What Makes a Curriculum Team Succeed?

The way a group goes about developing curriculum together has a great deal to do with its eventual success, according to ethnographer John Watkins, who has evaluated several lengthy curriculum development projects involving teams of teachers. Watkins describes several factors he says typically influence their progress, or lack of it:

* the way teams use outside resources, learn the content of their field, and do research;
* the way they organize their work together, and the appropriateness of the leadership process they use;
* the tacit or explicit assumptions they bring with them about school structures, students, and how learning happens.

Teachers come to the task of developing curriculum, Watkins observes, laden with the baggage of their district’s history-its politics, its culture, and its organizational structure. To develop new curriculum, they must often challenge all that, setting into place an entirely new culture of inquiry and professional growth. Where they begin, and how explicit they make their assumptions and their process, can dramatically affect whether anything ultimately changes in their schools and districts. Some of the most important practices in developing curriculum, he believes, fall into the following categories:

* Developing new working methods and new definitions of professional relations, including team building, team work, team structures, new definitions of professional exchange, and tools for that work. Teachers must be able to deal with open-ended tasks, challenge each other’s assumptions, ask good questions, and strategically seek out and decide how to use information and resources.
* Recognizing, building on, and overcoming the effects of district histories, organizational and political momentum, prior relations, and ideologies about education.
* Developing relations with outside resources and organizations (consultants, funders, summer institutes, experts in education and content areas, etc.).
* Developing patterns of using resources that support their work.
* Learning about learning.
* Learning and exploring in the content areas the curriculum addresses.
* Carrying out good research.
* Learning and using new technologies for planning, inquiry, and communication.
* Figuring out what a curriculum model is, and building one.