Collaborative curriculum design and professional growth
How can teamwork lead to better curriculum and better outcomes?
In the run-up to TDT’s 16th October conference, Developing Currriculum and Teachers: Leading from the Middle, Beth Greville-Giddings explores an interesting study about how teacher teams can use curriculum design as a way to develop.
Collaborative curriculum design as a form of inquiry has the potential for increased engagement in professional development as it involves working towards something tangible that will be put into practice. Voogt, Pieters and Handelzalts’ (2016) review of collaborative curriculum design teams, whilst not a synthesis of evidence, applies the method of content analysis as a qualitative research strategy to analyse 14 doctoral theses to establish the features and effects, and identifies the mechanisms and conditions necessary for these to be successful.
The findings in this paper suggest that this ‘specific form of professional learning community’ is a way of providing ongoing, long-term professional development, and that there is an interaction between professional development of teachers and the process of curriculum development which can provide subject-specific and pedagogical development, whilst creating a logical curriculum that works for staff and pupils within an ongoing, sustainable structure.
Alternative forms of collaborative inquiry have been criticised due to teachers’ perceptions that it is an ‘add-on’, lacks relevance to their particular context, and teachers lack confidence or familiarity with new practices (Jones, 2017). Collaborative curriculum design addresses these concerns as the processes and outcomes are central to the need for change, staff feel effort will be rewarded and able to promote and embed changes. The collaborative curriculum design process incorporates several of Kotter’s (1995) steps for successful change management; creating teacher agency in establishing a vision for change and empowering teachers to act on this vision, encouraging risk taking and experimentation.
Benefits of collaborative design teams cited by Voogt et al (2016) include:
- changes to teacher learning
- uptake of pedagogy
- increased subject knowledge
- making connections within and between subjects
- development of curriculum expertise
- strategies to involve external stakeholders
- curriculum change
- concrete curriculum products
- higher quality curriculum and materials
- logical structure
- cultural change
- build relational trust
- provide developmental feedback
Leaders should be aware that staff may over-estimate their knowledge and skills and the effort required for co-construction may lead to a sunk-cost bias, where staff are reluctant to critically assess work they have invested in heavily. As with other forms of professional development, visible support of leadership, time for design work and time for proactive and reactive coaching are necessary conditions for change to embed.
Teacher prior knowledge and level of engagement are highlighted by Voogt et al (2016) as mechanisms effecting change so it is valuable for leaders to consider experiences that individuals will bring into the development process alongside planning for intended outcomes.. Voogt, Westbroek, Handelzalts, Walraven, McKenney, Pieters and de Vries (2011) view collaborative curriculum design through Clark and Hollingsworth’s (2002) Interconnected Model of Professional Growth. The model was originally designed to look at individual experience of development through reflection and enactment between four domains: external, personal, practice and consequence, which demonstrates the underlying processes that bring about change for different people (figure 1).
Figure 1: Clarke and Hollingsworth’s (2002) interconnected model of teacher professional growth
Voogt et al (2011) use the model to map the experience of teams, concluding that it is possible to plot the learning process of groups and use the model to set out how, in groups, people might react in different ways to the same thing. For example, if one group member creates a resource that is then used by other members of the group, the resource itself could be a feature of any one of the domains. For the creator this could mean enactment between the personal and external domains, for the user it may be a reaction between external and personal, or external and consequence.
According to Clark and Hollingsworth it is important that all four domains are addressed for professional growth and curriculum change to be embedded. Voogt et al (2016) identify expert coaching as a central feature to support collaborative curriculum design and the work of Voogt et al (2011) suggests that Clarke and Hollingsworth’s model could be used to plot individual change pathways as reflection within the coaching process; supporting the study and adaptation of materials, and increasing awareness of limitations both for teams as a whole and for individual members across each of the domains.
The detail provided through mapping individual pathways of the change process could also support implementation and evaluation of curriculum once designed, ensuring a cycle of continued reflection. By recognising the importance of each domain for teacher professional growth and the process of curriculum design, leaders have a framework to prompt consideration of factors blocking change where intended outcomes are assessed as limited.
Leaders of professional development should recognise that collaborative curriculum design is an ongoing process and provide sufficient time and resources for reflection and enactment to occur. By understanding that different people will bring different experiences and skills to the process and therefore take different ‘routes’ to a common outcome, leaders can evaluate the process through a model that will allow assessment of the group but also ensure individual professional growth.
Voogt et al’s (2016) analysis of 14 doctoral theses does not synthesise the evidence across studies, however it is used to identify key themes across effects, mechanisms and conditions in the relationship between curriculum innovation and collaborative design in teams of teachers. The structure of collaborative design teams can enable schools to develop ownership of their curriculum, increasing expertise across subject and pedagogical knowledge; creating concrete curriculum products, and supporting each other through a process of observation and reflection. Whilst further research is required to assess the relationship between collaborative curriculum design and student outcomes, quality of curriculum materials produced and scalability of change, collaborative curriculum design affords the benefits of collaborative practice whilst meeting the needs of individuals and using inquiry for a tangible purpose.
Beth Greville-Giddings is Learning & Development Lead for the Raleigh Learning Trust and is research lead at Westbury Academy, Nottingham. She is a Teacher Development Trust Associate in CPD Leadership and is currently working with Raleigh Learning Trust to develop their CPD offer.
Clarke, D. and Hollingsworth, H., (2002). Elaborating a model of teacher professional growth. Teaching and teacher education, 18 (8), 947–967
Jones, G. (2017) ‘Collaborative Inquiry: Teachers’ Perceptions’ Teacher Development Trust, Available at: https://tdtrust.org/collaborative-inquiry (accessed 12-07-2019)
Kotter, J.P. (1995), Leading change: why transformation efforts fail, Harvard Business Review, March-April, 59-67.
Voogt, J., Westbroek, H., Handelzalts,A., Walraven,A., McKenney,S., Pieters, J. and de Vries, B. (2011) Teacher learning in collaborative curriculum design, Teaching and Teacher Education 27 (8),1235-1244
Voogt,J.M., Pieters J.M & Handelzalts A. (2016) Teacher collaboration in curriculum design teams: effects, mechanisms, and conditions, Educational Research and Evaluation, 22:3-4, 121-140
To find out more about curriculum and teacher development, don’t miss TDT’s conference on the 16th of October, Central London, in partnership with TES.
With the Ofsted Framework providing new impetus for thinking, this conference is an invaluable opportunity for senior and middle leaders to hear the latest practice. Hear from thought leaders, experts and leading practitioners including Daniel Muijs, Ros McMullen, Tim Oates CBE and David Weston.
We are delighted to have TES as our media partners for this event. Deputy Editor, Ed Dorrell, will be chairing a panel of school leaders and experts to explore how we can support middle leaders. We will also have Collaborative Lesson Research Expert, Julie Jordan, exploring how the Japanese method of Kyuzaii Kenkyuu (curriculum material study) could be adapted for a UK context to support curriculum development.
At this event we will explore:
- How to align curriculum design and staff development to create highly effective, evidence-informed teaching
- The impact of the new Ofsted Inspection Framework
- Developing middle leaders who can own and drive curriculum and staff changes within their teams
Who should attend?
- School leaders: headteachers, principals, executive headteachers & CEOs
- Middle leaders
- Teaching and Learning leaders
- CPD leaders
- Teaching School Directors