What a fantastic year! The first of our two year school redesign. It’s been a year of excitement and fear about possibilities and the unknown. We have had to debate the nature of and reasons for school. We have jumped for joy and also looked for employment elsewhere. We have all fought for our beliefs and had our assumptions challenged. We have fired research papers at each other over no man’s land causing only little damage to these entrenched assumptions. But like every human grouping, be they debating Brexit, Trump, or school design, I only speak of the engaged 30%.
Regardless of the way media makes it look, most people don’t want to talk about Brexit, Trump or School Design. I have learnt this year to be measured in my discussion of our school change and try to leave the actual process to others as much as I can. I’m obsessed with Brexit, Trump, and school design but I know most are not but I am very pleased with the way the year ended. After confirming the majority of staff, students, and parents were in favour of a more holistic approach to learning, we decided on some new structural norms and asked our existing subject leaders to group together around new value-based priorities.
We were lucky in that our New Zealand National Curriculum (NZC) is structured in such a way it helps new curriculum design and even has a section that explicitly covers the priorities for curriculum design, something New Zealand schools are asked to do on a regular basis. So this is how we used the aforementioned document to redesign our school, without having to reinvent the wheel.
The work is all done for NZ Schools
Values: The NZC list 8 values and these must form the focus for all school activity. Although it is easy to say that all activity requires all 8 values to be recognised, we decided it helped to give each future curriculum unit a particular focus around 1 or 2. So we start our future unit planning from a particular value, such as innovation or equity (not subject).
Principles: The NZC lists 8 principles that we interpreted for practical reasons as our rules for all future curriculum activity (unit design). Principles such as cultural diversity, inclusion, community engagement, and learning to learn will shape the design of all activity and also the level of flexibility and inquiry that must be implicit in the design of the activity.
Key competencies: The NZC lists 5 key competencies that school learning activity should foster in all students. Things a topic-focused approach has little time for and can only hope develop under situations not designed to do so. Competencies like critical thinking and managing self are easier to foster in a learning environment that is not so conformist and standardised. If teachers have decided to judge students on achieving the correct response and how everyone will get there, then why think critically or manage self as this might damage the desired response? All future unit design will be open enough to allow students to make decisions and be accountable for them. Only through genuine practice can we foster these key competencies.
Vision for Graduates: The NZC lists 4 visions for graduates. Confident, connected, Active (not passive), and lifelong learners. We have to account for all 4 in every graduate, not just our best students.
The 2019 plan
Our timetable design decided on 4 consecutively run units in any one week, plus learning/reflection time and also personal/’free’/project time. This means we will run 16 units in the year for all students with 2 focusing on each value. The units must encourage personalisation and flexibility to allow for the principles. The existing subject leaders took the 8 values and grouped into 3s around a particular value. For example, science, Tech, and maths gravitated towards innovation, while subjects like languages, arts, and humanities gravitated towards diversity or respect. 16 units, each written by 3 subjects meant 48 subject spaces to fill. By grouping the existing departments into the 8 official learning areas, the 48 spaced divided nicely allocating each learning area to be involved in 6 of the units. This guarantees every student equal exposure to each learning area but in context of the others.
We have enough teaching staff that in 2019 we can organise into 16 ‘unit teams’ of 6 teachers, one pair from each of the 3 subjects. But before we do this and make a start on the 2020 curriculum, we will start 2019 with two days and further PD opportunities in understanding what integrated learning means and what the principles will mean to the design and expectations of learning activity and unit design. The subject departments will nominate a pair of staff for each unit and we will form the teams of 6 from these nominations. The teams will ‘own’ the unit design, choosing driving question, sub-topics areas to inquire into, formative assessment opportunities, and alignment with selected official national curriculum achievement objectives. (sketched example on previous post here)
We have much evidence from this year that like all human behaviour, next year as the unknown becomes the seen, explored, designed, and owned, the fear will lessen and the excitement will grow. In the final days of 2018, teachers came to me with new ideas about the possibilities of our new structures and approaches. We have allocated extra time and money to staff next year to help the teams produce their unit’s first draft and then redraft accordingly. There are many but the biggest new understanding is that school will be agile and we will work with our students in improving these new learning experiences. Bring on the new year!