Change Agent and the Curriculum

Trust can be demonstrated by a school leader when they function as Change Agent in relationship to the curricular program. Most notably, and with few possible exceptions, trusted leaders make those changes in small incremental steps. After reviewing any portion of the curriculum, school leaders may be tempted to make revolutionary modifications to the program, especially if a course or program has not been evaluated for some time.

However, trusted leaders know it is unwise to attempt to make sweeping changes within any given school year, if not simply for the time needed for the teacher to master the elements of change. “The advantages of evolution over revolution are at least as evident in education as elsewhere. It is, however, to acknowledge that the process of evolution can be smoother, quicker, and more effective, if it is not left to chance but implemented according to carefully thought-out strategies” (A. V. Kelly, The Curriculum: Theory and Practice).

Even with a slowly implemented, methodical approach to curriculum change, potential barriers unique to it and its improvement exist. One of the most significant challenges is the call for accountability:

A challenge with curriculum in an age of accountability is that students are motivated by the need for a high grade rather than learning for the sake of learning. Paradoxically, this is occurring at a time when there is more to learn than ever in the history of the planet and knowledge is increasing exponentially. Memorization and regurgitation are no longer enough. Students need to acquire the 21st century skills, for example, that include the 3 Rs but go far beyond them. Thus, it is crucial that curriculum is relevant and meaningful to ensure that students reach their full learning potential. As well, the culture of grading needs to be replaced by a culture of learning. (Drake, Creating Standards-Based Integrated Curriculum)

This highlights the critical need to determine assessment practices prior to identifying course content and learning activities. It is far more valuable to assess the student’s learning process, rather than the amount of content they master. Therefore, learning experiences and classroom activities may be of greater value than course content itself; teaching students how to learn so that they can mature into authentic life-long-learners. Trusted leaders invest their time and energy in this type of curricular change.

Supporting teachers and their response to curricular changes, development, and improvement is essential. One of the key elements of that support is a focus on ever-changing student needs. The priority must be seen in the shared commitment to those whom teachers teach.

Sustainable change requires a reorientation of priorities and values so that the comfort and convenience of the individual is no longer the measure by which the legitimacy of change is considered. Rather, we respond to a vision of change that is so compelling and whose benefits for others are so overwhelming that we see students and colleagues not as cogs in the machine but as stars in a galaxy that outshines our fears and dwarfs our apprehensions. At the same time – and this is the key to change leadership – we know that each star in the firmament holds an essential place, and without it, a constellation would be diminished. Thus the paradox of change leadership is the elevation of a vision far greater than the individual and, at the same time, the elevation of the individual to a place that is unique, powerful, and essential. (Douglas B. Reeves, Leading Change in Your School: How to Conquer Myths, Build Commitment, and Get Results)

Therefore, trusted leaders empower their teachers in the process of change to recognize their inestimable value, while at the same time maintaining their focus on the benefits students receive from their efforts, as well as the professional benefit derived by themselves and their peers through modeling the attributes of being lifelong learners to each other.

As Susan Drake alludes to above, one of the greatest problems facing curriculum content is constantly being out-of-date. Many schools adapt a rotation schedule for updating their curriculum so a continual review process is in place. This results in major improvements and adjustments typically made on a four or five-year rotating schedule. This schedule may work well for managing the financial implications of curriculum review and updates, alternating the major expenses of new textbooks and associated resources and technology, but it certainly cannot keep pace with the rapid state of change in the world.

There is no academic discipline untouched by the dizzying speed of change in the information age. Educators must view the content of any pursuit of study today as living, which it always has been, but at a much slower pace in generations passed. Teachers must not consider the curriculum content as fixed. Given that there is no sign that the speed of change will slow down anytime in the near future, school leaders must develop skills among their faculty and students to work with ever-changing and developing content.

©Toby A. Travis, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved

Recommended Reading:

  • Mary James and Robert McCormick, “Teachers learning how to learn,” Teaching and Teacher Education 25, no. 7 (2009): 973-982.
  • Marjan Laal, “Benefits of Lifelong Learning,” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 46, (2012): 4268-4272.

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