teachers in a meeting

Are You Maximizing Your Instructional Resources?


Written by V. Châu & Dr. Tim Tasker

Are You Maximizing Your Instructional Resources?

How Coherence Can Maximize the Return on Your Instructional Investments

What comes to mind when you hear the word “resources” in the school context? Perhaps facilities or basic supplies like pens, notebooks, and iPads? Maybe you’re thinking about money and equitable funding. There’s actually more to consider that has a direct effect on learning.

In our work to distill the conditions that support effective teaching and learning across school systems, we identify three key resources indispensable in instructional improvement: collaboration time, instructional materials, and assessments.

Female middle school teacher writes on SMART board 2
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages.

These resources form the bedrock of standards-aligned teaching and learning by ensuring educators have the essential tools and support to implement effective instructional practices. This includes allocating dedicated collaboration time for teachers, providing high-quality instructional materials, and utilizing assessments that align with standards. 

Additionally, district leaders must adopt an integrated professional learning and development approach, which involves offering educators ongoing support, meaningful feedback, and opportunities for growth. This comprehensive support system helps educators continuously improve their practice and enhances student learning outcomes.

From Fragmentation to Alignment

Consider the status quo: fragmented initiatives (e.g., adopting a new curriculum without protecting time for teachers to develop knowledge on the new materials), uncoordinated budgets across departments, and competing priorities. In this landscape, resources are scattered rather than strategically deployed. The consequence? Inconsistent instructional practices, unequal access to differentiated supports, and limited innovation capacity. 

  • This undermines student learning by creating inconsistency across subjects, where students receive mixed messages, which can hinder their understanding and integration of key concepts they need to succeed. 
  • It diminishes educator effectiveness by not allowing sufficient time for teachers to internalize the content knowledge, thus hindering their ability to grow and refine their instructional practices.
  • Finally, it impedes district progress because efforts are not aligned toward a shared vision and strategy, leading to inefficiency and stalled innovation.

Now, envision a more ideal scenario: a system where resources are thoughtfully allocated, seamlessly integrated, and aligned with instructional goals. 

Every dollar, hour, and effort in this environment is directed towards a common purpose: improving the quality and consistency of tier 1 instruction across classrooms. Educators have the support they need to learn and improve continually on the job, their materials support consistent efforts to bring the standards to life across classrooms, and sufficient tier 2 and tier 3 capacity is available for those who need it. 

Case Study: Chicago Public Schools’ Skyline Network Improvement Community (NIC)

In 2017, Chicago Public Schools administrators noted significant variations in instructional focus across schools and classrooms. After delving into research on the impact of providing grade-appropriate assignments, they conducted a system-wide assessment of curriculum quality, availability, and accessibility in a district where most decisions had been decentralized.

A 2019 survey of 500 teachers confirmed some issues:

  • Nearly half of teachers lacked access to vetted, centrally-provided curriculum resources, and 35% spent over five hours weekly searching for materials.
  • An overwhelming 85% of respondents believed it was essential for the district to provide unit and lesson plans and teacher resources.

These findings galvanized Chicago leaders into action. In 2022, schools began adopting a new, Chicago-specific curriculum known as Skyline, and leaders recognized the need to support robust implementation. Educators would need ongoing learning to understand the design principles, draw connections to standards-based instructional practices, and know how to supplement or alter the materials with discernment.

System-wide shifts are inherently complex for Chicago Public Schools as the nation’s third-largest school district. The rollout of Skyline across six content areas simultaneously, following a limited pilot year and pandemic disruptions, created uncertainty and a large scale of change.

Now, Leading Educators is working with CPS offices to facilitate a Networked Improvement Community (NIC) focused on supporting Skyline implementation and problem-solving with research-based and data-informed practices.

Together, stakeholders from 36 schools are developing mindsets that support effective change management, high expectations for students, applied instructional knowledge, and skills in improvement science. These skills will enable them to better support their educators and strengthen the quality of learning they provide students. 

Chicago Public Schools' theory of action for student success

CPS worked to align a comprehensive assessment approach to Skyline to ensure that key actions are supported by evidence.

A graphic illustrating three main types of assessments Chicago Public Schools uses to ensure instructional coherence

Schools that use Skyline leverage interim assessments to generate evidence of deeper learning from the two to three units of study that precede each interim assessment. These assessments focus on high-priority standards from the preceding units and use content connected to, but not explicitly taught in those units. For example, an interim assessment following a unit on poetry would include items focused on poetry, with poems related to but not explicitly covered in the unit.

To ensure students apply their learning to new tasks, school teams are encouraged to review blueprints and claim statements to identify the evidence of student thinking that will be elicited on each interim assessment. School teaching teams do not preview the assessments before the administration windows.

Power Moves for Aligning Resources at a System Level

At the system level, resource alignment is not just desirable—it’s imperative. It requires deliberate planning, strategic decision-making, and a commitment to equity and excellence. Resource alignment encompasses more than just budget allocations; it includes aligning people, time, and money to support instructional priorities.

So,  where should you begin? Here are some power moves you can make right now: 

  1. Conduct a thorough assessment of current resource allocation to identify misalignments and inefficiencies.
  2. Collaborate with stakeholders to define clear instructional priorities aligned with student success goals.
  3. Create a resource alignment framework outlining roles, decision-making processes, and evaluation criteria.
  4. Cultivate a culture of collaboration to ensure resources are deployed strategically and equitably across departments.
  5. Monitor resource allocation effectiveness, collecting data to inform adjustments and celebrate successes.

As you reflect on the use of resources in your system, consider the following questions:

  • How does your team make decisions about resources in alignment with instructional priorities?
  • What steps can you take to ensure greater coherence and collaboration in resource utilization?
  • How might resource alignment improve educator effectiveness and student learning with consistency?
  • What are the values that guide our resource allocation?

Ready to realize the kind of instructional system you’ve always dreamt of? 

To achieve resource alignment, district leaders must establish a shared teaching and learning vision. This vision serves as a guiding star, informing resource allocation decisions and uniting stakeholders behind a common purpose. Additionally, leaders must identify key roles, responsibilities, and expectations to ensure clarity and coherence in resource utilization. By aligning roles with instructional goals, districts can leverage the strengths of every stakeholder and maximize collective impact.

We help districts and school systems capitalize on educators’ passions with proven practices that offer students real opportunities and get real results. Whether you’re looking to adopt a new curriculum, develop your instructional leaders, or expand your professional learning offerings, we can help you build a thriving instructional system that you can sustain without us.

Want support enacting the recommendations in this blog? Let’s talk about your goals for next year.

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