How to Implement High Quality Instructional Materials (HQIM) So Teachers Master Them - and Students Benefit

April 11, 2024

Anetra Cheatham

Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Administration, Beaumont Independent School District, Texas

This profile is part of the Follow the Leaders project, an ongoing series from Relay Graduate School of Education to share insights and inspiration on leading for equity, wellness, and achievement.

In Brief:

Many school districts are investing in high quality instructional materials (HQIM)—but selecting the right curriculum is just the first step. In Beaumont, Texas, central office leader Anetra Cheatham devoted a full year at the district’s lowest-performing elementary school to helping the school’s principal and coaches fully internalize the new curriculum so they, in turn, could support teachers as they grappled with its new and more challenging instructional materials. She did so by:

  • Providing examples, coaching, and opportunities for school leaders to learn the new curriculum together
  • Changing the way teachers planned lessons to help them focus on what matters most
  • Regularly observing classrooms with a focused protocol to continue to improve how the new curriculum was taught

The results were dramatic: Martin Elementary went from an “F” to “B” school on the state report card in one year, and percentages of students at grade level in ELA and math more than quadrupled from the single digits. 

The Full Story

With half of its schools in turnaround during the 2021-22 school year, Beaumont ISD made significant investments in improving curriculum to address longstanding performance issues. As the Texas district’s chief innovation officer, Anetra Cheatham knew the potential of new high-quality instructional materials (HQIM) to shift expectations of what students could do in the early grades. But she also recognized that curriculum alone wouldn’t change the trajectory of Beaumont’s schools. 

“Too often, the discussion around high quality instructional materials gets limited to the product,” says Cheatham, now the district’s assistant superintendent for secondary administration.

“The materials are one thing, but the instructional leadership skills it takes to get the investment from teachers and train them up to have the capacity to deliver alongside the materials is another.”

To ensure that teachers developed the capacity to “lift the curriculum,” Cheatham has worked intensively with school leaders in Beaumont’s turnaround schools, starting with Martin Elementary, the district’s lowest-performing school. She did so with the help of a coach from the Relay Graduate School of Education, which partnered with the Beaumont district to support HQIM implementation as part of a statewide initiative supported by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Cheatham and Relay coach Chris Garcia spent a full year working with the school’s instructional leadership team to internalize the new curriculum, identify strategies to introduce and coach teachers, and develop protocols for lesson planning and data analysis. 

During the first full year of implementation in 2021-22, Martin Elementary went from an “F” to a “B” school in state ratings. Since then, the school rating system has been temporarily suspended, but students continue to demonstrate growth. The percent of students who achieved ELA proficiency rose dramatically from 6 percent in 2020-2021 to 29 percent in SY 2022-2023, while proficiency in math rose from 2 to 21 percent over the same time period. Its success provided a model for the district to pursue turnaround strategies for additional schools, and ultimately broader curriculum adoption efforts.

“Leveraging HQIM and Relay leadership practices were a proof point we could do things differently,” Cheatham says. “It gave us an opportunity to show what we can do with current school leaders and staff members.

Step 1: Build the Team, Narrow the Focus, Set Goals

Cheatham wanted to address  a common challenge in Martin and other district schools preparing to implement the new HQIM such as Eureka Math and Amplify English Language Arts curricula: students in classrooms ready to learn, but receiving instruction that was consistently below grade level. “We were going through actions on a daily basis that set the students up for failure,” she says. “When you have a large number of students not meeting grade-level expectations, it’s not the teaching but the systems around them.”

To address these needs, Cheatham drew on her systems knowledge from her experiences receiving one-on-one Relay coaching from Garcia, as well as her participation in Relay’s National Principals Academy Fellowship (NPAF), National Principals Supervisor Academy (NPSA) and the Leverage Leadership Institute (LLI).  “Seeing how impactful they were for me and how they sharpened me as a leader, they were the driving force I thought we could use to build instructional leadership capacity, increase teaching capacity, and transform our classrooms,” she says. 

Then the district’s chief innovation officer, Cheatham was in a unique role to, as she says, “step out on a ledge.” Bringing together a small team of central office staff and Relay’s Garcia, Cheatham focused her first year of work at Martin Elementary on developing systems to help the school’s leadership team support teachers’ use of the new instructional materials by developing objectives and key results—a process that relied on the relationship-building skills she learned from her Relay coaching.

“It was extremely complex because of how many moving pieces there were,” says Garcia.  “[Addressing them] involved narrowing the focus, because this was a marathon, not a sprint. For that to happen, you have to have strong relationships with the people you’re in this with and be laser focused on the right things.”

Step 2: Support Leaders to Internalize the Standards in HQIM

Cheatham started off with the goal of ensuring all of Martin’s instructional leaders—the principal, instructional coaches, and embedded district curriculum specialists—could become experts on the new high quality instructional materials. Doing so involved:

  • Visiting exemplar schools
  • Developing an internalization protocol to develop the Martin leadership team’s understanding of the curricular materials
  • Supporting team members through 1:1 coaching and community building

The team began by visiting high-performing schools which had already implemented the new curricula to see students were capable of doing more challenging work. The instructional team then worked with coaches and together as a learning community to internalize the curricular materials down to the unit and lesson level, understanding how they build on each other and what pre-work would be necessary to ensure students were prepared. “We were on a learning journey together. You can’t ask people to lead something they don’t deeply know and aren’t invested in themselves,” Cheatham says. “If the leaders aren’t fully invested, it erodes the level of implementation when things get hard.” 

As a part of the internalization protocol (adapted from Relay’s planning meeting protocol), members of the leadership team:

  • Began with the “big essential picture”—i.e. articulating the purpose of each module or lesson.
  • Deconstructed the associated standards with know-show charts - which detail what standards students should "know" and how they will "show" their mastery (through actions teachers should look for during lessons).
  • Analyzed assessment questions by writing out the steps of solving each problem, and considered the pacing, scope, and sequence for each module. 

Leadership team internalization was supported by a combination of 1:1 coaching and group learning.  Cheatham split coaching responsibilities with Garcia, who worked with the school’s instructional coach for math while she coached the rest of the team. 

The leadership team also came together in weekly “huddles” to focus on skill building. Doing so supported “the development that was taking place for them as individuals, but it also created a system of accountability and support within the coaching ranks,” Cheatham says. “They were all working to do this heavy lifting, but they were doing it side by side with the same levels of expectations and accountability.”

Step 3: Supporting Teachers to Internalize the HQIM

Cheatham and Garcia recognized that the leadership team needed structures to help teachers get up to speed with the essential elements of the new curricula as each unit and lesson was rolled out. To support the school’s instruction leaders, they:

  • Developed protocols for team members leading teacher PLCs
  • Shifted expectations for teacher lesson planning to focus on essential learning objectives

The professional learning protocols were intended to support coaches and school leaders as they led teacher PLCs in their own internalization work with the new curricula. Part of this internalization process had teacher teams replace written lesson plans with streamlined slide decks to be used in the classroom, focusing narrowly on the essential learning objectives and activities. Doing so “helped teachers engage with the materials and set them up to deliver them successfully,” Cheatham says.

Cheatham and the leadership team set clear expectations for lesson presentations, including writing out learning objectives and other directions in student-friendly language—“not as a teacher script.” Presentations are also expected to follow the curriculum without adding or omitting material; include a range of independent, talk and turn, and group activities; and provide scaffolded supports for the students who need them. The presentation expectations also reinforce the higher expectations teachers were expected to have of students by explicitly banning shortcuts, such as inserting videos in place of a read-aloud in ELA. (See an example 3rd grade lesson presentation here.)  Coaches and other leadership team members also have protocols for providing feedback on the components of completed presentations. The clearly laid out expectations and feedback have “shifted the focus away from lesson planning to internalizing the lesson and activities to deliver to students,” Cheatham says.

Part of the lesson presentation expectations for an Amplify ELA lesson. 

Step 4: Observe Classroom Practice and Provide Effective Feedback

Regular site visits—facilitated by Garcia and Cheatham and including members of the school leadership team—have proven a key way to support Martin’s instructional leadership team and teachers.  

Cheatham leveraged her district role to ensure Martin Elementary could use new structures for coaching and feedback, including a Relay site visit protocol in which Cheatham and the school leadership team look at data and other information to identify goals for the visit—goals which narrow the focus of observations. The team then debriefs following observations to identify trends and determine focus areas and related action steps. 

The iterative nature of this work is illustrated in this example, during which the team identifies gaps in lesson delivery during classroom observations and develops action steps for the school’s leadership team to refine their coaching of teacher lesson planning during weekly planning meetings (WPM).  

Garcia believes this intensive focus on specific practices has proven critical to continued improvement, saying: 

“One of the key drivers was our ability to really narrow the focus areas and goals we’re driving towards. So we got into a cycle of site visits, determining a focus area based off what we saw in classrooms and planning meetings and data meetings, and then setting a goal. And then we drive towards achieving that goal, and we check it out on the next site visit. If we can do this, we can push to get really specific.”

‘Setting a Standard’ for Districtwide Implementation of HQIM

The structures and protocols used to build the Martin Elementary leadership team’s capacity to support new curricula are now being replicated across the district, starting with two other underperforming elementary schools in 2022-23 and growing to a total of seven in 2023-24.  “What we know worked was building relationships, acting through influence, and more straightforward accountability about the expectations,” Garcia says. 

And as the district began a systemwide rollout of math HQIM in 2023-24, Martin has become “the blueprint” for internalization, implementation, and ongoing monitoring, starting with the 90-day OKR plans that kicked off the work two years earlier.

“It’s hard to move a big ship sometimes… but [our work] raised awareness of how impactful HQIM could be,” Cheatham says. “We’re making sure we set a standard for why we were doing this, what it was going to look like, and providing leaders and teachers with the supports and tools necessary to deliver.”

Taking it Back to Your School

  • How do you support teachers, coaches, and other instructional leaders as they implement HQIM?
  • In what ways do you set expectations that drive higher-level work in classrooms?
  • What structures do you have in place to allow teachers to build their capacity to internalize new curricula and instructional materials?

Anetra Cheatham is an accomplished leader with a passion for fostering student success and driving positive change in educational systems. With over 15 years of service to the Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) and 22 years in the field, Anetra currently serves as Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Administration. In this capacity, Anetra provides strategic leadership and direction, overseeing the day-to-day operations and guiding the district’s secondary schools towards its educational goals. Known as a change agent and driver of innovative solutions to complex problems, Anetra leveraged her prior role as Chief Innovation Officer to play a pivotal role in implementing strategic initiatives aimed at enhancing academic excellence and equity within the district. Through her work in the System of Great Schools Network, she successfully led the design and implementation of the Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) and Transcend school models along with the launch of 1882 charter/district partnerships. Her commitment to fostering a supportive learning environment and taking bold action to obtain results for students has earned her respect throughout the education community. Anetra is an alumna of Relay’s National Principals Academy Fellowship (NPAF), National Principals Supervisor Academy (NPSA) and the Leverage Leadership Institute (LLI).


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