Will the benefit equal the effort? An investigation into the personal significance of the changes signalled in a mandated curriculum to New Zealand secondary school teachers
A new school curriculum was implemented in all New Zealand schools during 2008 and 2009 and was mandated at the beginning of 2010. The changes signalled in the new curriculum required teachers to incorporate key competencies into their teaching and to move to student-centred practice which involves students in the decisions about their learning. It was possible that this social constructivist approach represented a change in teachers’ beliefs about teaching and learning and to their practice. Much of the literature on educational change appears to overlook the transformational nature of the learning needed to bring about changes in beliefs and practice and teachers’ personal motivation to engage with it. Unless change is of personal significance to individuals they are unlikely to be motivated to engage with it. Using Eisner’s (1998) method of educational criticism, this case study is an investigation into the personal significance of the new curriculum to the teachers’ reality. In the spirit of educational criticism, the lens of an educational connoisseur was used to first develop an understanding of the teachers’ reality followed by that of an educational critic to evaluate what occurred. Over a two-year period the study involved semi-structured interviews with twelve secondary school teachers in three schools, observations of the classroom practice, and analysis of school documentation and societal messages. While all the participating teachers’ espoused beliefs that were congruent with the philosophy of the new curriculum, constructivist practices were observed in the practice of only two teachers. What prevented the other teachers’ wholehearted engagement in the implementation of the new curriculum was not their beliefs about teaching and learning but rather, the extent to which external pressures determined their priorities. These pressures included the misalignment of the school goals and cultural norms, the impact of NCEA assessment regime, time constraints, leadership issues, lack of conceptual understanding and the absence of professional learning to support transformative learning.