Painting a new school’s curriculum and pedagogy.

As an educator, and now consultant, it’s hard not to get excited when you are asked to support a newish school develop its curriculum and pedagogy.

 In many ways, it’s like a starting a painting with a blank canvas, or is it?

I was asked by the Principal to support a new independent school, 18 months into its journey, after what has been described by those present as a very rocky start. The staff was “turned over” after the first 12 months with the existing teachers, all graduates, employed in the last 8-12 months. The contracted educational consultant/s to support the teachers have similarly come and gone and the pressure on a new Principal to prove to the community a vibrant and successful school growing.

At this point my painting was rather messy:

What might you do?

For me, flying over to Vietnam on our preplanned holiday, provided the perfect opportunity for some reflection and how I might tackle this opportunity. It didn’t hurt that this reflection occurred whilst soaking up the sun by the pool. I was eager of course to just dive in and not just the pool. Having the time to ponder, now that I’m writing about it, seemed critical. I recall closing my eyes, through my sunglasses, trying to picture the faces of “experts” or key words that I had heard that had meant sense to me. I wrote down some thoughts at odd times (and I do mean odd) during the holiday on serviettes, on menus, on brochures of tours we did.  Just before I started at the school I used the world’s favourite research tool
to connect the phrases from the menus and brochures and BINGO Michael Fullan’s work appeared.

 It wasn’t a total surprise that I remembered some of his messages as I took my leadership team to a 2-day workshop with him and still had some of his notes in my library.

The “Fullan sense” was about conditions you build at times of change. In my own words

1.      Love your employees is about focusing on the students, teachers, principal and volunteers in the organization which is what I did by consulting with the teachers on their strengths as the first focus for collective improvement, “Reading”.

I recall some surprise being expressed at the time that we weren’t focusing on what needs to be done (implied our gaps). I suppose teachers seem apprehensive about improvement work when its continuously based, usually by outsiders or experts (read consultants here I suppose), on judgements of weaknesses.   

2.     Connect Peers with Purpose is about building a team approach. We met as a team to use a common English planning proforma. The proforma, initially developed my myself as the consultant, contained key strategies teachers had discussed (learning intentions), was accomplishable as we only planned 8/10 lessons in a fortnight. We built a sense of camaraderie by sharing the work, having a sense of continuous learning in classrooms as I committed to modelling some lessons or releasing teachers to share a strategy in another’s room. (planning)

3.     Capacity building prevails for us initially centered around learning to use a common assessment tool (in Reading) and then plan instructional practices to achieve improved student learning outcomes. We chose what the school had already purchased the Fountas and Pinnell  Benchmarking tool. I started the assessments of students in classroom, where possible, and then under the gradual release model had the teachers complete the assessments.

Now we are at the end of term 3 having committed to further team planning next term for Reading using the data and some common instructional strategies: guided reading and reciprocal teaching and there is a real sense of shared purpose about our work.

Of course, we have started building the other 3 conditions and there’s learning to share from our planning and use of assessments but that’s another post or two. AND I wonder what the paintings may turn out to be.

How might other consultants start and what change planning would they have used? That’s a question I’d really like some feedback on?