Exploring New Pathways: An Invitation to Participate in Educational Change.

This is the outline for a series of guided resources for use in teacher preparation and professional development in education. These thematically-based resources are also directed to all those who see education itself as an ongoing source of questions we can explore together.

The series was created from a video archive of more than 300 interviews with administrators, teachers, students, parents and community members who work and live in rural British Columbia, Canada. These interviews are part of the ongoing documentation of projects that are supported by the Growing Innovation in Rural Sites of Learning Initiative, a joint effort of the Rix Professorship of Rural Teacher education at the University of British Columbia’s Department of Curriculum & Pedagogy and the B.C. Ministry of Education.

Under the auspices of the B.C. Rural Education Advisory, Growing Innovation is an important part of a rural education commons unique to British Columbia.  It aims to provide a place for educators and their publics to participate in diverse ways proper to the powerful diversity of education as a whole.  Not solely to represent what is or has already been, the documentation of Growing Innovation aims to extend and enrich the educational conversations that are ongoing in the Province and beyond, in places both rural and urban.

Since 2011, Growing Innovation has supported 39 innovative projects in rural education throughout BC. Numerous publications have been inspired by these projects, and their artifacts and resources, including videos, are available at www.ruralteachers.com. These videos represent shared investigations through “participatory video inquiry,” where interviewees join in the creation of questions and themes for discussion and documentation.

Some themes are common to all the videos, such as Innovation, Engagement, Community, Assessment, Curriculum and the encounter of First Nations cultures with contemporary educational institutions. Because of the wealth of the interview material, we continue to develop interactive platforms through which educators and administrators may participate in the conversations at the heart of Growing Innovation. This series is one such effort.

The project as a whole is animated by a vital commitment that has emerged through the work of Growing Innovation: Educational leadership should be “centrally concerned with beginning and sustaining educational dialogue” (Coulter et. al., 2007). Such dialogue is supported by these resource ‘Pathways’ or sequences, which may be viewed for various purposes:

  1. In teacher education as curricular and pedagogical resources;
  2. In professional development, as instigators of shared inquiry;
  3. In thinking through particular change initiatives at school, district and community levels;
  4. As bases for further research into educational questions.

 

Exploring Curriculum in Education

Curriculum is the concern of our third exploration in a series of theme-based new pathways in educational change.

Rich with insight and story – more than we could begin to share – this sequence is based around curated conversations that explore the theme of curriculum in education.  The product of collaborative video inquiry, where participants were invited to share in dialogic and conversational processes of discovery and development of important, longstanding and emergent topics and themes, this method or approach invites our own participation in the searching dialogues that comprise the essence and crucible of transformation and ethical practice in education.

With each exploration of curriculum in education, we consider and reconsider the insights, comments and experiences we hear.  We may participate in them by extending their contexts, considering their diversity, their implications, even perhaps their tensions and contradictions.  Indeed, we begin with curriculum in and as tensions. Education has always been of such necessary complexity as to defy tidy closure, so the aim is to support our own explorations, conversations and further study as variously as possible.

Like teaching itself, these pathways are intended to be an immersive experience, one participated in generatively, and not necessarily didactically. They do not follow a single idea at a time, nor do they resolve the issues the speakers open. Instead they present to the viewer a complex of unfinished issues, dispositions, thoughts, feelings, dreams and curricular and pedagogical trajectories that, like the errant abundance of life itself, the searching educator can pursue in their own way, with others or alone. Please do not neglect to share with us resources or stories that come to mind as you move through the pathway.

We hope you appreciate the journey, and may come to find it better taken together. Along with our pilot Pathway on Engagement, and our second Pathway on Assessment, further “Exploring New Pathways” sequences will be forthcoming, on new ‘lines of flight’ in education change, concerning collaboration, place and place-consciousness, leadership, and social justice. Please explore them all with us, and share your explorations as part of your educational commitments.

In the posts that follow in this 8-step Exploring Curriculum pathway are presented thematic videos along with supporting discussion, questions and resources for thematic explorations, they are entitled as follows:

  1. Rural Education: A Place of Curriculum in Tension
  2. Curriculum in Place: The Place of Curriculum
  3. Curricular Change: The What and the How
  4. Responsive Curriculum & Curricular Sacrifice
  5. Accountability, Curriculum & Indetermination
  6. Curricular Innovation & Pedagogy
  7. Teachers Visualizing Curriculum
  8. Approaches to Curriculum (as Innovation)

It may come clear that innovation in such a human endeavor as education often teeters among the technical and what we might call the ethical.  Clearly something beyond its technical and metric acceptance is called for, but the languages required for this are not established.  Where the struggle for them belongs however is clear: In the place of curriculum.  Making visible and exploring this struggle and search is the overarching aim of this pathway, and to appreciate and celebrate those who commit to them.

Notice that throughout this pathway the conversation is followed and broadened with new voices and new perspectives.

Of the over 300 interviews conducted in the past 7 years of Growing Innovation Documentation, this pathway includes participation of 35 contributors.

They comprise 17 teachers, 3 students, 1 parent/community member, 5 vice-principal/teachers, 4 principals, 1 vice-superintendent of schools, 4 superintendents of schools…all of whom live and work in 7 rural school districts in British Columbia: #8 (Kootenay Lake); #50 (Haida Gwaii); #59 (Peace River South); #60 (Peace River North); #69 (Qualicum); #74 (Gold Trail); #85 (Vancouver Island North).

Please enjoy the journey!

Exploring Curriculum 1 – Rural Education: A Place of Curriculum in Tension

Spatial and temporal tensions come to the fore in rural education where the artifice of contemporary education comes more into view—and is more stark in the absence of the urban ubiquity of institutional and administered life.

In rural places, educators are seen less able to conform education to its predicates (‘curriculum’ as something that requires schedules and prescribed checklists). Less able to accept education on its own (institutional) terms, they are forced to adapt education to something else. What that something else is an open question, the quintessential curricular question.

In this brief video we begin with five teachers and a teacher/administrator as they outline some of the terms of the tensions of curriculum as they live them. They live and work in four rural school districts in British Columbia, in the Kootenay and Peace River regions and the Islands of Lasqueti and Haida Gwaii. The interviews took place from 2012 to 2016.

Let’s begin with their own struggles to articulate and create on the bases of the tensions of curriculum made so clear in rural education, where necessitated instead is a search for something in the name of education that they allude to, of greater importance beyond:

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

What questions do you have upon viewing this video?

What is ‘curriculum’ in the predominant view of the educators?

What are the implied constraints of curriculum on education as these educators practice it?

What are the tensions these educators articulate?

What do they do with the tensions? How do they live them?

Do they choose tensions about curriculum over conformity with it? For what reasons?

What is the place of curriculum, in their view?

In the name of what are these educators professing education?

Exploring Curriculum 2 – Curriculum in Place: The Place of Curriculum

Here we begin see curriculum as something views about which are ‘changing dramatically.’ Something radical is coming into view as educational leaders articulate their work as a kind of dislodging of the authority of ‘Curriculum,’ sometimes in quite stark and even dramatic terms!

Educational leaders speak in bold terms that are libratory for teachers, while teachers continue to struggle with the tensions of curriculum as its assumed expectations – where emancipation is figured paradoxically, as something for which one needs permission. Here educational leaders subvert curriculum in the name of curriculum (specifically, in this instance, curricula of place, of community, of the students themselves and their/our futures).

The complexities of curriculum as imposed (as institutional criteria of education) and as lived are on clear view here – with teachers’ and administrators’ dispositions and language vitalizing the tensions in various ways.

Since we do not see the specific contexts of their statements we can certainly learn more about their projects (especially from SD 74 & 50 project videos) BUT ALSO we can take what these educators articulate and locate them within our own experience, as allies or foils of our own questions, reservations and aspirations as educators occupying many places: some physical, some imaginary and institutional, some governmental, and most paradoxical or divided, in tensions that we have to make choices about and explore.

In this brief video, a superintendent of schools, a school principal and two teachers clarify some of the tensions of curriculum into specific commitments, with the strong authorities of what many would call educational leadership. They live and work in three rural school districts in British Columbia, in the province’s Kootenay and Gold Trail (south of the Cariboo) regions, as well as on Haida Gwaii. The interviews took place from 2012 to 2016.

What if ‘real curriculum’ involves a kind of disavowal, of not making curriculum the ‘primary focus of the work’ of educators and, as such, may be finally where teachers may each “find my place”? Perhaps this is the key struggle of education (and it is an old one, between praxis and poesis). If this is so…what is the place of curriculum?

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

What questions do you have upon viewing this video?

What thoughts and feelings does a Superintendent of Schools saying to “ignore curriculum” raise for you?

How much of education depends on some kind of “liberation” as described by Colleen, the school principal? What is the liberation of education to you and why is it, or could it be, important?

“This is real” vs “What we are forced to do by the government”: How, if at all, does this play out in your experience of/in education?

How much of curricular validity, in your view, requires engagement with the coercions of education (of curricular prescription, of institutional cultural codes, of its compulsory associations and institutional implication)? What engagements do you hear in this documentation? What others can you articulate?  How can curriculum be different?

What are the stakes of how a teachers is…of teacher subjectivity: “I can be who I want to be”…what can this give to students, where is this found in your experience of curricula, what “makes it real”?  How do clichés about ‘role models’ fail to encompass (or detract from) what is at issue here?

Where is creativity found in curriculum in Shannon’s account? What different views of ‘curriculum innovation’ have we seen so far already in this documentation pathway?

Where do you see “beauty in what education can be”?

Exploring Curriculum 3 – Curricular Change: The What and the How

Sometimes what something is (especially something as complex as curriculum) can come more into focus by attending to how it changes, how its smooth understanding falters, slips and shifts when its authorities become visible, and thus more plastic or malleable. The means by which such transformation is engaged is discourse, or the surfacing what lives in otherwise inert language and practice, and here we are privileged to hear about some of the impetus for curricular change, its modalities, its venues and, above all, its rationale and significance to education.

In this brief video, a superintendent of schools, a school principal/teacher, a school vice-principal/teacher, five teachers and one student name some of how and why curriculum changes and what is most important in these processes: what curriculum is and should be implicated in, and for whom. They live and work in three rural school districts in British Columbia, in the province’s Kootenay and Gold Trail (south of the Cariboo) regions, as well as on Haida Gwaii. The interviews took place from 2012 to 2016.

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

What questions do you have upon viewing this video?

What can a curricular culture of compliance create, according to Angus, the Superintendent of Schools who speaks first? In your view, what are the stakes of this culture (i.e. what does it promote and demote in society and to what ends?)

From where comes curricular change as described in this video? Why, in each case, is change thought to be important?

Sometimes curriculum is any or all of: Document, responsiveness, relationship (or what properly follows from it), historical justice (in reconciliation), and a co-creation with multiple participants in broad flexibility. What is most important to you as an educator in this complexity? What else needs to be said?

Documentation challenge:  Name three commitments that guide your engagement with curriculum, as an agent of curriculum. How do these differ or align with your colleagues? As you assert them, how does your educational community change (or not), and how do your commitments change in the encounter?

Exploring Curriculum 4 – Responsive Curriculum & Curricular Sacrifice

Here we move further into the question that has presented itself through this documentation pathway so far: Is there a general orientation toward curriculum being articulated and, if so, what should we call it, and what are its terms?

Variously participants articulate here the stakes of curricular innovation in education, on what terms it may proceed, and what specifically may be at issue or risk in advancing in innovation (or professing something new).  With all of confidence, uncertainty, frustration and great commitment, in this brief video, two superintendents of schools, a school principal/teacher, a school vice-principal/teacher, three teachers and one parent begin to clarify the locus of the transformative and ethical dimensions of curricular innovation in education.

They live and work in four rural school districts in British Columbia, in the province’s Kootenay and Peace river regions, as well as on Lasqueti and Haida Gwaii. The interviews took place from 2012 to 2016.

Note the multiple connotations of the concept of sacrifice at play…of enduring, of doing away with something, and of making something sacred.

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

What questions do you have upon viewing this video?

What is required of educators by what is asserted in this video? What choices must be made?

What do the documentation participants express as curricular values in this documentation? What are the very specific realities they assume?  How are these sorts of questions important (or unimportant) to education, in your view?  What do you call their consideration in education?

How is schooling seen to be against innovation in this documentation? How is innovation as a curricular value articulated in this video? What is its absence implied as (i.e. what is the world that is made by the absence of curricular innovation)?

In your experience, what of importance is not talked about, but is “just assumed in education? How does curriculum produce such silence, and at what cost (and for whom)?

What sacrifices have you made for innovation in education, and what has come of these efforts?  (and be careful not to conclude too soon!!)

From the video, what could the ‘new matrix’ of education be called? How does each possible name require further thought?  What should we call this process, and how is important to the project of education?

Exploring Curriculum 5 – Accountability, Curriculum & Indetermination

Since risk (of sacrifice, or some deviation from norms) has stolen into the conversation, we deviate the investigation straight into its important questions.

This is necessary especially because so often a reactive moment of rejection (on many grounds) can be sufficient to derail or arrest the first flickers of the impetus to change.

“…thoughts that come on doves’ feet guide the world”

Here, in the plain language of our searching and brave educators, we take up the confrontation of the (il-)legitimacy of innovation with that which it would innovate, in developing questions of accountability, curriculum and indetermination (not ideas usually put together!).

The politics of curriculum perhaps come most to the fore where accountability is concerned – and this is also where strong voices for what change makes possible are most needed.

In this brief video, one superintendent of schools, one vice-superintendent, a school principal/teacher, one school vice-principal/teacher, and two teachers engage some of the politics of innovation, where accountability makes claims on its promise.

They live and work in four rural school districts in British Columbia, in the province’s Gold Trail (south of the Cariboo) and Peace river regions, as well as on Lasqueti and Haida Gwaii. The interviews took place from 2012 to 2016.

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

What questions do you have upon viewing this video?

List those to whom educators leading curricular innovation see themselves as accountable.

How might new practices in curriculum development create opportunities for the development of new forms of accountability, as suggested in this video, or otherwise?

What are some of the problems of accountability itself, in participants’ view?

Would you favour articulating innovation in existing terms of accountability, or do you see accountability itself as needing to be subject to innovation? What are some of the benefits and pitfalls of each path?

Exploring Curriculum 6 – Curricular Innovation & Pedagogy

Fortunately, the politics of accountability in this case lead us into richer areas of inquiry—often about inquiry itself—as educational leaders undergo the wages of the changes they have touched off, welcomed and defended.

Inquiry has been a central pillar of Growing Innovation, and here we see it playing out in diverse, often community- and project-based and cross-disciplinary initiatives whose pedagogies also become innovative, adventurous and bold.

Moreover, the new modes of collaboration, new forms of assessment, new community connections and new opportunities for student leadership are just the surface of developments that have ensued – where, as we shall also soon see, these are only some of the ‘educational’ components of what has ensued in Growing Innovation.  Here through curricular innovation, once education moves out of schooling, it enters a vast space indeed…

…where we may follow educators talking in specifics about innovative practice, in terms of pedagogy, of assessment, of collaboration and especially what innovation, or an innovative disposition (or ethical praxis), can make of curriculum in practice, as well as its mechanics and some of the resources and new partnerships required of educators in curricular innovation.

In this slightly longer video, two superintendents of schools, a school principal, three school vice-principals/teachers, four teachers and one student consider their experiences of finding and enacting new forms of responsibility and new pedagogies via curricular innovation, which can have the ‘surprising’ results of coming to broaden their view of what education is – into one in full engagement with what education could become (and what we, separately and together, may become through it).

They live and work in six rural school districts in British Columbia, in the province’s Kootenay and Peace river regions, as well as on Lasqueti and Haida Gwaii. The interviews took place from 2012 to 2016.

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

What questions do you have upon viewing this video?

What can an “inquiry format” provide that a more traditional “transmissive” one does not? For what are each important (i.e. if education is transformative regardless, into what do such different approaches transform students? Their educators?)

From where do outcomes come in an inquiry format?

To what degree is teacher’s inquiry requisite to students’?

How can deliberately departing from what seems to make a teacher’s job ‘important’ make it even more so?

Through what is documented here, how do you see schooling changing? When you answer this question, do you find a new formula emerging, or rather something that could never be formalized (and is this a benefit or disadvantage to curricular change as you would like to see it)?

In what specifically in this video may surprise be seen as a significant curricular force in education? What does it connect (that may have been otherwise unconnected), and how do you see this as important?

What surprised you in this video documentation?

Exploring Curriculum 7 – Teachers Visualizing Curriculum

Here educators consider what has come of their putting curriculum in question, their setting it aside in favour of generative engagements with the ideas that underwrite it, and their standing for something else or other with their students, colleagues and communities.

Limitation, expertise, wellbeing, provisionality, being ‘caught up’ in outcomes or ‘handcuffed’ by curriculum, rules and authority, leadership, assessment, planning, structure and the unexpected all come clearly into play as educators discuss curriculum within context of philosophies of schooling and the ethics of education in community, in place, in rural education. Of course, strong resonances with the New Pathway on Assessment exist here.

With new voices continuing to be added as we move along the way, one student, five teachers, a school principal and one school vice-principal/teacher consider curricular innovation in its wake, with both strong cautions and clarifying commitments.

They live and work in five rural school districts in British Columbia, in the province’s Kootenay and Peace river regions, its Gold Trail district (south of the Cariboo), on and around Northern Vancouver Island and on Haida Gwaii. The interviews took place from 2012 to 2016.

We join the discussion in its increasingly ethical cast…what is it to “do the right thing” where curriculum is concerned?

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

What questions do you have upon viewing this video?

To what extent is expertise expected of teachers in your experience/contexts?  In what?

What concerns have educators in this video of the expectation of teachers’ ‘expert’ authority? What exactly do they favour (and what words do they use to describe it)? (these can be elusive, so its good to be very careful in our reading/viewing)

What reasons do educators give, or imply, for their view of curriculum, and/or the necessity of curricular innovation?

For what specific reasons, in your view, do teachers get ‘caught up’ in the ‘what’ of teaching?

Regardless of the diversity of views that may obtain about ‘doing the right thing’ with respect to curriculum, what is your view of the need for its discussion? Is it central or supplementary to good education?  How/why might it be important in your view?  What do educators, education & curriculum become through it?

Many dismiss views like the student’s in this video as a kind of naïve sort of quirk or idealism – how could his comments be important in an ethical sense where transgression and control are concerned in education? Can curriculum be innovated in conversation with views like these?  Can it be without them?

In your view and/or experience, what is the relation between curricular enforcement (in directive or ‘traditional’ curricula) and teacher wellbeing?

Exploring Curriculum 8 – Approaches to Curriculum (as Innovation)

Affirmation comes thick here:  Of curriculum itself as a site of collaborative inquiry – among teachers, with communities and often in the leadership of students. Clarifying this commitment becomes more important as – as we have seen throughout this pathway – the stakes of not doing so are asserted, often as an ethical matter.

What also is becoming clearer is that innovation creates its own conditions, and that this is a worthy and vitalizing work in education, while its dismissal or rejection is often fatiguing, familiar and disenfranchising, if widely seemingly legitimate and correct:  ‘the way this is done.

How frail ‘really trying to keep that space alive’ can seem!  And how encouraging its connection to ‘real’ professionalism (or professionalism of the real, as some would say…).

In this video, four teachers, one vice-principal/teacher, one vice-superintendent of schools and one superintendent of schools bring forward the many dimensions of curriculum as innovation.

They live and work in four rural school districts in British Columbia, in the province’s Kootenay and Peace river regions, to Gold Trail (in the river country south of the Cariboo). The interviews took place from 2012 to 2016.

Some questions to consider (we recommend brief small group discussions that can each then ‘compare notes’ about the different directions opened in how such ‘complicated’ conversations can go):

How do you respond to this video?

What does it bring to mind for you?

What questions do you have upon viewing this video?

How does ‘teaching as storytelling’ appeal to you? What does it make possible that may not be otherwise? In your view, following from Jeff, what specific relationships are a teacher’s stories about?

How is or is not technology a part of place? How should we think of place in light of educating responsive to the increasing ubiquity of technology.

Some educators talk about process as the deliverance from product in innovative curriculum design and implementation, others talk about engagement with process as the venue of curricular innovation (not simply its paradoxical product), while still others disavow process altogether, in the name of encounter and emergence. What is your inclination in this ‘complicated conversation’? (btw:  it has many antecedents in different educational philosophies, and beyond…)

How are professionalism and a space of innovation connected or aligned in your view?

How do you react differently to educators describing what they know to those asserting what they want to do?  How are these registers different in terms of teacher professionalism?  What space do you make for each in your practice, and how do these relate to each other?

In your view, in terms of ‘creative curriculum,’ what really is failure?  Does it presuppose a standard (by which we would not be dealing with innovation at all)?  Or is it a useful continuing engagement with processes of change?

 

And so this conversation (like all really good ones) ends in the middle, among questions and commitments gathering to themselves their own forms of courage, their own nerve…to continue.

How do you see these where you educate?  How would you like to?