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Theme seven (archived)

The time needed for implementation

Strategic planning for change

Making good use of learning time

Time is a major consideration when undertaking curriculum change. It takes time for teachers to understand a new curriculum document and to change their practices. Scheduling professional learning time for this to happen is challenging. The changes to be achieved necessarily involve the setting of strategies and whole-school professional development over considerable periods of time. Some principals believed it would take several years to develop the school’s vision, and could take five or more years to unpack the new revised curriculum and fully explore and develop their school’s curriculum. They recognised that the process was one that was and would be evolving. One intermediate school leader made a statement that was echoed by a number of other school leaders and teachers. This was that teachers were “changing their attitude towards change”. However, for some principals and schools, the process of curriculum implementation almost appeared daunting as teachers realised the process would be ongoing over many months and years.

Strategic planning for change

Many principals recognised that implementation of NZC was an evolving process and one that could not be rushed to the extent that teachers were “left behind”. They thought it prudent to allocate time to work on changing just a few aspects of the new curriculum at a time so that any changes would be thoroughly embedded. They thought that small changes could build on the knowledge, experience, and confidence of teaching staff, while ensuring that schools move towards meeting the 2010 timeline for implementation of the curriculum. Most primary principals decided to develop and adopt a two-year implementation plan to give structure and direction. Notwithstanding their intention to try to meet mandated timelines, implementation was viewed as a long-term development process that could take longer than 2010 if teachers were to deeply understand the intentions of NZC. The leaders of these early adopter schools believed that schools would struggle to be ready in 2010 if they had not begun curriculum review processes in 2006.

Consultation with the different groups that make up school communities—teachers, students, parents, and boards of trustees—is a process that can take considerable time and thought, and may need to be spread across several years, so that schools can build pedagogy as they go.

Key competencies are new and seen as needing time for exploration. As already noted, some principals decided to explore one key competency in depth per year, identifying ways they could provide students with authentic learning contexts linked to these competencies. Since there are five key competencies, this strategy will take five years to fully implement. Many teachers considered that, given time, the key competencies and the learning areas would “mesh” together. They said they needed time to plan and trial the introduction of new teaching approaches to support aspects such as the key competencies. School leaders realised that the improvement of teaching and learning would require time before evidence of teacher change was seen, and importantly, evidence of student change.

Making good use of learning time

As well as time out of the classroom to explore and reflect on the theory underpinning the curriculum, teachers need time to rethink and rewrite curriculum plans. In most, if not all, case study schools, staff wanted more time to discuss, experiment and learn together as implementation continued. Section Three outlined ways schools “found” at least some of this time but the need for more was identified by several principals as a major factor impacting on curriculum implementation. Nevertheless school leaders were appreciative that board of trustees gave funding and “moral” support to them and to release teachers for professional learning. Schools are looking at a number of aspects of the new curriculum such as assessment, planning, integration, and teaching methods.

Integrating curriculum areas was of interest in a number of schools, but this too required time to plan. Integration involves structural changes, including consideration of timetabling constraints for innovative curriculum implementation. Some secondary schools were beginning to innovate by creating blocks of time for thematic studies. In some primary schools, too, sustained periods of time were being created to allow students to focus deeply in areas they were investigating.

One secondary school was trialling an eight-line timetable, with three hours rather than four allocated to each subject to provide more flexibility for student learning pathways. The timetable blocked subjects to facilitate the design of individual learning pathways based on identified need. For example, some students could strengthen their literacy skills by attending English in more than one timetable line. This reduction in subject contact time and the increase in the timetable lines has had an effect on staffing, with some staff now teaching across subjects. This is a transition which has not always been smooth. Difficulties in attending multiple department meetings and supporting staff in unfamiliar content areas are concerns that need to be addressed.

Where innovations such as those outlined here are being tried, the ability to teach across subject areas is an important consideration when employing new staff and presents challenges for finding and supporting staff. Concerns expressed in the secondary school with the eight-line timetable included subject option teachers not feeling comfortable in their roles compared with core subject counterparts; a lack of familiarity with pedagogical strategies needed for inquiry-based learning; lack of time for teachers to discuss and reflect and support each other; and boredom if students were staying put in their home rooms while teachers circulated. Teachers can’t be expected to make instant changes in knowledge, teaching approaches, and attitudes. Principals realised this. At the same time they said that teachers must take responsibility for learning and achieving goals and reflecting on their changes.

Published on: 15 Apr 2009