Themes from the Curriculum Implementation Case Studies
Milestone Report for November 2008
Rosemary Hipkins, Bronwen Cowie, Sally Boyd, and Clive McGee
NEW ZEALAND COUNCIL FOR EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH
TE RÜNANGA O AOTEAROA MÖ TE RANGAHAU I TE MÄTAURANGA
New Zealand Council for Educational Research
P O Box 3237
? NZCER, 2008
Table of Contents Introduction 1 Theme One: The sense that schools are making of NZC 2 Aligning national and local curriculum goals 2 NZC and preparation for participation in life beyond school 3 Aligning vision and values to practice 4 Theme Two: Principal leadership is key to success 5 A focus on developing a shared vision 5 Distributing the leadership 6 Fostering a professional learning culture 6 Principals as learners 7 Dilemmas and challenges the principals faced 8 Theme Three: The nature of professional learning activities to date 9 Building on prior learning 9 A commitment to whole-school professional development 10 How professional learning was structured 11 Resources that supported professional learning 11 Barriers to professional learning for NZC implementation 12 Theme Four: Exploring the “front end” of the curriculum 13 Making sense of the key competencies 13 Clarifying school values 14 Translating talk to practice 15 Implications of this “front end” focus 16 Aligning the “front end” messages with other professional learning 17 Theme Five: Flexibility for school-based curriculum development 18 Building on a solid foundation 18
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A vision for fostering lifelong learning 19 Enacting the vision in classrooms 20 Involving students in the process of change 21 Theme Six: The move to an integrated curriculum and inquiry learning 22 The scope and focus of planned inquiries 22 Inquiry as a “student-centred” pedagogy 23 The place of disciplinary knowledge 24 Teaching as inquiry 25 Theme Seven: The time needed for implementation 27 Strategic planning for change 27 Making good use of learning time 28 Theme Eight: Engagement with parents and community 30 The nature of communication activities 30 How parent feedback is used 30 Involvement of the board of Trustees 31 Other challenges schools faced 31 Looking to the future: What’s next? 33 References 34
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This milestone report presents eight themes identified from the case studies of the 2008 schools that took part in the Curriculum Implementation Project.
Once the individual case studies had been completed the core research team discussed emergent themes. Eight were identified:
; The sense that schools are making of The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC)
; Principal leadership is key to success
; The nature of professional learning activities to date
; Exploring the ―front end‖ of the curriculum
; Flexibility for school-based curriculum development
; The move to an integrated curriculum and inquiry learning
; The time needed for implementation
; Engagement with parents and the community.
Each was then elaborated more fully by one or more members of the team. Following that, the lead authors synthesised these various reports to produce the completed document. The themes discussed here were seen as key to understanding the current implementation context, and helpful to the Ministry of Education for determining next steps. Although each theme is presented separately, in fact they overlap and interact with each other. For example, the approaches school leaders used to guide directions at their school, and to develop a professional learning culture, set the scene for the professional learning which occurred as schools explored their vision for students and the new curriculum. Likewise, the recent professional learning school leaders and teaches had engaged in provided a foundation which influenced the approaches school leaders took to the new curriculum and how they interpreted the contents.
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Theme One: The sense that schools are
making of NZC
This report begins with a broad overview of the manner in which the curriculum has been received and understood by the individuals we interviewed in the case study schools. Official curricula undergo a cascade of interpretations as they are translated from the intended to the implemented to the achieved curriculum. As key players in this cascade, school leaders and teachers interpret new curricula through the lens of their current practices and beliefs. Perceptions of the extent of the alignment between these practices and beliefs and the new curriculum influence the ways teachers and schools make sense of a curriculum and their experience of the implementation process. Ultimately, it is the extent of the alignment between student achievement and the intentions of those who wrote the curriculum that is crucial, but at this early stage of the implementation process, and in line with the requirements of the study, we focus on school leader and teacher perceptions of purposes for having a national curriculum and their perceptions of the extent that The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) (Ministry of Education, 2007a) aligns with their
current school vision, goals and practices.
Aligning national and local curriculum goals
There was widespread agreement that national curriculum provides a means of ensuring consistency across the nation while giving flexibility for schools to meet the needs and interests of their students and communities. School leaders and teachers viewed the NZC as a broad common
scaffold that gives more choice for schools and affords greater ownership of the curriculum to local communities. This increased flexibility for schools means that teachers can align and personalise learning to the school community as well as to the individual.
Teachers perceived that they had increased flexibility in their classrooms with a reduction in the number of achievement objectives. In general they considered there was sufficient balance between such flexibility and the guidance needed to achieve alignment and consistency across all schools. This meant that students would not be too disadvantaged if they moved school, notwithstanding local curriculum variation, and neither would teachers. A cohesive framework was also seen as meaning that NZC could be compared with curricula of other countries. Although
teachers welcomed the flexibility the curriculum offered, some noted they would need to develop a process to ensure that, as students moved either within or between schools, they would be presented with a coherent programme that built skills over time and did not repeat core content.
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The relatively open approach taken to co-constructing the curriculum meant that, prior to the release of the actual curriculum documents, a number of the school leaders in this study were already using their networks to bring the thinking and ideas underpinning the new curriculum back to their schools. This open process was helpful for school leaders and teachers as it resulted in many having considered and explored these ideas over a long time period. When the actual draft curriculum and the new revised curriculum were released in 2006 and 2007, school leaders and teachers first looked to compare these documents with ―what was there before‖. At some
schools, school leaders encouraged staff to work together on developing a submission about the draft curriculum, a process that was helpful in initially engaging staff with the changes in the new curriculum. Attention then turned to what schools were currently doing and to their own school’s
vision and philosophical values and beliefs. Common to all case study schools was the impression that teachers were comfortable with the new curriculum. Many commented on how relieved and even delighted they were to find that the new curriculum statement aligned with their school vision, policy, and practices. For the schools involved in literacy and numeracy projects, both leaders and teachers were also pleased that literacy and numeracy would continue to receive substantial emphasis, since many saw them as priorities in their school community. Notwithstanding this positive reception, some teachers were concerned that beginning teachers may not have enough existing curriculum knowledge to link NZC to the more detailed content of
the curriculum documents that preceded it. Another concern was that the continuing use of a structure of eight levels in every learning area might reinforce the expectation that students should be doing particular things at particular ages, without taking into account their cultural backgrounds or life experiences. Where this concern was raised, such an interpretation was seen as a counter-message to the potential for flexible curriculum planning.
NZC and preparation for participation in life beyond school Though much of NZC is seen as reinforcing the previous curriculum, especially the achievement objectives, its underlying philosophy is seen as being more explicit about vision, values, and the necessity to meet the learning needs of students. Teachers were of the view that NZC would guide
the ―big picture‖ for New Zealand because it is more holistic, with greater emphasis on developing capable, competent people and ultimately, contributing citizens. It seemed to teachers that it would enable students to be problem solvers and decision makers and to take ownership of their learning. Teachers felt generally that prominence in the document is given to preparing learners for the 21st century and that they should be confident, connected lifelong learners. They believed that development of well-rounded young people with values and a range of transferable skills will be important for a knowledge economy where most adults will have a range of careers in their lifetime. Their comments indicated they broadly supported the overall educational focus and high-level intent of the document. Although there was general agreement as to the overall direction of the curriculum, there was considerable variation within and between schools as to whether teachers and school leaders considered they were already well down the track designing
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approaches that fitted this intent or whether substantial transformation of school approaches to curriculum and pedagogy would be necessary.
Aligning vision and values to practice
Regardless of how discussions of NZC unfolded in the case study schools, a great deal of
professional development was entailed in the conversations that took place. The key role played by school leaders in these processes of professional learning and interpretation is discussed in Theme Two. Initially such professional learning was typically cross-curricular in nature, with an emphasis on building a professional learning community amongst the staff. The nature of this professional learning is the subject of Themes Three and Four of the report. The manner in which alignment between NZC and the current school vision, values, and practices was understood and acted on is discussed in Themes Five and Six.
The further development of integrated and inquiry learning approaches has been a key way in which many schools and teachers see they are able to enact the revised curriculum. The impetus for this development, discussed in Theme Six, aligns the idea of teachers as a learning community with the notion of the teacher and the class together as another, nested, learning community within the school. The importance of making and taking the considerable time needed for implementation is the theme of Theme Seven. Finally, we report on involvement of parents, whänau and the wider community in Theme Eight.
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Theme Two: Principal leadership is key to success
Across the case study schools it was clear that NZC implementation was driven by principals who
saw the need to take steps to encourage commitment from teachers. These principals were strong, skilled leaders who were able to enthuse most staff. They consulted widely within their school community on how to best manage the implementation process in their school, but especially with senior staff and/or volunteer enthusiasts. Teachers generally valued their own principal’s
judgement, confident that they were leading the school in the right direction. However, we saw some evidence of continuing pockets of resistance, especially in secondary schools. This section highlights some of the ways in which the process of implementation was facilitated by school leaders.
Across the case studies there were broad similarities in the school leadership approach; for example, to get teachers and community to commit to the new curriculum goals, values, and key competencies; to develop teachers as communities of learners; and to begin working on school programmes. The style of leadership fell broadly into what Woods (2005) called democratic leadership. But as Woods found, there were differences in the details of the approach in every school, no doubt influenced by different personalities, type of school, community, and students. A focus on developing a shared vision
Principals saw the importance of having a clear vision for the school, and a process led by them for putting this vision in place for the whole school community. As discussed in Theme Five, the development of a school vision was often ―a work in progress‖ and, particularly in the primary
schools, it was often a continuation of previous work on vision development. The guidance of the principal was important when considering the structural elements of the curriculum and reviewing the mission statement, vision, principles, and goals.
Some principals were determined the school vision should be both shared and lived. One principal declared that no teacher or school lives their vision until the students can talk about it. In developing the school charter most principals were keen to consult their school community, the aim being to focus on what is valued at the school as a starting point for all activities. Charter development was empowering for staff in a number of schools because, having consulted the school community, teachers realised they had ―reinvented‖ the key competencies, or at least there
was alignment. In general, staff had faith that the direction in which the school was headed was
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