a curriculum or to a series of video tutorials, which is a travesty. The best scenario is when the teacher uses her considerable knowledge in partnership with a well-crafted curriculum to meet the needs of all students.

What are your thoughts? Leave comments below.




[1] “How to Partner with Your Curriculum – ASCD.” http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct16/vol74/num02/How-to-Partner-with-Your-Curriculum.aspx. Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.


  1. In this episode, you mentioned a book that I think Duane was going to read and Maggie talked about buying to read. What if you did a book club of sorts? I’d love to read a book along with you and be able to discuss it, and I would bet other people would, too!

    1. What a wonderful idea! I’ll check, but I think the book is “5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions”. I’d love to do a podcast version of a book club. Thanks for sharing…and making this endeavor even better!