Tag Archives: curriculum change

Teaching Religious Studies

25 Aug



My work this week has been dominated by the Special Character Review in the College and my work with ministry and the new Achievement Standards. So it seems natural I started think about my teaching subject as I blogged this week.

In describing his conversion to Christianity, C. S. Lewis remarked, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else’ (Lewis, 1945, p. 21). To paraphrase, for Lewis, not only is Christianity something credible to believe in, but it also provides a coherent and credible framework within which to make sense of everything else.

Theologians working within other religious traditions would mostly concur with this: while no one can have a “God’s eye” view of the world (other than God) – religion provides the most meaningful and satisfactory way to see the universe. Furthermore, in addition to perceiving, religions also provide a way of being in the world. They impact and form the habits, philosophies, theologies, aspirations, ethical positions and education (among other things), of those who identify with them.

One kind of object seen through the lens of a given religion, so to speak, are other religions. This presents further complexity for religious educators to address. An educator’s lens will affect what students are encouraged to look for, and how students are encouraged to interpret it. Error may result when our eyes are so focused on the object beyond the lens, the possible effect of the lens itself goes unaccounted. Likewise, our view may be distorted when our vision rests on our lens without looking through it at all. Nevertheless, we have no choice but to look through one lens or another and to have that lens focused somewhere (rather than everywhere).

The belief that all religions share the same common fundamental principles represents just one religious lens among a wide spectrum of positions. Many religious believers see other religions as antecedents that have been subsequently superseded by their own religions, for example. In chronological order, from Judaism, Christianity and to Islam, each successive revelation is believed by the newer religions to have ‘superseded’, ‘fulfilled’ or ‘sealed’ the previous one. The universalism of some forms of religious education can be seen as superimposing a newer narrative of the supposed unity of these traditions that supersedes the exclusivity of bygone eras of religious fundamentalism.

One alternative to a homogenizing approach that sees all religions as at heart the same, is one that apprehends the religions as a diverse and dynamic set of in-commensurable lenses. This does not mean that when we do religious education, we must don new sets of glasses – even if that were possible. Perhaps to recognize why we stick to one view over another is to be as equally well religiously educated as those who claim to have taken a difficult glimpse of the world through another perspective.

What do we need to do as religious educators to help students understand the phenomenon of religion? Clearly, we can never know enough about religion in each different context and circumstance, and even if we could, we would never be able to impart all this knowledge to our students. However, while we cannot see everything to be seen, our lenses may be adjusted, and they may also be used in conjunction with a reflector. This means that future observations may be better encountered and considered through informed understanding.

It is by helping students to construct the tools of self-understanding and adopt the practices of reflection that we may progress. Good religious education promotes the habits of mind needed for the task of understanding one’s own position and interpreting other people. This involves serious intellectual virtues: suspending judgment; thinking through one’s own views; imagining what it would be like to be different; weighing all the evidence; asking and answering questions; disagreeing respectfully; and, above all: not taking anyone’s word for it. These are just some of the ways of thinking, ways of being, that good teachers and students learn, practise and rehearse in religious education.

One way to become a better teacher or student of religious education, or indeed religious practitioner – as well as to overcome barriers between those of different religions – is to develop the reflexiveness to understand the implications and origins of one’s own perceptions. This not only enables those who look through different lenses to understand how to live well together and see each other better. It may also enable the development of more coherent visions of the world itself.



Curriculum Inquiry: Lets Do It

17 Jul


For the past three years our community has been looking at curriculum change. Adopting a new curriculum takes commitment and patience from everyone. It can be stressful. I have learnt a great deal about change so this week I thought I might share some of the things I have learnt with you. Transitioning to new curriculum can cause stress and (sometimes) friction for everyone. Teachers who’ve been in the profession for a while know when changes are authentic and best for students.

Here are six things that I have learnt to ensure that major curriculum shifts go smoothly for teachers, students, and themselves. Note I often come back to these.

  1. Be open and transparent about change.

This has been frustrating for some as many think there is some hidden agenda. Staff and students need to know why major changes are occurring. We are all part of change. Whether it’s adding something major, like project-based learning, or something more minor. While people may not be receptive to the shifts at first, being clear about why they are happening is a great place to start.

  1. Embrace mistakes as room for growth.

Real and meaningful change takes time and almost always comes with challenges. Build in space for setbacks. Anticipate obstacles and meet them with a cool head. Various models have helped but when they do not it is ok to say we did not get that right. I found this useful.

  1. Celebrate every success in making changes.

Start staff meetings with success stories. Ask teachers to share them. Send out emails about encouraging breakthroughs and stories of staff and students making strides. Change can be hard work, and everyone needs to be aware of where that hard work is paying off.

  1. Provide professional development for new curriculum.

Give people time to implement this.  This is effective at giving an overview and maybe even drumming up excitement about the new curriculum, but this is often all the training teachers receive. This leads to the new and exciting practices being quickly abandoned or ineffective implementation. What the staff really needs is ongoing professional development, resources, and training to make sure that new ideas and practices are not just introduced but used regularly.

  1. Trust your staff’s professional opinion and listen to them about the changes.

Innovative programs and curricula can be wonderful assets to a school committed to meeting the needs of their students.

  1. Don’t change what isn’t broken, if you can help it.

This was a key learning for me. Sometimes in our rush to adapt and evolve, we lose sight of what already works. Use data, stories, and wisdom to discern when something needs to be replaced and when it should be kept. For instance, literacy can be taught in new and innovative ways that have merit and are worth exploring. But sometimes the most effective way of teaching this skill is to drill-and-kill or have students practice over and over. This practice should not be abandoned because you are trying something else as well. If a method is working and resulting in success, change is not needed.

Enjoy your journey in this watershed time of change. Please note exhibit 3 below. It was a useful tool.


Our Curriculum Leaders

3 Nov


Curriculum is fundamental to schools. It is complex. Necessarily directional and dependent on recognizable channels, it must be vibrant and changing for such is the character of knowledge and our relationship to it. For too long though it has remained unchanged.

The term ‘curriculum leadership’ is associated with middle leaders – the ‘geography coordinator’, the ‘head of science’. It is, quite rightly, linked to subjects.  Our task this year has been to change the conversation though coaching and tasks. These middle leaders are now recognised as “Leaders of Learning.”

Where SLT have tried to reach into pedagogy with generic strategies that fail to attend to subject distinctiveness, all manner of distortions has occurred. In tackling the ‘how’ (teaching and learning) and in attempting to judge its efficacy (progress, assessment, data, outcomes), if we ignore ‘what?

What can curriculum leadership mean? And why on earth does this matter so much? Haven’t we gotten along perfectly well without such senior staff changing things?

Leaders of Learning see small data more clearly. Things SLT might not see in their role. Pasi Sahlberg of Finland spoke at ULEARN 18 about small versus bigdata. “If you don’t lead with small data, you’ll be led by big data. Small data is processed by humans, and reveals causation, collective wisdom and understanding the present. As opposed to big data which looks at big trends, processed by computers, reveals correlations and predicts the future. Big data spews out impersonal trends, where small data gives a more personal view. You can strengthen small data by using professional wisdom as evidence.”

The absence of an adequate model of curriculum leadership seems to me to deepen fundamental and longstanding problems in schools with which we have all wrestled, from weak assessment systems to problems with generation and interpretation of data, from problematical judgements about teaching and learning, to attraction and retention of fine teachers, from teacher development to blaming everything on “management.”

My concern is not just about what a person in SLT called ‘curriculum deputy’ needs to know, but what everyone in a senior leadership team needs to know about curriculum to lead on everything else. Curriculum leadership is everybody’s mahi.

Learning Environments

10 Oct



Ma whero ma pango ka oti ai te mahi

With red and black the work will be complete

Being innovative with curriculum is more than just moving desks. Or is it?

Like many other schools we are looking at learning spaces and how to use them. At the same time, we are doing some work on integrated or collaborative learning projects. It has got me thinking about What if teachers from different learning areas worked in the same office space?

Schools houses staff from the same learning areas in faculty or department offices. Within these areas each has head who has their own office. There is no doubt these spaces are a buzz of activity in which much is accomplished within a specific learning area. These are how schools have always been. These remind me of cells in religious houses of centuries past. Crude but effective

In our innovative curriculum experiment I have observed by teachers working in cross curricula teams something special has occurred. I wonder if they worked in an open plan together all the time something similar would occur. Teachers in a community represent a cross-section of learning areas from across the curriculum. When you put a group of people into an enclosed space they are going to interact. Reality television flourishes on this fact.

I have observed this term that when you place several staff from different learning areas in the same space, conversation and collegiality is created. Conversations quickly turn from uniform, bell times and the length of time the principal speaks at assembly to pedagogical views, our own learning and use of inquiry. OK there were still some conversations around lateness to class by students but there has been a shift.

I have observed this also:

  • more meaningful meetings however some meaningful meetings have gone by the wayside
  • we are no longer working in silos
  • that students benefit because teachers are exposed to different views and perspectives
  • the sharing and conversations about teaching and learning
  • the conversations around the challenging of the traditional way
  • everybody is exploring different approaches to teaching and learning rather than just the early adaptors. As a results colleagues really sharing best practice

If we are wanting our tamariki to be confident, connected and life-long learners we need to model it ourselves. How better than in this environment?

Curriculum Inquiry: Easter Reflection

18 Apr


The focus of our HOF Inquiry is curriculum development. If teachers develop a high-quality written curriculum, but fail to implement it then their work is the equivalent of motion masquerading as progress (Parker, 1991).

Curriculum development is much more than an inquiry, unpacking standards, or meeting once a week. If teachers spend their time focusing on the taught curriculum they will be able to greatly impact student achievement.  “When school staff have a more informed conception of curriculum, a teacher’s daily decisions about how to deliver instruction not only affect student achievement in that classroom but also future student achievement, for it is assumed that students will be entering the next classroom prepared to handle a more sophisticated or more expansive level of work” (Zmuda, Kuklis & Kline, 2004, p. 122).

Our inquiry should be about answering questions. “If you want to make discoveries, if you want to disrupt the status quo, if you want to make progress and find new ways of thinking and doing, you need to ask questions” (John Maxwell, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, 2014). Here some key questions for HOFs that I have come across.

  1.  What are the key concepts we will address in this course?
  2.  What are the key skills we will address in this course?
  3.  What are the priority standards for this course? How will we ensure that these standards are emphasized throughout the year?
  4.  If I had a daughter enrolled in this course, would I be satisfied?
  5. How will we implement the 4 Cs (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity) in curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment(s)?
  6. Will we use LwDT to support teaching and learning? How? What are the goals?
  7. Are there opportunities for student-led lessons or is every lesson dictated by the curriculum and teacher-led?
  8. Are there multiple options for personalized learning throughout the course?
  9. Does the course incorporate student-led questions which deepen student understanding?
  10. How will we measure student understanding?
  11. Are we designing authentic tasks for students?
  12. What is the role of formative assessment in measuring the written, taught, and understood curricula?
  13. Do we have a plan for when students don’t learn?
  14. Does our learning space support student understanding of the key skills, concepts, and soft skills that our staff has identified as important?
  15. How often do we meet to discuss teaching and learning?
  16. Do we analyze career readiness indicators? What is my role in supporting college and career readiness?
  17.  Do teachers have the opportunity to provide ongoing feedback regarding the school curriculum?



NASDAP Study Tour

7 Mar


This week I have the privilege to be on the NASDAP Study Tour. Along with eleven other DPs/APs and CORE education we are exploring innovative approaches to learning and teaching.In the following days some of my reflections will focus on this.


Reflection Today

14 Feb


Today’s world is vastly different from that of 50 years ago. And the pace of change is accelerating, with increasing globalisation; advances in technology, communications and social networking; greatly increased access to information; an explosion of knowledge; and an array of increasingly complex social and environmental issues. The world of work also is undergoing rapid change with greater workforce mobility, growth in knowledge-based work, the emergence of multi-disciplinary work teams engaged in innovation and problem solving, and a much greater requirement for continual workplace learning. The school curriculum must attempt to equip students for this significantly changed and changing world.

However, many features of the school curriculum have been unchanged for decades. We continue to present disciplines largely in isolation from each other, place an emphasis on the mastery of large bodies of factual and procedural knowledge and treat learning as an individual rather than collective activity. This is particularly true in the senior secondary school, which then influences curricula in the earlier years.What is your school environment doing to respond to this change


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