As a young teacher, Krista Herrera realized lesson planning wasn’t her strong suit. So instead of spending nights and weekends agonizing over that task and causing her students to suffer through her learning curve with her, she did something that is rarely done in education but might just be more effective than the latest intervention or any AI technology: She got help from a colleague.
“I was super good at building relationships with my kids and running my classroom and making content fun,” Herrera says. But she noticed that a teacher down the hall was fantastic at creating lesson plans. She asked him to share and then came up with ways to enhance those lesson plans with class activities, strengthening the experience for students in both classrooms. “Together we could kind of create this super teacher,” she says.
Herrera is now Administrator of Professional Learning and Student Support at Kern County Superintendent of Schools. Recently, she was honored with an Innovative Leader Award for the Best Implementation of Digital Curriculum at a Tech & Learning Regional Leadership Summit in California. She received the award in recognition of her efforts to scale up the kind of collaboration she enjoyed early in her career with that teacher down the hall through the High Quality Instructional Materials Initiative of the California Department of Education.
Thanks to Herrera and her colleague's efforts, the California Educators Together website offers vetted, high-quality and relevant professional learning, and lesson plans. Though these resources are designed for Californian educators and built with the state’s education standards in mind, all are available for free to educators everywhere.
How California Educators Together Came Together
Like many recent education innovations, the online resources and lesson plans of California Educators Together were inspired by the pandemic. When the lockdowns began in early 2020, teachers in California, like much of the rest of the country and world, were in need of high-quality online teaching resources. “Our county superintendent called and she was like, ‘I think we need to provide teachers with a ready-to-go curriculum,'” Herrera says. She recruited more than 100 educators to help build turnkey lessons that other teachers could turn to in the hectic early days of the pandemic.
From this experience, Herrera began to see the potential for these types of teaching resources even beyond the pandemic. She started working with other educators to create high-quality lessons that took into account learning variability and are designed to serve all learners.
“For me, it was really interesting in terms of the equity piece,” Herrera says. “It wouldn't matter what zip code you were in, specifically in our county, you would have access to this high-quality curriculum.”
How Teachers Can Utilize California Educators Together
California Educators Together has many resources currently available, although the goal is to keep expanding to ultimately include one model unit for every subject at every grade level. This would serve as an example for educators who can then base other units on it.
“We will eventually travel the state and get videotapes of teachers actually demonstrating these lessons in our classrooms to help people have a better picture,” Herrera says. This initiative was conceived after they realized that new teachers might need to see “teacher moves” in action to understand why a certain lesson worked.
The initiative is also offering Lesson Design Institutes in which Californian educators can participate. Once they’ve been trained in this type of lesson design, they can earn money by providing their own lessons to California Educators Together.
The resources featured on the site are available to educators anywhere and Herrera hopes to scale the model beyond the state.
“Right now we're focused on California but the goal will be that eventually it feeds itself with educators across the nation, and everyone's kind of speaking the same language and we're working together to build this beautiful repository,” she says. “But we're just in the infant stages of making that all happen.”
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