Guide to Curriculum Innovation: Cultivating Synergy
Bloom’s Modified Taxonomy (Schrock, 2012).
If you require comfortable, simplistic solutions, seek elsewhere.
Look further, too, if your heart’s desire is to settle, yearn backwards, or opt for status quo. Synergy is not for the fainthearted. My Guide to Curriculum Innovation is crafted for leaders with Big Hairy Audacious Goals (Collins & Porras, 2000). If you are passionately undertaking a transformative paradigm shift, as opposed to managing educational reform, and if innovative curriculum is manna to your quest, then this guide is for you: Continue, Friend.
School leaders contemplating curriculum improvement anticipate more than best practice; unique school contexts demand design theories to build and sustain next practice (Hannon, 2007). The complexity of this dynamic is paramount, and innovation is the key. Innovation can be defined as “denying existing conditions, or changing the existing order of things, or values or systems” (Hamson & Holder, 2002, p. 10). To operate within complexity as a lived experience, where change renders our collective future uncertain, proximity to chaos is likely to generate fear, refinements will, by necessity, be ongoing, and paths ahead defy prediction, thus an innovative orientation requires praxis. Your purpose becomes “path-breaking activity” (Brown, 2002, p. 5).
Ralph Stacey Agreement & Certainty Matrix (Appelo, 2012).
|Central to an innovative orientation:
Balance is the key.
There can be no avoidance of current global changes causing seismic disruption in education (Godin, 2012; Senge et al, 2000; Zhao, 2009). From deeply held, but unproductive metaphors of factory-models, production lines and silos, we are undergoing a paradigm shift towards a new culture of learning where technological development enables networked continual practice (Jukes et al, 2010; Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011). One alternative for re-imagining school is embodied in the phrase learning gymnasium where all participants – teachers and students – can “be confident, capable, powerful learners for the rest of their lives” (Claxton, 2008, p. 127). A school’s orientation is inscribed in its philosophy and climate. According to prevailing change leadership wisdom, where “reculturing is the name of the game” (Fullan, 2001, p. 5), innovations are “exciting opportunities to make learning intrinsically motivating… and [potentially] transform our schools from being economic and political liabilities to sources of solutions and strength” (Christensen et al, 2008, p. 230). Sustaining the paradigm shift required to navigate curriculum innovation is the leader’s moral purpose (Hannon, 2012).
|What could innovative curriculum look like?|
9 characteristics of 21st century learners (Heick, 2012).
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Curriculum in the networked learning paradigm is severed from its Latin origins which signify “a racecourse” (Marsh, 2004). In an age of information abundance, and with the proliferation of disciplines, focusing on curriculum as content is pointless (Gardner, 2011); curiosity and risk taking are leveraged in a learner-centred environment to define purpose and meaning. Curriculum re-focuses around pedagogy – how learning is achieved. It is likely that focus on content will continue to diminish while inquiry and project based learning proliferate (Kuhlthau, 2010); 21st century learning is therefore re-imagined as customised, flexible, personal and arising from adaptive curriculum (Horn, 2012). Another set of innovative curriculum directions has been identified as increasingly global, and encompassing multimodal literacies in order to enhance engagement through innate curiosity (Jacobs, 2010). Thus, innovative curriculum is perhaps best visualised as an evolving, transformative continuum:
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The unstable nature of complexity opens space for ubiquitous learning that is truly personal, and lends itself to a process of guided inquiry. Examples are manifest in Khan Academy operating as an online facilitated network; also MOOCs (massive open online courses) enable learners to effectively disrupt the traditionally linear sequence of instruction (Robinson, 2011):
If paradigm shifting necessitates acquisition of teachers who are more comfortable with socially-networked modes of learning (Jacobs, 2011), I would contend that evolution is apparent in collaborative professional learning networks currently fomenting innovation. Leaders, then, are advised to immerse themselves in the facilitated network of change (Harris, 2012; Rainie & Wellman, 2012). Since self-reflection and self-improvement tools for teachers are available from AITSL, school systems will benefit from embracing connected learning practices which enable staff and students to mediate the innovation process together; we have at our disposal the means of transforming core terms of educational engagement with curriculum freed from associations of obedience and compliance (Godin, 2012). Moreover, from notions of learning as play, learning driven by passion, and learning focused through purpose, innovative curriculum can sustain innovators (Wagner, 2012).
If the Leaders Don’t Get It (McLeod, 2012).
To embed and sustain innovative curriculum, leaders will foster conditions in schools which best serve to build collaborative learning networks for learners; staff and students alike.
As previously mentioned, next practice is the goal of innovative orientation (Hannon, 2007); your prevailing school culture will serve as a springboard. In order to initiate, embed and sustain innovative curriculum, leaders will create a culture of trust by emphasising the importance of a responsive, evolving learning community (Leithwood et al., 2010; Siguaw et al., 2006). Equipped with Joyce & Showers’ skill training model (Kuhn, 2012a), and by optimising within a Zone of Feasible Innovation (Rogan, 2006), leaders will maximise transference of understanding through continually refining exposure to theory, demonstration, practice and feedback. Thus, peer coaching, and collaborative planning serve to integrate learning as a transformative process (Kuhn, 2012b).
Leading in complexity
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Leaders’ roles in the new paradigm are dynamic and challenging:
- Determine capacity for change to embed and sustain professional learning networks within and across diverse school communities (Daly & Finnegan, 2009; Little, 2005);
- Anticipate that engagement in reculturing can be risky, especially since “Trust and respect from colleagues is crucial” (Stoll et al., 2006, p. 239);
- Win hearts and minds through connecting peers with purpose to build capacity (Fullan, 2008);
- Harness authenticity, and embody vision by taking smart risks (Dyer et al., 2011);
- Since no single method will suit all contexts, success or otherwise depends on flexibility and responsiveness of leadership to genuinely navigate the innovative practice (Fullan, 2001).
|Successful leaders will therefore cultivate synergy.|
Network: Presence of those who are absent (Rheingold, 2012).
Emerging professional learning networks have been found to yield a self-improving ecosystem (Hannon, 2012); evolving through joint practice development, connected social capital, collective moral purpose, iterative evaluation and challenge is the means by which effective leaders forge deep partnerships (Caple, 2012). The steadfast heart of curriculum innovation beats in praxis. Resist entropy by orchestrating just-in-time system learning, and find flow within the exponential-change dynamic. Courage!
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