Recently preparing for a school evaluation visit and also spending lots of thought on the value of coordination of IB programmes, I’ve appreciated the analogies for leadership of curriculum development that Stephen Taylor used in his blog “Curriculum as a Compass?” and I’ve been thinking about how to extend the analogy to programme implementation.
Struck by the image of navigation as a valuable skill set to the one who might be steering the implementation ship, the analogy transfers to the coordinator’s open ended task of making a programme happen.
Programme implementation is a complex, open-ended task. Influences on how an IB program looks like in any given school includes many factors.
Coordinators may have flexibilities and constraints from a context. It’s a middle leadership function, connected at one end to senior leadership, whose role is to remove barriers to teaching and learning and at the other end, to a faculty, whose role is to make things happen at the classroom level.
Take a look at language learning in schools. At the organisational level, this big goal includes school decisions such as the offering of mother tongue languages (How many? Which ones and why those?). That involves turning data from the school community into information used for staffing and hiring, decisions about resources to invest in, and the allocation of time for teaching and learning for one or more languages as language and literature versus language acquisition classes. These considerations give parameters for provision of language pathways for all students, which the coordinator along with the senior leadership team must ensure so that the requirement is in place and has structures, systems and resources to support its implementation of the single practice “The school places importance on language learning, including mother tongue, host country language and other languages” (Standard A, practice 7). A lot of time and energy goes into the implementation of each practice.
Given that the program may have around 70+ practices to implement, how might the coordinator nurture these practices, which in effect are design elements, into a program? So I’ve been thinking about tools for the coordinator.
Knowing that each school has its contextual flexibilities and constraints, a coordinator cannot simply parachute one school’s implementation design into another school. There are cultural forces that need to be considered, and here we can use Ron Ritchhart’s Eight Cultural Forces to help us think of flexibilities and constraints in our own contexts.
How might the 8 Cultural Forces scale?
Because culture can be represented by fractals of ‘the ways we do things around here’ (Roland Barth’s definition of school culture), these cultural forces scale from defining a single classroom to patterns of defining the school culture as a whole.
Notes on the interdependent enactment of how we do things
The cultural force of TIME
We know that cultures spend time on things that it values. We also know that time is a finite resource in a school. It follows that as communities we need to be mindful of what we spend our time on. For example, collaborative time as a whole faculty and as subject groups or teams is a scarce resource in the estimated 37 weeks of an academic year. When we engage in meetings, what we want is to believe that that time is spent purposefully toward a shared goal.
The cultural force of MODELLING
There is a universe of tacit knowledge in cultures. Often, this knowledge is modelled through behaviour; the newer members of the culture learn through the behaviours of those who have been around in that culture for a while. If for instance, we want our younger members to think critically, how does critical thinking become visible in the behaviours of the adults? Teaching by example, we are reminded that approaches to learning is taught in part by approaches to teaching and learning in the IB programme models. How are we leading ATL through ATTL?
The cultural force of LANGUAGE
A shared language around learning is vital for school cultures. Schools who are newly authorised in the IB programmes, for example, find a steep learning curve with the IB language for learning. (Recall the insider joke that you possibly made during your Category 1 workshop, around the acronyms.) The value of the shared language is that students, teachers, leadership, parents, and the community partnerships understand what we mean when we use a term to talk about concepts of our programmes. Whitaker and Gruenert (2015, loc. 310) suggest that “To not understand the local language is to demonstrate a lower level of usefulness in the eyes of the culture.”
The cultural force of ENVIRONMENT
Environments can mean the physical space where learning happens. Malaguzzi gave us the idea of space as the “third teacher,” giving the design elements of that space as including aesthetics and organisation; movement tied to learning; allowing for provocation of thinking, action, energy for agency, and allowances for facilitating communication. Space and cognition are closely linked in our cultural environments. How will the environments facilitate the thinking culture of a classroom? Of a school? Lev Vygotsky suggested, “Children grow into the intellectual life around them.” Thoughtful design of the physical spaces we learn as well as the cognitive spaces we create matter in our school’s intellectual life.
The cultural force of INTERACTIONS
Kegan and Lahey (2002) suggest that the ways we talk can transform the ways we work. We are beginning to deeply understand that purposeful conversations are the iterations of behaviours that become our cultural norm. For example, if we default to advocacy before we provide time, place and space for inquiry, we lose the cognitive resource of dialog and shared understanding for our decision making (Garmston and Wellman, 2016).
The cultural force of ROUTINES
Rituals are useful routines in cultures. These behaviours that we use to dramatise our values as a group can come in many forms, such as how we celebrate learning (e.g. the PYPX; the PPX, service learning exhibitions). These dramatic events (dramatic because we perform them to the audience of community) we uphold cement our norms as a culture (Whitaker and Gruenert, 2015). Are the big events aligned with the classroom events? When there is coherence in the experience of routines, whether they are classroom-level routines or school-level rituals or rites of passage, we communicate what we believe is important to our community.
The cultural force of EXPECTATIONS
Communicating expectations for the ultimate purpose and meaning of why we do what we do in a classroom or school sets the culture’s expectations. We know that ways that we communicate influence the expectations we set. For example, if in a classroom we subscribe to lower expectations for certain students, how might we see these expectations through the kinds of questions we expect the students to answer? Do we ask questions that require critical thinking of all our students, or just those ones we think can ‘handle’ it? This one example shows how important it is for us to be mindful of what we communicate about expectations even when we are not actually saying our ‘rules’ out loud. Another thing that communicates expectations is the worst behavior the leader tolerates; this sets up the culture (Whitaker and Gruenert, 2015).
The cultural force of OPPORTUNITIES
Opportunities can be designed in a classroom. We give students multiple access points for learning with thoughtful planning by allowing choice and student voice in the things we engage in as we learn. Similarly, we scale this to our whole school culture. We layer professional learning so that it is embedded in the day to day life of our schools. We are aware that opportunites for learning naturally provoke agency in the learners when there is a culture that rewards risk-taking and permits experiments, failures, re-dos and redesigns like all designers know their cultures do.
These cultural forces are enacted by individual classroom teachers, and they create patterns which become the cultural enactment of groups and the whole community itself. Thoughtful design allows for intentionality in the ways that we create how these design elements become the way we do things.
It’s a Third Point
It’s useful to see implementation as the third point (Garmston and Wellman, 2016), something that is alive and exists outside of you and me. As a thing in itself, we can examine it, analyse it, evaluate it, change it, without feeling threats to self and the group. It may also be useful to keep in mind that in implementation, there is no end and there is endless potential for better. And, we need to start and support each other through the transition from the current state to the desired state.
So reflecting on the suggestion that the coordinator is more than a keeper of procedures, that he or she is in actual function a cultural agent, a change leader, and a facilitator of learning, what might be useful: to hold a map with directions and steps, or to hold a compass and be a wayfinder?
Some folks prefer a map, a layout of the terrain with specific direction and pressure factors. This approach focuses on logistical information and leverages those to make things happen. Below is an example of a map for one practice in the MYP.
Some advantages of maps to implementation is that they are about things, meaning that direction and steps can be expressed in concrete things to do. Create a balanced timetable. Create courses that meet requirements in each guide. Maps are useful to inform us about the things we need, to sequence these and follow the steps.
Others may prefer to orienteer, to navigate through the terrain in an exploratory manner, focusing on process, and letting the collaboration within the program surface its essential actions toward implementation. Wayfinding with a compass is about energy and relationships.
Some advantages to using a compass is that the process of collaboration and reflection nurtures group behaviours and cements norms; creates ownership of the action plans; develops relationships and trust; creates opportunity and value for agency both in individuals and groups.
Below is an illustration of what it might mean to orienteer through programme implementation.
‘Both things and energy matter’
The quote above from Garmston and Wellman (2008) refers to why we develop collaboration in our school.
Exploring approaches to implementation through both map and compass may be a worthwhile consideration. Maps help us to create concrete timelines and purposeful chunking of implementation goals into smaller actions. Mapping supports our work together as a holding environment as we enact our programmes.
The use of compass and wayfinding allows us to create pools of energy within our collaborative groups and across our school. As we collaborate and reflect, we are also building relationships as energy sources. We are able to orient ourselves toward the purposes and values that we create in and through our programmes. Understanding both the map and compass of coordination helps us navigate our way through the open-ended task of programme implementation.
Garmston, R. J., & Wellman, B. M. (2016). The adaptive school: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Gruenert, S., & Whitaker, T. (2015). School culture rewired: How to define, assess, and transform it. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2002). How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages forTransformation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.