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disrupting curriculum

August 26, 2012

Civilisation can be seen as a race between education and catastrophe.

Sir Ken Robinson

Yesterday’s workshop at uni caused me some concern: I am being asked to produce a written guide to curriculum innovation for school leaders (Task 1 – 30%), but the example offered during our session was presented by a primary school principal who advocates a whole-school pedagogy based on direct instruction.

We learned that the school’s leadership endorsed learning by rote, where structures are paramount, curriculum folders are distributed each year in order to ensure consistency, and teachers used chanting for students to memorise concepts.  This was seen as a commendable approach – despite some acknowledged opposition – because the data showed improvement.

Is this innovative? The definition I am using in my guide is:

…denying existing conditions, or changing the existing order of things, or values or systems. (Hamson & Holder, 2002).

In order to prepare students for the world they already know as complex, interconnected and dynamic, our purpose as leaders has to be transforming schools into the types of learning communities that can sustain. Given these conditions, Scott McLeod defines curriculum change as disruptive innovation, drawing on the work of Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. This is not an orderly process demanding rote memorisation.

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong>

<a href=”; title=”Teaching and learning in an era of disruptive innovation” target=”_blank”>Teaching and learning in an era of disruptive innovation</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”; target=”_blank”>mcleod</a></strong> </div>

Disrupting curriculum, as Sir Ken Robinson points out in his YouTube video on Creativity, Learning and the Curriculum, means that we anticipate rather than predict the future. If these predictions suggest increasing uncertainty lies ahead, the curriculum to endorse would be one that promotes resilience, creative thinking and adaptability.  You don’t cultivate these skills with rigid curriculum.

Tips in my guide include:

  • build a culture of trust
  • use peer coaching as a transformative process to build capacity
  • identify and work to overcome blocks
  • maintain flexibility
  • fail forward
  • synergise the system

Is innovation effective at your school? And what are you using to sustain?


Christensen, C.M., Horn, M.B., Johnson, C.W. (2008). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. McGraw Hill: New York.

Hamson, N. & Holder, R. (2002).  Global Innovation: Innovation 01.02. Capstone Publishing. Retrieved August 26 from Ebook library.

Postscript: Discovered a resource this morning defining connected learning as a model to draw on student passions in order to overcome the disengagement divide between in/out of school;  link is here. Original point of connection was found on

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