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networks and innovative curriculum

September 16, 2012

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Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein.

Yesterday’s third workshop for this semester focused the searchlight into obscured corners I had been wrestling to accommodate. Can direct instruction be deemed “innovative curriculum”? Well, it depends – is the mode of delivery favouring or promoting progress? If yes, the defining feature of innovation – path-breaking activity in that school context – has probably been met. Where results are observable, and improvements in students’ achievement occur, the answer is even more resounding.

Personal bias aside (let’s face it, direct instruction sits uneasily beside the far more appealing suite of collaborative learning strategies), when pedagogical practice is responsive to, and meets current needs in a learning community, then the means are justified.

Similar provocative thinking emerged from both principals who shared with us their experiences as leaders.

First, a secondary context establishing links between certificates in Automotive Engineering and Literacy to engage students and improve graduation rates.

You don’t change performance without changing the instructional core. The relationship of the teacher and the student in the presence of content must be at the centre of efforts to improve performance.

Richard Elmore

This quote is relevant considering which touchstones were evoked in explaining responsiveness to the needs of this leader’s secondary community: Research at Harvard, mention of approaches in Finland, starting slowly with staff who wanted to be involved, then weaving innovation through the school’s culture; “Growing Science” became a focus with robotics, Primary Extension and Challenge promoted through visits to feeder schools by year 8 & 9 students, and quarter midgets, with Literacy as the scaffolding tool.

Principal A claimed that the teachers found interesting ways to present curriculum.

When asked about data monitoring, raised standards/ bar lifting/ the calibre of teachers’ professional discussions were identified as indicators of success. These steps summarise process:

  • begin with willing staff
  • measure level of engagement
  • observe in classes
  • identify changes in pedagogy
  • team meetings perceptibly shift in focus to address strategies
  • eventually growth emerges in learners’ achievements (transference takes time!)

In building the self-reflective school culture, Principal A recommended Classroom Management Strategies.

Different school, second principal’s narrative, but common elements of building capacity and risk-taking were shared.


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E-learning was Principal B’s focus in a learning context driven by their decision to become a Microsoft Partner in Learning. I loved the “What if” vision, and a declared imperative to engage the disengaged. The school community worked with Cheryl Doig who advocates thinking beyond present circumstances in order to lead for the future of education.

I was also immediately attracted to the Learning Walk as a means of undertaking school-based inquiry.

Key elements of Principal B’s process:

  • dive in and have a go
  • use inquiry journey to look for evidence of what exists
  • don’t underestimate the importance of infrastructure; make good decisions quickly and get on with implementation
  • share staff expertise
  • develop staff understanding of digital literacy
  • apply research to create a global voice for learners
  • ACER notebooks rolled out across school
  • drop classroom walls
  • link to the school plan
  • consider enablers and barriers
  • enlist support from external agencies

Both presenters were ebullient forces for innovation within and beyond their schools. For us, reviewing the qualities of effective leadership, there was no need to look beyond their modelling. We also considered the promotion of curriculum innovation within formal Networks of Schools where collegiate sharing sets benchmarks and raises expectations. Interesting discussion ensued, a by-product of shared experience drawn from diverse perspectives and practices (networks, once again).

And to sustainability? ….That’s a matter for another post.

photo credit: <a href=””>abby chicken photography</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


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