Late in 2017 I worked with a client who wanted to see education transformed in her home country. Designing an entirely new subject that allowed for student passions, global issues and the working world to come into the classroom needed all my creativity. Developing such a subject that would be delivered by host country teachers in their own language would be truly transformative. But was it even possible?

I will share these simple guidelines with you and you can create new and engaging courses or re-invent tired curriculum.

In order to develop new curriculum you have to bring the two critical elements of content and process together.

  1. Start with a team approach to defining the purpose and structure

In order to produce a quality product I knew that I needed diversity of opinion/perspectives and healthy discourse to develop what my client needed. I invited two colleagues who were specialists in Early Years and Middle Years to join me in my work, and whom I respected for what they could bring to the team – they complemented my areas for growth.

  1. In discussions keep coming back to the ‘why’ and the KISS principle

From my time teaching IBDP Economics and Business Management I know you can synthesise existing curriculum into smaller critical pieces and then focus learning through practical revision. The old question .. quantity or quality? There needs to be extensive thinking with alignment to the purpose before you start planning, and during the process, keep coming back to the purpose to avoid the temptation of adding too much.

  1. Embrace the ‘learning pit’ process

Our discussions were healthy, sometimes passionate and we built in ‘think time’ to process ideas and perspectives. It was not always comfortable or easy and we found ourselves in the learning pit at different times, before we were able to ensure we could see how everything worked together. We were conscious that we were entering the unknown as well as understanding that we felt it was all ‘too much’ at times.

  1. Develop clarity through no more than 8 school-wide concepts that students can embrace

Each concept needs an elevator pitch description and age appropriate questions that can be asked and answered to deepen understanding. We identified 7 concepts that would be explicitly taught from Grade 1, through to Grade 12, wrote “I statements” for each of the concepts so that students could personally identify with the concept and what it would mean for them in a simple statement, and developed written explanations for the concepts. A series of questions were created for each concept, and adapted for the different grade levels to help teachers and students explore what the “I statements” meant and connected with the world beyond school. Refer back to #2 as well – The KISS principle

  1. Look after the big picture within the school so that learning is supported through multiple layers and entry points

Apart from consistently coming back to the  purpose, we also looked for connections between what we were developing and with the education provided at the school. We also examined how the assessment in the subject will loop back to the supporting philosophy and to nurture a learning focused school environment.  This project allowed me the freedom to create a subject that used formative assessment throughout the year, using the same rubric that was going to be the summative assessment at the conclusion of the year. Teachers were to use parts of the rubric to inform their teaching and provide feedback/guide students in their learning and the skill development of ‘finding connections’ between what they were being taught in school and the world beyond school.  

  1. Understand the process of buying into the change and the market forces in the school

What could possibly go wrong? I had to consider what may derail the success of the implementation of the new subject. One of the major considerations (and challenge) of a change process is how can you help others ‘see’ what this subject would look like. I wanted ‘buy-in’ from the teaching staff to ensure the success of the implementation of this new subject. Develop your on-the-ground team and provide them with the resources they need. I therefore asked the client to identify teaching staff and Administrators (there were more than 10 campuses within the school group) from different campuses to be ‘lead learners’. They would receive 5 days on-site training and then be expected to help roll out the initiative. We not only wrote lesson plans for every grade level for the year, we also provided resources and a handbook, but the major focus for the training was the pedagogy. It was during the teacher training that we were able to generate the excitement and the ‘buy-in’ was visible to see over the week.

Our subject was to be taught by host country teachers who did not speak English, or spoke very little English, and had not experienced ‘inter-disciplinary’ teaching or the use of inquiry as a pedagogical approach. All of our work was created in English and our challenge was to be how we could translate the philosophies underpinning the written curriculum so that they understood how to teach the written curriculum.

So while I was excited, challenged and motivated, I was also petrified. It is one thing to think you have a great idea but would it work? Stay tuned for Part 2 ….while I reflect on the change process and let you know how the first 3 months of implementation has gone.