In order to understand the present time it is important to observe the recent history of schooling in Europe and more specifically in the English territory, focusing on the recurrent changes and the lack of consideration of teachers as experts and therefore possible engines to concrete development. Starting in the 1870s political and economic necessities trend determined the formation of overcrowded classes conducted by not always fully trained teachers, and focus on building didactic and facts knowledge through the applications of strict discipline. It is with the results of the educational study of F. Frobel, M. Montessori and J. Dewey that the first changes and developments to school curriculum were applied and children started to be considered in their specific differences and teachers were requested to find and support “certain inner qualities… to become outer” as clearly explained by B. Simon (2001). Between 1931 and 1933 a government committee produced two reports where the child centred approach was accepted and the curriculum was turned from only facts acquisition into activity and experience connected to knowledge. After the second world war “parental pressures turned school curriculum back to didacticism” (B. Simon, b). For more than 20 years primary schools, in particular, turned back to be rigid, and teachers’ primary goals had been teaching children for exams using clear and strict guidance, to which teachers had to specifically refer. Around the 1967 without any support to teachers to understand and cooperate towards a change, some schools followed a period of experiment and some of them allowed creative new systems to be born and developed. But “the great mass of primary school did not transform themselves … the old-established emphasis on the basics continued in most schools” (B. Simon, c). Tensions among teachers started to develop about complexity of organising classrooms following a child centred approach, which was so far from their established teaching system. This reaction influenced the Education Reform Act in 1988 which delivered the National Curriculum, the separate subjects teaching, and the standard assessment test. This act contributed to create an overwhelming climate especially because the recent studies accomplished by Howard Gardner (1991) about the way the human brain works, together with the emphasis on the multiple ways people learn, reinforced the needs to focus on individual learning and the need to build schools where everyone can be supported to blossom in a knowledge-able individual way. “… (Educators) must consider the value of the educational experience for students and look beyond the limited visions of the science of curriculum planning” (J. Shanks, 1994).
The Control of the Curriculum
Society in the twenty first century needs to build skills, values and beliefs in the citizens and schooling be the way to educate people to “explicit knowledge”(..information) and to “tacit knowledge”(skills, beliefs) (M. Fullan, 2001). The characteristics of educational theories and studies has always been to fit the time in which they are developed and be able to perceive the future possible implementation and needs, as E. C. Wragg (1997) underlines “education must incorporate a vision of the future”. The continuous changes we went through, from being a rural society, moving into an industrial time, now going towards a technological era, determined the constant necessity to review teaching models and approaches. Western societies have increasingly built systems of central control which influenced education systems creating a sort of “mass-schooling” as J.T.Gatto (1992) explains through an extreme description of the seven-lessons which are, in his opinion, normally given to children. But teachers, depending on the school’s environments/cultures they belong to, as well as on their personal values and beliefs, should make choices about how they can educate young people, as A. L. Costa et al. (1998) underline “decisions made by policy makers, teachers and curriculum workers about what should be taught in our schools will shape the minds of our children”. Actually as Benavot & Kamens (1989) stated “most of the official primary curricula around the world not only contain the same subjects, but give them the same relative importance”. But there is a need to observe and structure new educational policies in order to support flexibility, creativity and autonomy, for the future citizens of our society, as well as empathy and acceptance of differences, keeping in consideration that we are going towards a world of globalization which is more and more putting diverse people together. Schools are full of multicultural individuals and need to explore and support multicultural living. It is also important to understand how politicians have been requesting and pressuring teachers with the emphases on standards and testing, the use of texts becoming “the dominant form of legitimate knowledge” (M.W. Apple – 2000) as well as the request for a consistent control on the developing of schools’ curriculum. According to Halsey et al. (1997) in M. Priestley “education remains one of the few areas of social policy over which national governments are able to assert decisive influence … An important test …where governments can demonstrate their power to improve the condition of everyday life.” However, neither politicians, teachers or educational researchers can have a clear view of what exactly should be an ideal curriculum to fit the needs of twenty first century western society. Therefore it is important to not only reach academic achievement, but also to consider different sociological aspects: traditional jobs disappearing, life length increasing, family structure changing from traditional to open, diverse and often fragmented, part-time contracts becoming a frequent job offer, the “knowledge explosion” (Wragg, b) with the consequent needs to debate and decide about what it is best to learn while the world “is changing so rapidly that questions about -what to teach- are obsolete … Ideas and argument presented will quickly be overtaken by events” as J. Quicke (1999) clearly describes. Learning about how to learn, contributing to personal development and self-esteem, supporting the growth of confident individuals, developing critical and creative thinking in young students are all important “outcomes of effective schooling” (G. DeVoogd in J. Moles & L. Hargreaves, 1998 and E. C. Wragg, c) to be considered in school curriculum. The “control of the curriculum” is often underlined as suggested by DeVoogd (b) with governments official positions which determined a shift of power from schools to politicians where school district and professional organisations provide “inconsistent and contradictory advice, …as well as recommendations” contributing to the possible block of developing actions inside educational settings.
Whilst examining the broad scenario it is important for schools’ leaders to take in consideration the possible tensions and conflicts that changes at any level may develop inside schools.
Life in schools is always very demanding and often overwhelming. Teachers have a little time for accomplishing all their daily duties. Their work is very intense and no or very little time is available for debating, researching and reflecting. Also most of the teacher’s attention is given to children’s needs and the energies are all used inside the classroom, which are “ multi-dimensional and unpredictable environments characterised by simultaneity of events” (A. Pollard 2002). Particularly Early Years and Primary schools’ timetable often still do not consider free slots of time to allow exchanges amongst teachers to happen by supporting the identification of a sense of common purpose which should reinforce the sense of belonging to a community, as considered by M. Huberman (2001). It has been also observed by Rosenholz (1989) in A. Pollard (b), that if teachers are working in environments where there is a tendency to create firm, repetitive procedures, without any consideration or opening towards change and improvement, they can experience isolation, frustration, mainly because no one acts as responsible for supporting them. This is a critical dynamic because it can create the following consequences: the projecting of teachers’ inability on to pupils, teachers’ attachment to repetitive practices in a mechanical way, teachers’ fear of failure and a lack of confidence, teachers’ difficulty in handling relationships with colleagues and a closure to any possible change due to the fact it is viewed as though it should come externally to her/his teaching practice.
Why will considering tensions support changes and development?
We can’t avoid changes to happen. The twenty first century western society looks back to Dewey’s theories about “collateral learning” and “the formation of enduring attitudes” as P. S. Hlebowitsh (1994) considers in his analyses, underlining a clear need to develop the curriculum. Actually researchers such as R. Alexander, M. Dadds, S. Higgins & D. Leat, K. Zeichner and B. R. Tabachinck, R. Hancock, A. Covery, M. Huberman, D. Clarke and A. Pollard have acquired the consciousness of parallel needs: the consideration of teachers’ difficulties and the necessity to cultivate understanding and desire for professional development among teachers, administrators and head teachers, in fact, as S. Higgins and D. Leat (2001) suggest, “ imposed development, without consent, will be reinterpreted, ignored or refused” and as M. Dadds (2001) explains requiring teachers to apply uncritically school’s policies in the isolation of their classes will not contribute to develop learning educators. Head teachers, department leaders and administrators, in fact, must consider the importance of creating a sense of community by becoming “relationship builders” (M. Fullan, b) and supporting communications in order to turn schools in “learning organisation”. This can be accomplished only through considering a different way to work in school where practice is supported by “collaborative talking” (M. Dadds, b) which will contribute to create “collaborative culture” (Dixon 2000 in Fullan, c), understanding that professional growth can be reinforced by exchanges, constructive critique and exploration.
What is changing already?
The contribution to the professional growth implemented through CPD (Continuous Professional Development) courses have given the impression that it could have been the perfect way to reach “a stable state” hoping to find clear solutions to the challenging problematic teachers and managers have to face daily. But the common practice of professional development, where an expert comes to school and explains to teachers about the updated technique and its better applications, or delivers a session on subject’s knowledge has frequently contributed to creating in educators the tendency to rely on somebody else’s ability and did not automatically prepare teachers to face implementation and changes in classrooms. Teachers and their teaching styles are different, their ways to relate to the classroom are different and as S. Higgins & D. Leat (2001) underline “this would seem to argue for a differentiated approach to CPD”. So we can affirm that those courses, understanding the education goals of the context of each school, as described by S. Higgins & D. Leat (b), can only attempt to contribute to a technical updating and can be only a partial aspect of growing professionally. A wider and more complete combination of approaches should be considered to create an on-going professional development comprehending: school’s formal and informal systems to communicate routines, policies, values and beliefs; opportunity to observe and discuss colleagues’ practices, team-teaching, cooperative teaching, action research to allow investigating cyclically in teaching practices and self-reflection should be considered to building and reviewing a school curriculum. The need to apply any combination of these approaches into the teaching profession is considered useful to allow changes in subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and self- concept. But as Fullan underlines “organisation must change along with individuals. Thus professional development or training of individuals …will not be sufficient. For this reason schools must create professional learning communities” in order to create the condition to share knowledge.
Approaches to enable Curriculum development
Professional educators like to feel they are giving a contribution to their school and they want to belong to a community where commitments are shared and agreed. “The whole class, the whole staff, the whole school must experience … daily what it means to be a learning community” D. Clarke (1996). In class the teachers’ abilities to stand back, facilitating pupils’ interchanges, delivering project learning experiences alongside with academic learning, supporting children self-assessments and promoting both formative and summative assessments without “constructing the class as a single system” (D. Clarke, b) will contribute to promote the changes needed for students to face the twenty first century. Schools a place where head teachers and department leaders have a responsibility for creating and supporting the development of a culture of sharing, guiding their teams into exchanges and reflective practices.
Teachers can be practitioners supporting inquiry in their classrooms and researcher supporting reflection and analyses on their actions applying reflective practice. This approach can become active methodology inside learning communities when it turns reflection from being a private activity into a public one, by sharing the outcomes with colleagues. As Dewey stated (1933) in A. Pollard (c) “reflective action involves a willingness to engage in constant self-appraisal and self-development, it implies flexibility, rigorous analysis and social awareness”.
Important is to observe “how something is learned may turn out to be as important as what is learned” (Wragg, c). Curriculum can be built considering at least three dimensions as explained in the Cubic Curriculum: subjects, cross-curricular themes, teaching and learning systems. This is a model to consider and build curricula giving a balanced weight to each of the above components. It is the school context, beliefs and values as well as the teachers’ history (professionally and humanly) that will contribute to create different knowledge opportunities and different school cultures. In the light of the contemporary societal needs to consider curricula as something lively in continuous movement “…as a set of intricately linked dynamic processes, open to intelligent scrutiny and modification” (Wragg,d), where fixed boundaries (the x dimensions) contain knowledge; where the school leaders, teachers and children become effective agent of learning, as explained by Quicke (b). This is a possible way to implement opportunities of “learning about learning” (c) at different levels while developing the curriculum.
In order to implement positive practices of interchanges among teaching staff, head teachers and leaders should consider and organise opportunities along the school year where structured cooperative teaching, observation and report/reflections should be orchestrated, sustaining mutual engagement and developing occasions for mutual appreciation as identified by D. McGregor (2007). “Dynamic practitioners in dynamic schools are teachers who can reflect on and then change what they do for the better, thereby creating a school which adopts and improves itself as a matter of course” (Wragg, e). Teachers should be encouraged to work enhancing each other’s professional skills, reflecting on weaknesses, contributing to modify the curriculum or/and their practices when necessary. This would turn schools into “dynamic schools”, connecting reflection to action.
In the last years more respect and consideration of the individual professional and human abilities created a better condition for educators to be considered as “active agents of changes”. Teachers are starting to get involved in research studying applied into their classes in cycles, where improving practice becomes part of a professional updating both for teachers and head teachers. As J. Quicke (c) underlines “such participation empowers them to act upon the world around them and transform it, and act upon themselves in the same way”.
All of this sounds so powerful. But do schools’ leaders really want this power to turn into teachers’ hands? And do teachers really want this power for themselves? And above all, do the political system wants schools to learn to become powerful?
Integrating research into teachers’ classrooms hasn’t been accepted as common practice yet. The general feeling is that research requires its own time, energy and commitment and in the daily teacher’s life there is no left over energy or time for it. Also, there could be a reluctancy to ask for help or to expose teaching practices and weaknesses through written documents, there could be a fear to confront with peers or superiors believing that expressing teaching problems may expose to criticality. Not everyone is so confident to be able to handle sincere confrontation, also because not every working context may be concretely supportive in regard. This teachers’ reluctance is clearly explained in J. Glanz and K. College 1995, T.A. O’Donoghue 1994 as well as R. Hancook in Soler J. for this reason schools should not consider reflective activities as a continuous activity but it should be used as specific “learning experience” as suggested by A. Pollard (d). taking away pressure from it and moving towards identifying targets to implement good practice at different levels and allowing “time for changes to happen” (Fullan, e). Head teachers and departments leaders can create consensus for the evaluation of systems in place and can support the implementation of changes and unity among the staff, they should be confident enough to share and delegate responsibilities, allowing teachers to become involved in schools’ decisions, implementing development by applying a “cooperative and corporate plan” (MacGilchrist et al. 1995 in Pollard, e). Being ready to be open to “collaborative scrutiny” (S. Brookfields in C. Paechter et al. 2001).
Schools operate within the market system, a market system that is politically regulated and which established in recent times its economic power and its rules. We can’t openly fight against a system which roles our entire western society, but educators can be challenged to identify and contribute to small but consistent changes into their classrooms, into their schools. “To shift power relationship and approach reform democratically would be radical…such reform might require that educators put…more faith in the unique potential of learners, teachers and human communities … teachers need to create knowledge in use as they practice” (Schwarz and Cavener 1994). Schools to face present time needs leaders and educators who will direct energy for analyses, reflection, actions and new beginnings.
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Michaela is the Head of the School. She co-founded Acorn House in 1999