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Making a Change

“We all know it is possible to change without learning … however, it is not possible to learn without changing in some way.”   Peter Senge

As an educator, you are often called upon to lead change efforts within your district.  In education, change is sometimes the only constant as you attempt to find new ways to reach students, manage buildings, and serve communities.  There are two types of change:  first-order and second-order.  First-order change is typically less traumatic in terms of individual reaction.  It may mean simple adjustments to what you are already doing while still staying on the same path.  It is reversible and new learning is not necessarily required.  On the other hand, second-order change is shifting to a new way of seeing things.  This type of change is fundamentally different than what you have done in the past and it is irreversible.  New learning is required and a new path is taken.   Research from Everett Rogers shows that convincing innovators and early adopters of a change is essential because a percentage of them will be the key leaders who will then convince the early majority to come along, and so forth.

Something else to keep in mind is that a first-order change to one person may be a second-order change to another.  Knowing your staff is key to understanding what the reaction to either type of change may be.  If an educator’s fundamental beliefs are not challenged (first-order change), they may show more cooperation and less resistance than educators who must adapt to new ideas about teaching practices and their roles in the classroom.  Deep philosophical changes (second-order) can produce resistance initially; however, with a safe, structured process in place, teachers and administrators eventually align their beliefs and practices to the reform effort.  Those who lag behind will eventually stop fighting the process or move on.

In any complex process, once implementation begins, analysis of staff reactions can dictate what piece or pieces might be missing in order for full and successful implementation to take place.  In other words, meet each staff member where they are and move forward by determining what they need.

CCC Purposes

CCC is a permanent body of a district’s educational leaders.  Its purposes are:

  • to establish and maintain the model for academic program governance;

  • to serve as “keepers of the vision,” assuring compliance with the district mission statement, curriculum policy, and the Long Range Plan;

  • to theorize, discuss, and take action on issues pertaining to curriculum, instruction and student learning; and

  • to serve as an educational “transformer” in the integration of external influences and mandates, so that they positively influence rather than short-circuit existing change processes.

Creating the Long Range Plan

A number of factors affect a district’s decision about the order subjects should appear in the Long Range Plan (LRP).  Here are some of the most common.

  • State requirements.  Does your state have a Long Range Plan that dictates which subjects must be addressed in a given year?  If so, what subject should be done this year?  What is the order of subjects following this year?

  • Student data.  Do you have student data, such as test scores, that point to a subject where improvement is needed in student learning?  Which subject needs the most improvement?  How serious is the problem?


  • Existing curricula.  Do you already have a curriculum for all subjects in your district?  If not, which ones are missing?  If so, which ones are the oldest, or most out-of-date?  With these questions as a guide, what is the order you would address subjects in your Long Range Plan?


  • Textbook cycle.  Does your district have in place a “cycle” for the purchase of new textbooks?  If so, consider how that cycle would impact the decision of which subjects are addressed in which order.  If you follow the Long Range Plan in the CLI Model, resources (including textbooks) are not purchased until after the curriculum has been written and validated, which is year three of the Subject Area Committee’s work.  If you were to follow the Long Range Plan on the previous page, but still stay with your current textbook cycle, which subject would be addressed first… second… and so forth?


  • Other.  What other factors might affect your decisions?  How?

Download a blank Long Range Plan in one of the following formats:

SAC Purposes, Roles, and Qualifications

The Subject Area Committee (SAC) is not a permanent body like the CCC, but is an ad hoc group that exists no more than four or five years at a time.  It is led by a member of the CCC whose primary task is to maintain liaison between the two bodies.  The SAC is subordinate to the CCC and is much more limited in its scope, since it deals with a single subject area.  Its purposes are:

  • to follow an action agenda for developing curriculum in this subject, and preparing a comprehensive curriculum document;

  • to implement and validate the document through faculty development activities and feedback strategies; and

  • to identify resources that support the validated curriculum, and to prepare and validate local assessments (if so directed by CCC).

When these tasks are completed, the SAC, while not really dissolved, is inactive for a year or two, then it begins the process again.  This means that the entire process is repeated every five or six years.  The repetition is necessary to keep the curriculum current and valid.  Needless to say, the process is much easier the second and subsequent times it is implemented.  Membership of the SAC may change somewhat for repeat processes, but much of it remains the same.

The amount of leeway a CCC has in selecting members of the SAC depends on the size of the district.  Ideally, for a K-12 subject area, a SAC would have one teacher for each elementary grade level, as well as two or three middle level and two or three high school teachers.  However, small districts don’t have that many teachers, and the numbers they do have must be distributed across the subject areas.

The SAC Chair

In some districts, members of the SAC choose their own chairperson; however, in most districts, the CCC makes this selection.  In fact, the CCC member who will be on the committee for liaison purposes is most often named as the chairperson.  If there is a CCC member who is a specialist in the targeted subject area, then he or she would be a logical choice.  It is not necessary for the CCC delegate, or the SAC chairperson, to be a specialist in the subject area. 

Qualifications of the SAC Chair

Regardless of the specialty of the SAC chairperson, the chairperson should be:

  • organized to manage agendas, decisions, facility and material needs, notifications, minutes of meetings, and curriculum documents;

  • effective as a facilitator to maximize work time; and

  • effective as a consensus-builder to reach timely and supported decisions.

Responsibilities of the SAC Chair

The person's primary

responsibilities are to:

  • serve as liaison between the CCC and the SAC for communication of needs and progress;

  • help direct the curriculum development process; and

  • organize facilities, supplies, and resulting documents to keep the committee functioning smoothly.

Download one of our Sample Subject Area Committee (SAC) Applications in one of the following formats:


Regardless of the size of the district, it is imperative that each SAC have a system for thorough and ongoing communication, and this must be kept in mind when appointing membership.  It is important to assess personalities and be sure that each SAC has sufficient numbers of people who can provide leadership and communicate effectively with peers.

Leadership should be viewed much like the concept of a representative in government.  Those persons selected as SAC members should understand that advocacy, consensus-building, and compromise are all functions of leadership.  Members must be willing to take a position on issues, and be able to advocate that position both within the committee setting and when communicating with other colleagues.  In order to advocate a position, members must know how to dynamically lead positive deliberations.  And as a part of making those deliberations positive, they must keep an open mind and have a clear sense of when compromise is in order.  When positive and dynamic discussions take place, and the need for compromise is understood, then consensus is a natural outcome.  SAC reports should be a standing agenda item for the CCC.  Summaries of SAC work should be provided to any principals who are not members of the CCC. An example of a communication protocol is shown below.

  • Teachers of a target subject area contact the SAC member representing their building or grade level.

  • SAC members communicate with the SAC chairperson and with faculty during staff or grade level meetings.

  • SAC chairperson communicates with CCC at regular meetings and with the Council Chair/Curriculum Coordinator between meetings, as necessary, to keep the CCC apprised of issues, concerns, questions or proposed changes needing approval.

  • Council Chair/Curriculum Coordinator communicates with CCC and administrators, as necessary, between regular CCC meetings.

  • All CCC and SAC minutes will be posted on the district website.

  • All major decisions will be communicated via district newsletter or building staff meetings.

The District Mission and Vision Statements

Do these terms sound familiar?

  • Mission statement

  • Vision statement

  • Strategic plan

  • Core beliefs

  • Conceptual framework

  • Values statement

  • Philosophy

  • Strategic directions

  • Education framework


What is the difference of one from another?  Do we need them all?  Do we need any?  Why?


All of these are terms that support the identity of a school district and outline the work that you do collectively as an educational institution. But, in order to integrate any of these within your district, start with the big picture. Determining your vision and mission will clarify the “why” and “how” at the district level. They answer the question of why a school district exists, and serve as a foundation for building relationships, planning for the short- and long-term, and making decisions.  They give faculty, staff, students, parents, and patrons a sense of purpose and motivation, and should guide all district activities.

District Vision

Our paths into education are all unique; however, our desire to do what’s best for kids is unanimous. In order to move toward a better future for your students, you must first determine what inspires your educators to do their best work. The district vision is your goal for the future, or what you strive to do as a district. The district vision statement should be brief and inspirational.  It should clarify “why” you’re here and help create “buy-in” for up-coming changes. Examples of vision statements include:

1. Every Pleasant Valley High School student will achieve personal success and become a responsible and productive citizen.

2. Our vision, as a community, is to inspire a passion for learning.

3. At Pleasant Valley School District we believe that our students will be responsible citizens, lifelong learners, and will be prepared for a variety of post-graduation options.

District Mission

The mission statement is intertwined with the vision and they are mutually supportive. The difference is that the district mission statement is a lengthier and more descriptive overview of the steps the district will take to achieve the vision. Here are some examples.

1. Our mission is to provide a high-quality, comprehensive, and meaningful education for all students. Each student will be expected to succeed within the bounds of their abilities and chosen educational goals. Each student will be treated as an individual, given the tools to be a lifelong learner, and taught to function as a member of a group and as a productive member of society.

2. Our mission is to empower all students to apply their acquired skills and knowledge, and to rely upon their personal attributes to lead productive lives and to become contributing members of the global community. 

3. In order to prepare students to live in and contribute to a changing world and engage in active, lifelong learning, Pleasant Valley High School provides a balanced, varied school curriculum designed to meet the academic, cultural, and social needs of individuals from the diverse backgrounds of our community.

Updating or Building New District Vision or Mission Statements

Most districts already have a vision and/or mission statement in place.  However, unless they have been thoroughly examined recently, it is most likely time to take another look at them to determine their effectiveness in light of changes in education. In examining the vision and mission statements, districts must focus on their real meaning and how they impact the work of the Curriculum Coordinating Council and Subject Area Committees. Work in these committees must align directly with the district vision and mission statements.

The CCC begins this process, by discussing the purposes of a vision statement and a mission statement, identifying any requirements (perhaps by the State or accrediting agencies), and creating a plan to gather input about them from stakeholders. It is essential to allow those who want to provide their input to have the opportunity to do so. Change can be difficult for some, and offering a chance to be part of the change may ease the transition in the future. It will likely get more people “on board” with the new vision and mission statements and make them more effective. Most CCC’s choose to gather input from faculty at staff meetings in discussions, using a survey (good for stakeholders that do not attend staff meetings), or a combination of both.

After gathering and analyzing stakeholder input, the CCC will draft the vision and mission statements, and present them to stakeholders for feedback. The CCC will then make revisions and repeat the process until a final statements have been written. These steps may need to be repeated a number of times.  When consensus is reached on the final vision and mission statements (and any accompanying documents) they are ready for presentation to the district’s board, and then publication.

Guidelines to CCC Members for Leading Discussion

The following document is a sample of guidelines used when the draft is disseminated to the district’s personnel.

  1. Be sure that the proposed Mission Statement is in the hands of all faculty and staff members at least 48 hours prior to your meetings. If you have time and opportunity before the meeting, it is a good idea to ask your colleagues if they have had a chance to read the statement and, if they have, what their responses are.  That kind of informal interaction will give you clues as to what might happen in a meeting, and could possibly avert extended discussions on relatively minor issues.

  2. Develop a mental agenda before going into the meeting. The agenda might look something like this:

    • “My” thoughts as to why it is important to update our mission statement.

    • Brief review of how our statement was developed and updated.

    • Some commentary on how the statement will be used.

    • My personal level of commitment to the concept of a mission statement and the new document itself.

    • Call for participant discussion on:

      • format

      • content in each section

  3. If you feel quite positive about the document, you should let that attitude show. Be an advocate but do not become defensive; copy down negative criticisms and assure participants that their concerns will be seriously considered by the CCC.

  4. Indicate that the CCC will make revisions based on staff input and a draft of the revised Mission Statement will be issued to all faculty and staff members after the next council meeting. They should contact you if there are additional concerns. Unless there are serious concerns, the committee will begin preparing its presentation to the Board of Education.  All faculty and staff members should know that the statement, when it is presented to the Board, will be characterized as a product of all professional educators and support personnel.  It is important to make that point very clear.  Try to avoid a situation in which a minority position becomes solidified.

  5. Possible questions or comments you might encounter during the meeting are:

    • How is this statement different from the goals set by the Board?          

      • The Board’s goals only partially pertain to the academic program per se, and that portion would certainly not be as comprehensive and precise as the Mission Statement.  The Board and Council will examine and resolve any discrepancies between Board goals and the Mission Statement. 

    • How will we ensure that the Mission Statement is more than mere window dressing?     

      • All Council members and the Administrative Team agree that a systematic process must be developed to ensure that the statement has an appropriate and long-lasting impact on academic decision making.

    • Is this particular Mission Statement to be used forever?              

      • No. The district’s Curriculum Policy calls for continuing review of the statement’s adequacy, and procedures for amending it when necessary. 

Though the above guidelines are useful, it is even more important to discuss and rehearse building review sessions.  Such an activity will resolve concerns and clarify procedural matters.


After the CCC has been established, the long range curriculum plan written, and the SACs chosen, the CCC can now begin confronting critical district issues.  Issues are considered critical when they must be addressed in order for the curriculum written by SACs to be delivered consistently throughout the district’s classrooms.


Critical issues impact both the district as a whole as well as individual buildings; therefore, decisions must be made at both levels.  The CCC is responsible for addressing the district-level questions and making recommendations to the staff and the Board of Education.  The CCC should also monitor decisions made at the building levels to assure they are consistent with district goals and priorities.

What is Mastery?

If you were to look up the word “mastery” in the dictionary, you would likely find a definition stating something similar to “expertise or full command of a subject of study.”  If you were to ask five people what their definition of mastery is, you would likely get five different answers.  In your position as a CCC member, you are charged with creating your own district mastery statement.  The following exchange takes place at a CCC meeting while the group is trying to come to consensus on a definition for mastery.  As you will notice in the character descriptions and dialogue, the CCC members are in very different places and have varying opinions as to what mastery truly means for students in their district.  As you read the exchange, think about your own beliefs regarding mastery and be prepared to have your own dialogue in order to come to consensus about the definition.


A curriculum coordinating council meeting.  It is April during the first year of the CCC.  As the first SAC nears completion of the first curriculum document based on high achievement unit outcomes, the CCC knows defining mastery is a necessary next step.  They have already agreed that student learning will now be evaluated in terms of the new curricular outcomes.


Pete:           middle school science teacher — likes traditional written tests; simply using 70% as the definition for                        mastery is OK with him

Sue:            elementary school teacher — has been studying performance criteria

Max:            high school geography teacher — has some trouble with the idea of using only 70%

Gerri:           middle school math teacher — has concerns about students retaining knowledge after the test is                               over (retention of facts later in the year)

Robert:        elementary school art teacher — has a lot of trouble with using only 70% due to his subject matter

James:         high school driver’s ed. teacher — has A LOT of trouble with 70% due to his subject matter

Amy:             high school government teacher — has concerns about students transferring what they’ve learned in                       class to real-life situations

Angela:        middle school English teacher — has concerns about her accountability when students don’t use a                           skill on a daily basis, but they have shown the skill on a test

Joe:              chair of the CCC


Joe:             (standing next to blank chart paper) I would like our discussion today to focus on two questions “Just what is mastery”; and “How is mastery defined or determined?” During our discussion, I’ll record your questions or issues so we’ll have a record of what we need to resolve.  So, let’s start with the first question: just what is mastery?

Pete:           Well, mastery means that students really learned what I wanted them to learn.

Sue:            Yes, but how do you know they really learned it?

Pete:           The same way we’ve always decided if learning has really happened — through tests.  I think the issue is how well do students have to do on a test for us to say they’ve mastered it?  I’ve been reading about this lately, and it seems like most schools are requiring at least 70% — some say as high as 85% — to declare that a student has met mastery. 

Max:            That 70% bothers me.  In my last geography unit there were ten things I thought were absolutely essential for students to know.  Are you telling me that if they know seven of those things, but don’t have a clue about the other three, they’ve reached mastery?  Or are they supposed to know each of the ten things at a 70% level?  I’m not sure I know how to put that kind of value on each part.

Joe:             So the issue you are raising is: if we say “70%,” then we have to decide 70% of what?

Max:            Exactly.

Gerri:           I have another kind of problem with using a percentage.  I have students in every one of my math classes who have scored 100% on a major test.  Yet a month or so later, when I surprise them with a few review problems, the very same kids who scored 100% are lucky to get half of them right.  Obviously their learning was short-term and not permanent.  There’s no way you would call that mastery.

Joe:             So another issue would be that mastery should not be determined by a “one shot” evaluation.  In determining mastery are we going to evaluate whether the student can demonstrate the knowledge next week, next month, or next year?

Gerri:           Maybe we should require small spot-checks as well as repeating “old” questions on tests to assure ourselves that previous outcomes really have been mastered.

Robert:        You all are talking about written tests.  My art classes are strictly performance-based.  How do you decide on 70% for a piece of pottery?

Sue:            Don’t you evaluate against a set of performance criteria or a rubric?  I’d think it would depend on whether the student met 70% of your criteria.

Robert:        I do evaluate that way.  But I’m like Max.  Are you saying that students just have to meet seven of my ten criteria, or do they have to meet each criterion at a 70% level?  I can tell you I’m not going to accept three of those criteria being ignored, so the first interpretation doesn’t work.  And as for the second one, I don’t know how you can put a percentage on something like “student’s design was original.”  It either was or wasn’t; there’s no 70% to it.

James:         (chuckling) Well, there’s something else at stake here that no one has brought up yet.  I teach driver’s education.  Is it okay with all of you if I send these kids out on the road in real-life vehicles if they only know 70% of what they need to know about safe driving?

Joe:             I think it’s obvious that we’ve all seen — or are beginning to see — some problems with only using the percentage factor.  While that works just fine in some instances, it clearly is not appropriate for all circumstances.

Amy:           I agree with that, but there are other issues as well.  James said a couple of key words that have been on my mind recently:  “real-life.”  I’ve been really pleased with the effort put forth by my government students this year.  Studying the Constitution and amendments can be really tedious.  But they have worked really hard!  They’ve read everything I’ve asked; they can answer the usual questions, and most of them have done really well on their tests.  And yet, when something comes up in the morning paper, and I ask them how that issue applies to what we’ve been learning — I get a lot of blank stares.  They just aren’t transferring learning from the textbook and the classsroom to the real world.

Sue:            And if I remember our training correctly, isn’t each SAC supposed to write their outcomes to be relevant — somehow having the kids use their new skills in a real-world situation?

Joe:             Yes, that’s right.  If we want to know if our students have mastered an outcome in a real-life situation we need to be serious about determining how they might use the skill in the real world and then have the students demonstrate that in our classrooms.  We may have to use simulations or role-plays, but we can’t assume that our students have mastered an outcome unless we have, in some way, evaluated their transfer of knowledge to a new or different situation.

Amy:           I get it — you’re saying don’t take it for granted or just assume they will do it on their own. 

Joe:             Right — and Amy is correct – that’s another issue.

Angela:        I have something that’s similar yet different.  I have a student in my English class who almost always does well on paper — whether it’s a daily assignment or a test or whatever — and yet when we have our class discussions I’m appalled at how poorly she expresses herself.  I know she hasn’t mastered some of the basics that I’m teaching this year, and yet how can I justify that opinion?  What can I show her parents if they come in for a conference?  I know what I know, but it’s only based on my observations and opinions! 

Joe:             So what you’re talking about is a teacher’s qualitative judgment. And another issue is, how much weight will we give to that type of evaluation?

Angela:        And what evidence do we keep to back up qualitative judgment?

Pete:           That could affect how I test — I mean assess — my students when they perform a science experiment.  I’m starting to see how this isn’t as easy as I once thought.  This raises the whole issue of assessments — both of how many we give and how many different types we use.  What assessments do we expect teachers to use to determine mastery?  Do we want teachers to use more than one type of assessment?  Do we want them to give more than just one for each outcome?

Sue:            How well do our teachers, and principals, even understand different types of assessment?  Sometimes I feel that we are using tests to signify the end of the unit and that’s it.  But wouldn’t it be better if assessments were used to determine a student’s needs, so we could keep working to meet those needs?

Gerri:           As we’ve been talking now, another question has been forming in my mind.  What’s the relationship between mastery and a letter grade?  Can’t we just say if a student gets at least a “C” on an outcome, then that’s mastery?

James:         That doesn’t address the issue of retaining learning over time, or transferring learning to a new situation.  On top of that, we all have our own way of grading.  So what constitutes a “C” for one teacher could be different for another, even if they’re teaching the same outcomes.  If we’re holding all students accountable to the same outcomes, then that accountability needs to be the same. 

Amy:           Besides that, if you tried to connect a grade to mastery, I think you’d have to consider only the grade for the final assessment.  For example, to come up with a “grade,” I usually total the points for all daily work as well as assessments.  If a student did really well on all her daily work, she could get a “D” or possibly an “F” on final demonstration of the outcome, and still get a “C” overall.  But that “D” or “F” tells me she hasn’t mastered the outcome.

Max:            But why would you count only the outcome assessment?  Some students have “test phobia” and don’t do well even though they know the material.  Or a student might just have a bad day – or conversely, be especially lucky one day, and end up fooling us.  I think we have to look at their work overall.

Joe:             As our discussion so far has shown us, this is the kind of situation where answering one question leads to asking another.  The issues are complex and will take some time — and much dialogue — to address.  However, with input from each building staff, our District Mission, and our new subject area outcomes to help guide us, I believe we can eventually clarify what we believe in our district concerning mastery and grading.

                  As we’ve talked, I’ve grouped the issues that we must take action on.  I think first we need to come up with some broad “overview” guidelines for a mastery definition and a grading rubric.  With these guidelines in mind, we can then get input from each building staff on a set of questions that will help us really resolve the issues.  I’ve collected a sample set of guidelines from some other school districts for us to look at.  I’ve also listed some of the questions for further consideration.

Defining Mastery

Use the following questions to guide CCC mastery discussions and create your district mastery statement.  See the examples on the next page to get started!

  • What do we mean by “mastery” both in qualitative and quantitative terms?

  • What are the specific guidelines for mastery in terms of factors such as time, curriculum, assessments, instruction, and retention?

  • Final mastery statement:

Sample Mastery Statements

Mastery in Elementary District 3

Mastery means that students can independently demonstrate the learning that is expected of them, as described in the Elementary District 3’s published curricula.  Students demonstrate learning through quantitative and/or qualitative measurements, and are evaluated using common district assessments and predetermined criteria.

Students who have met or exceeded mastery will move directly into activities that will broaden, expand, or deepen their learning.  Students who have not mastered outcomes are provided with additional instruction and/or alternative learning methods. When true mastery has occurred, all students can – over time – demonstrate their learning more than once and in more than one way.


Community School District Statement of Mastery

All students will learn and independently demonstrate mastery of academic outcomes over time.  Academic outcomes are described in the Community School District’s published curricula. Students will demonstrate mastery through quantitative and/or qualitative measurements and will be evaluated using common outcome assessments and predetermined criteria developed through the curriculum process.

Through core instruction using multiple teaching strategies and differentiation, all students will demonstrate mastery. Students who have met or exceeded mastery will continue learning through activities that will broaden and deepen their understanding. Students who have not mastered outcomes will achieve mastery through supplemental and/or intensive instruction.

Time, grouping, and methodology are the variables; achieving mastery is the constant.

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