TESS Article 15: Can we trust the profession?

 Trust by Joi.


A recurring theme in discussions with colleagues about the implementation of A Curriculum for Excellence has been the need to keep a strong focus on promoting a culture of trust in the professionalism of teachers.

All too often people in positions such as mine can focus upon the technical elements of implementation and see it a problem to be solved through a logical project management approach. I have to admit that on many occasions in my career as an educational leader that I have succumbed to temptation of the “grand plan” approach – which took no account of the how it impacted upon how teachers might respond or be effected by the plan.

Perhaps the starting point for such a change in focus might come from exploring and clarifying our unspoken assumptions upon which so many implementation strategies have been built on in the past. The predominant approach has been the “cascade” model where the key units of change existed outside the school and were “handed down” to those in schools to implement. In this sense the system “teacher proofed” itself, where the industry of curriculum development resided outside schools – with the exception of pilot projects which were trialled within “willing” schools.

Yet Elmore (2004) suggests that most reform strategies are based on what can described as the “true believers” who are already motivated and whose commitment is galvanised by concentrating them into small groups who reinforce each other – the bad news is that these small groups of self-selected reformers apparently seldom influence their peers. And so I would suggest that “willing schools” who throughout the last thirty years have led the change process actually do no favours to the wider profession.

In implementing a Curriculum for Excellence we need to promote alternative models where the key unit of change resides within a community’s secondary school and partner primary schools. For such a change to happen a huge mind shift needs to take place amongst many of us who have been brought up with a quite opposite experience.

Yet the “elephant in the room” which must be addressed is the vexed notion of time! How can schools implement an initiative without being given any more time for teachers to develop courses, lessons or resources?

My first observation would be that we need to move away from seeing A Curriculum for Excellence as something which requires a shift in terms of the content which already underpins our curriculum and more a shift in how we deliver and engage students with that self same content, i.e. we don’t need to develop more materials.

Secondly, we need to completely revise how we conceptualise the partnership and sharing process – on a quite a different scale from what we have known previously (not for the first time in this column GLOW takes on critically important role.)

Thirdly, we need to critically reflect upon how we currently use the time available to us in schools. That would require us to consider how we might make better use of the 35 hour working week; the use of the 35 hours of CPD time; the five In-Service days; and where we direct any additional support funding.

Lastly, we need to reorient ourselves away from assumptions where it is implicit that teachers are resistant to change, need to be “fixed” and are essentially passive receivers of information, to one where we believe that where teachers are trusted, empowered and enabled to work together they can create outstanding learning environments for children and young people.

Taking these four points collectively the role for those of us who operate outside schools becomes much clearer and changes from one of “command and control”, to one of “support and facilitate”, where teachers and schools can generate a true sense of ownership for what they do.