Professional Learning

Changing a Curriculum to Prioritize Rigor, Relevance, and Blended Learning

5 Min Read
San Benito3 Educators from the San Benito CISD at the 2018 Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida. (Courtesy of San Benito CISD)

Is your district consistently looking for ways to positively impact student achievement? Yep, we are too! And about two years ago, this reached a pinnacle. We at San Benito CISD (SBCISD) in Texas went through a curriculum audit to analyze student work and determine rigor levels. The results showed that although teachers were teaching and students were learning, the rigor levels of student learning were lower than what we strived for. The question then became what we were going to do about it.

Our first step was to partner with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) in an effort to increase the rigor and relevance of the instruction we provide to our students. We also decided, what the heck—let’s infuse purposeful technology usage into student learning as well. Why not? Therefore, our mission really became two-fold—implement instructional strategies with fidelity to ensure rigorous and relevant learning, and increase student engagement with the use of technology in the classroom. In the end, we believed these two efforts would greatly improve what we do in our schools every day.

The Journey Begins

Near the end of the 2017–2018 school year, ICLE conducted a Digital Practices Assessment in our SBCISD schools to measure the levels of rigor and relevance and the use of technology in the classrooms. We used these assessments to help identify the areas that needed to be addressed and establish a baseline from which to measure progress.

Our district and campus leaders also attended the Model Schools Conference and learned what other educators have done to transform their schools. This generated some excitement as participants explored new and innovative learning tools and technologies being used to shape the future of teaching and learning. We knew this was something that we needed—something that we owed to San Benito schools.

After the conference, all administrators were trained on the ICLE Rigor, Relevance, and Engagement Rubrics that were to be used to measure student learning. In addition, we identified 210 teachers as the first cohort to receive two days of training on rigor and relevance and learn about different instructional tools and technology they would use in their classrooms. We couldn’t wait to get started!


At the beginning of the 2018–2019 school year, Weston Kieschnick, ICLE Senior Fellow, served as the keynote speaker at our back-to-school convocation. His message introduced the concept of blended learning. Teachers walked away understanding that technology is a tool to enhance student learning, and it will never be a replacement for good teaching.

Our Goals and How We Measured Progress

The importance of a goal is not what the goal is but rather what the goal makes you do. As superintendent, I helped us turn our aspirations into execution by setting the following tangible goals for our first cohort of teachers:

To measure if our teachers were meeting the goals, we revised our lesson plan template to include the components from the Rigor, Relevance, and Engagement Rubrics and added an area for campus leaders to indicate the technology tools being used in each lesson.

Following the first round of coaching and implementation, we had a lot to celebrate! After visiting 81 classrooms, Mark White, our ICLE Professional Learning Consultant, reported that there was a significant increase in Quadrant D lessons compared with the data gathered during the Digital Performance Assessment in May 2018.

May 2018October 2018
Quadrant A52%35%
Quadrant B29%16%
Quadrant C15%21%
Quadrant D4%28%
Time to Learn and Implement

Our agreement with ICLE includes four rounds of coaching days scheduled throughout the school year for each of our campuses. These days are very beneficial and a critical success component of being able to make progress toward our ultimate aspirations. During the coaching days, our designated ICLE consultant, Mark White, conducts observations and debriefs with teachers and campus administrators to discuss progress, celebrate successes, and provide ideas to improve. A coaching day can also include working during a PLC to support teachers as they craft their lessons.

What’s Next?

Now that we are a year into our endeavor and experiencing success, we are more driven than ever to keeping the momentum going. We have a three-year commitment with a goal to have 95% of our teachers trained by the end of the third year.

  • This year, we will train 210 teachers, with a refresher occurring in the subsequent years.
  • In the next school year, we plan to train another 210, with a refresher occurring the following year.
  • In 2020–2021, we will train an additional 210 teachers.

Shall we make a plan to meet up in spring of 2021? I am positive SBCISD will have many success stories to share about how we infused purposeful technology into student learning and implemented instructional strategies to ensure rigorous and relevant learning. See you then!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Join more than 5,000 educators in 100+ sessions at the 31st Annual Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida, from June 25–28, 2023, where you can learn what steps to take to act for impact in your school or district.

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