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Curriculum conferences

At NZCER’s recent series of curriculum conferences there was a lot of interesting discussion relating to the implementation of New Zealand’s revised curriculum.  You can find out more about the conferences at http://www.nzcer.org.nz/default.php?cPath=21_394_396&page=1&sort=1d

I thought it might be useful to post some of the questions we discussed at the conferences here as an invitation for anyone interested to continue the conversation. Some of the questions posed were:

  • How do we balance a national and a school-based curriculum? What are the universal things that all schools need to be doing? (Are there any?) What are the areas where schools have the freedom to choose what they teach and how?
  • What does achievement look like and who decides?
  • What role do structures play in initiating, processing and sustaining change?
  • How do we support and grow leaders of learning at all levels – principals, teachers, students, BOT?
  • How do you encourage staff to be brave and visionary?
  • What are the barriers/ enablers for deep change?
  • What are the most effective levers for changing the school culture?

What’s “on top” for you? What’s puzzling you about how we can move towards a more future focused view of learning and education, whilst still keep everything up and going on a day to day basis for today’s students ?  What are the questions you think we all need to be asking? What are the most important things to think about?

Shifting schooling , ,

  1. | #1

    Hi Danella,
    So you’ve identified something you think can stifle teachers’ creativity and passion (too many rigid criteria for performance management and prof dev). But how can leaders and teachers create the opposite effect? i.e. What’s really *worked* for you and your school? How do you and your colleagues get (and stay) creative, passionate, and enthusiastic to try new ideas or practices? What helps you wake up every morning (or at least most mornings!) feeling excited about what you’re doing? Are there *big things* that create this kind of environment – or is it build up over time from lots of little things – and what are these things?

  2. Danella
    | #2

    Hello Out There in Cyper-Teacher Land,

    Creating Creative Teachers

    Assessment shapes what the students see as important and effects their learning behaviours and willingness to take risks. The same is true of teachers. The way in which principals manage performance management/professional development will impact on teachers’ creativity and willingness to visit new frontiers.

    I think having too many “must do” criteria stifles creativity and sucks the passion right out of adventurous teachers.

    That’s all I’ve Got To Say About That (for now),

    Cromwell Primary School

  3. | #3

    Thanks, I’ve just had a quick look at some of the videos. It was interesting listening to Wellington East Girls’ College teachers Kathryn Hutchinson and Rebecca Logan talking about ways they tried to support their departmental colleagues move their thinking forward in new and (perhaps a bit scary) directions.

  4. Muzz
    | #4


    over the past week we have added a number of short videos, slides and summaries to the NZCER Curriculum Conference series web pages – would encourage folk to take a look back over the highlights.

    More to come – including further promotion, but worth a look now!






  5. | #5

    I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a few schools where I really felt that this kind of culture was being nourished and nurtured, where staff seemed visibly excited as they talked about the growth, changes, and journeys they were taking together and individually. I hope we can persuade them to join in this discussion and tell us more about their experiences!

  6. | #6

    Hi Chris,
    I think about this question a lot–and the cultural quirks you mention are alive for me as someone from the US who has lived in NZ for 2.5 years and loves this country with an immigrant’s passion while seeing it with the foreigner’s dispassion. I think there’s a developmental thing that goes on too with people wanting to be members of the crowd before they decide to author their own story (you can read more about that developmental theory under “cognitive development models” at http://wiki.canterbury.ac.nz/display/TE21TLR1/Recommended+Reading (although many would argue this isn’t a cognitive developmental but socio-emotional developmental model). So for me the question becomes a cultural question–how do we create school cultures where the NORM is to try new things, to be learners together, to think outside the square? If the culture of a school allowed that, then even if you were one of the ones who was trying not to stand out, you’d try not to stand out by thinking outside the square!

    I think this is what you mean, Chris, when you talk about the system overtly expressing tolerance for imperfection and ambiguity, and one of the things I talk about when I tell leaders that they have to celebrate failure…
    I like the idea of sharing!

  7. | #7

    The most exciting question in this list to me is possibly the most difficult one. “How do we encourage staff to be brave and visionary?” Being brave and visionary in an egalitarian environment most certainly generates tension. New Zealand is a fascinating case here, becasue as much as we celebrate our ‘pioneering spirit’, we’re also all deeply indoctrinated in the art of shearing the tall poppy. Our geographical isolation gives us the freedom to be innovative without having to look over our shoulder, but our insecurity leaves us constantly seeking validation and reassurance. Not many want to stand out from the crowd.

    I wholeheartedly agree that bravery and vision are essential for our education system now and in the future. I’ve also been pondering what conditions would best nurture these qualities in the people with whom I work and for whom I am nominally ‘responsible’. It actually reminds me of an experience I am having at the moment in the classroom.

    My Year 12 English Literature Class (Theme: Anti-hero) have spent the last week devising their own learning programme to structure their analysis of a film. They also had to devise an assessment rubric for the tasks they developed. What fascinated me about this process was how incredibly conservative these teenagers were. I wasn’t surprised, because I have long been sensitive to the innate conservatism of teenagers, and see good reasons for this to be the case, yet it still bemuses me. When they are presented with the opportunity to “Learn in any way they wish”, and moreover allowed to “Set any criteria they feel is valid” to assess their learning, they descend into a tailspin of anxiety about whether what they’re doing is ‘right’ and how they will subsequently fare in NCEA external examinations which are all-important for the jobs they apparently need these examination results to secure. I reassure these students with bombastic rhetoric about the pedagogical validity of the learning programme, but their confidence is still brittle.
    Of course, from my vantage point I can see the deep and abiding value of their debates over whether considerations of “How hard the student worked on the project” should be a criteria for judgement. We have had some fantastic conversations about whether it would be valid to give me a good result for a hypothetical cabinet it took me 6 dedicated weeks to build, when it was ultimately (hypothetically) ugly and non-functional, in comparison to the 2 days it might take a proficient Hard Materials Tech student to produce something intrinsically superior. They reassured me that there was probably a huge amount of value to me personally in tackling a project like that and seeing it to fruition, even though they also agreed that they would judge the competing cabinet as being ‘better’. This sort of conversation is gold. But the important point for our “shiftingthinking” discussion is that the students still feel unease.

    In this, they are identical to many very good teachers with whom I work. Iconoclasm, which is surely the label for those who are brave and visionary, demands a lot of the individual. In a system where, due largely to a lack of resources, evaluation is scant and largely either cursory and internal, or cruel, arbitrary and external, a teacher largely has to rely on their internal compass about whether what they are doing is effective. In such an environment, to do anything at all beyond the tried and true takes real courage. To own up to such acts of bravery takes a great deal of self-esteem. To share the results of your visionary activities and risk the almost inevitable criticism demands tremendous robustness. And teachers still perform acts of such bravery every day. Because they care so much, I would contend.

    How do we promote and stimulate this iconoclastic disposition?

    We celebrate it wherever possible. We praise it. We attend to what truly matters and affirm the act of originality and vision without reservation. We bring good humour to our evaluation of it in order to ensure that the outcomes, however poor, never overshadow the tremendous value of the experimentation itself.
    We also model this behaviour. Not only for our peers but also for our students- as Mahatma Ghandi said, we must “Be the change we wish to see in the world”. We have to laugh when we make an error. Our system must overtly express tolerance for imperfection and ambiguity.

    We’ve got to share.

    Chris Waugh
    Mount Aspiring College

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