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.

 

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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?