Issues Magazine

Curriculum Management: Connecting the Whole Person

By Michael T. Buchanan

Faculty leaders in schools who encourage opportunities for teachers to engage in curriculum change also create experiences of connectedness that have the potential to enable teachers to explore and/or nurture their own spiritual dimension.

The demand for qualified teachers of science often exceeds supply, and many teachers with limited science knowledge and expertise have been called upon to teach science. For such teachers, engaging in curriculum development and change can make them feel vulnerable and disconnected.

The insights gained from my study of curriculum management suggested that faculty leaders can promote a teacher’s experiences of “connectedness” to the curriculum process by:

  • providing time for teachers to reflect on the change and its implications;
  • identifying and responding to the “real” needs of teachers;
  • providing the resources required to implement curriculum change;
  • organising relevant professional development and learning opportunities; and
  • fostering team work among teachers.

These strategies have the potential to enable teachers to consider and nurture their own spirituality and its relevance to learning and teaching. To this end it is vital that a teacher encounter a sense of connectedness, and faculty leaders can provide opportunities for teachers to engage in meaningful ways.

Drawing on theories about the spiritual dimension, faculty leaders of science education can incorporate opportunities for teachers to experience a deeper sense of connectedness through attention to curriculum change, including science curricula (see box). These possibilities are explored below.

Curriculum change often originates from forces outside of the school. “Top-down” curriculum initiatives originate in situations where the outside force(s) has authority over the school, according to Peter Morris (The Hong Kong School Curriculum: Development, Issues and Policies, 1995). For a top-down change to be adopted, those leading the change within the school need to fully understand the change and the spirit and intention underpinning it.

Change affects people at personal and professional levels, according to David Smith and Terrence Lovat (Curriculum: Action on Reflection, 2003). Change can disconnect teachers particularly in situations where they feel they have no control over their perceived professional responsibilities as teachers working with the classroom curriculum. In the face of curriculum change, the faculty leaders involved in my study perceived it as their responsibility to connect teachers to the change process by providing opportunities for members of their teaching faculty to become fully informed about the change and its implications for their classroom programs.

The faculty leaders involved in this research suggested that time to reflect on practice assisted the management of this curriculum change. It provided opportunities for teachers to reach an understanding about the reasons for the change, to share their responses to the change and to identify and express any difficulties they had with the change. This strategy was important because it enabled individual teachers to feel connected to others involved in the change process.

The following comment was a common view expressed by the faculty leaders:

Reflection time provided opportunities for adequate communication between members of staff. Staff members were able to discuss issues concerning the reasons for the change and share their responses. It provided an opportunity for them to express their concerns and difficulties and find a way forward. This process was particularly important because concerns about the changes not only raised educational questions but also questions relating to the personal or spiritual concerns of many teachers. (A)

Time to reflect and discuss was not only valuable for the teaching staff involved in the change but also for the faculty leaders who were leading the change. This time enabled teachers to share pedagogical experiences about how the curriculum innovation was being translated to the classroom. Opportunities to celebrate success, express concerns and find ways to improve the learning and teaching approaches provided opportunities for teachers to learn from each other.

This focus on the Other has a bi-dimensional nature. Other is viewed in terms of the curriculum as well as in terms of teachers sharing ideas and reflections about the curriculum. The interplay between these orientations can enable a teacher to experience various levels of connectedness at professional and personal levels. According to Marian de Souza (2003), such experiences of connectedness can lead to the nurturing of one’s spiritual dimension. The opportunity to participate in such forms of reflective practice enabled teachers to focus on the needs of their real work situation and learn from each other.

Another significant insight revealed by the faculty leaders was that discussion about practice was not only beneficial for teachers but also for faculty leaders as curriculum leaders. Because of their role as curriculum leaders, faculty leaders were able to gain insights into the real needs of teachers from the time set aside to discuss the link between theory and practice.

Time to reflect on practice provided opportunities for faculty leaders to consider and organise for staff development and resource needs relevant to the teachers’ current situation. In adopting this approach the faculty leaders were able to create environments where teachers learn best. Neville Johnson of Connections Educational Consultancy has suggested that teachers perceive staff development opportunities as an integral part of their work when those opportunities are focused on the real needs of the teacher. In these situations teachers felt valued, both professionally and personally, and therefore were more willing to become engaged in the process of curriculum implementation.

Time to discuss the interplay between the new curriculum and practice provided an opportunity for members of the faculty to meet and express their concerns and understandings relating to the curriculum change. In so doing, the learning and teaching needs associated with the curriculum innovation were articulated. Consequently, faculty leaders could respond to the needs of the classroom teacher by providing professional learning opportunities and appropriate curriculum resources for the teachers. The insight into the personal and spiritual concerns of the teachers also influenced the actions of the faculty leaders, particularly in taking responsibility for the professional development/learning opportunities they provided for members of their faculty.

Another factor, according to Johnson, that assisted the change was the provision made by the faculty leaders to offer school-based opportunities for professional learning and development. This was also problematic because it took away curriculum management time in an already under-resourced and demanding leader­ship role, says Sally Liddy (Journal of Religious Education 1998, 42[2]). However, the faculty leaders perceived this as an important aspect of their role in managing the change because it helped the teachers to feel connected to the process.

The transition to the new curriculum exposed deficiencies in the content knowledge and skills of many teachers. John Thomas (Journal of Religious Education 2000, 48[2]) has commented on the implications of unqualified teachers in terms of impeding the quality of teaching and learning. Most faculty leaders indicated that providing professional learning and development opportunities helped the teachers to become more proficient, and this assisted the management of the curriculum change.

Johnson has emphasised the importance of professional learning cultures in schools. In some instances faculty leaders claimed that it was imperative that they facilitate and lead the professional learning/development opportunities for the teachers in their faculty.

The faculty leaders demonstrated a sympathetic understanding of how vulnerable many teachers were because of their lack of qualifications and lack of personal commitment to the discipline. Faculty leaders were able to recognise how such issues might have an impact on a teacher’s level of confidence in the classroom. It is understandable that faculty leaders perceived themselves as being key persons, able to be responsible for facilitating and leading professional learning experiences of teachers in their faculty because they had a relationship with them and were committed to engaging the whole person in their professional role as a teacher.

The teachers feel threatened when experts from outside the school lead professional development seminars. They just sit there and they are reluctant to interact or ask questions. At first I thought it was because they did not care about the subject. Then I realised that they felt vulnerable, so I began to organise and lead the professional development seminars. The staff felt more relaxed because they know me. They asked questions, shared ideas, began to try things in the classroom. (B)

The highly specialised and unique nature of the role may be pivotal in understanding why faculty leaders accepted responsibility for organising and leading the teachers through professional development and learning experiences.

So part of my task is to provide on-site professional development or survival for the teachers. In teaching them how to prepare lessons and lesson content helps them to feel personally and professionally supported. They feel more confident to take risks and to talk about what they are experiencing in the classroom. (L)

Growth in teacher confidence and a willingness to try new teaching and learning approaches in the classroom, as well as a willingness to share their successes and failures with other members of the faculty, was identified as one of the positive aspects of professional learning experiences. According to the faculty leaders, the professional learning experiences they offered helped teachers to grow personally and professionally. Growth in teacher confidence was perceived by their willingness to attend professional development experiences beyond the school context.

The faculty leaders perceived that teamwork among members of the faculty was a factor that assisted the management of the curriculum change. It provided opportunities for members of the faculty to audit the content of existing curriculum against the new curriculum. The development of effective professional relationships and expertise among staff members was enhanced by the experience of teamwork. Teamwork helped to develop proficiencies in teaching and curriculum planning among teachers.

This accords with Johnson’s notion of professional action-learning teams. Such teams respond to actual workplace needs and thus have a reason to come together. They engage in professional conversation and collaborative practices. Helen Healy found that members of the team share collective responsibility for producing effective learning for all students as well as each other (Journal of Religious Education 2003, 51[4]). Faculty leaders encouraged teamwork opportunities, particularly at year levels rather than at faculty level. Year level teams provided opportunities for teachers at particular year levels to explore creative ways of developing and implementing the curriculum, as well as discussing issues about spirituality that emanated from the content of the new curriculum.

We work quite well in teams. I [faculty leader] make sure that each year level has a team leader who is creative and pushes the others along to be more creative. (O)

My study suggests that the management of curriculum change is likely to be more effective when teachers are wholly engaged in the process. Faculty leaders are able to achieve various levels of teacher engagement by providing opportunities to experience a sense of connectedness, thus providing an opportunity for teachers to explore and/or nurture their own spiritual dimension and consider its relevance to the learning and teaching process.