Creating a system that supports curriculum change





 In daily life changes in the rules, roles and relationships that controls people’s lives demand corresponding changes in their behaviors. In regard to real structural change the demands are even higher because it requires re-arranging of entire systems of value and meaning that orders people’s lives. No wonder it is so difficult to bring about change. Real structural changes such as curriculum change, often challenge traditional views of educational stake holders and meet with a lot of resistance. It is no surprise that a principal who would have excelled as a strong controlling figure when thrust into a more participatory environment of change has to unlearn much to survive, much less excel in a more supportive and less authoritarian role.

Resistance to curriculum change is not a new phenomenon. In 1939 a satire was published in United States of America that featured the famous “Saber-tooth Curriculum”.  It focuses on a prehistoric tribe whose attempts to curriculum change met with a lot of resistance. In an attempt to survive the drastic whether alterations, the following changes were made in the curriculum to secure more and better food, shelter, clothing and security; there was to be change in subject matter-from the original core subjects like fish-grabbing with bare hands, wooly-horse-clubbing and tiger scaring with fire to new subjects such as net making, antelope snaring and bear killing. Learning experiences now included having students play with sticks, bones and pebbles.

This met with resistance from wise men who advocated for retention of the original subjects, arguing that the essence of true education was its timelessness. They did not understand how new skills such as net-making and Antelope-snaring could replace the cherished old methods like grabbing fish with bare hands, wooly-horse –clubbing and tiger scaring by fire. Alternative diagnostic evaluation methods such as formative and impact evaluation was considered a threat to their accustomed summative methods. According to Hooper (1971) such resistance to curriculum change comes about as a result of people’s misconceptions about change. Many education stake holders do not understand the concept of curriculum change, its process and values. The curriculum change managers who are supposed to sensitize and guide them into realization of success have also failed to create systems that support curriculum change.

In this paper the writer discuses ways of creating a system that supports curriculum change. The following questions will guide the discussion;

1. What is curriculum change?

2. Why should there be change in the curriculum?

3. Why does Curriculum change meet with a lot of resistance?

4. What are the strategies in creating a system that supports curriculum change?

5. How can Curriculum managers build a result driven system for effective Curriculum change?

6. Is there a possibility of balancing change with tradition to reduce the magnitude of resistance to Curriculum change?


Curriculum Change

What is curriculum change?  In answering this question several other questions can be asked like – what happens when change occurs, what is the source of change? Can people predict the consequences of change? Can educators control those changes that directly impact them? Bondi, J. & Wiles, J (1998) argue that education managers have some degree of control over the process of change if they understand the nature of change. Understanding the concept of change and the various types of change, gives individuals freedom to determine the sources of change. It also help them to realize that even though they can not predict change outcomes, they can make “best guess” forecast about its results.

Where as curriculum change is generally defined as the transformation of the curriculum scheme- for example its design, goals and content, we need to realize that with every curriculum change there needs to be clarifications about the parameters of the change. Educators need to be cautious in adopting curriculum change definitions that describe curriculum change as the entire transformation of the curriculum (Hooper, R. (1971). Curriculum change can occur at three levels-minor, medium and major. Minor changes may comprise of re-arrangement of the sequence of the subject content or learning activities or just the addition of one topic or method to the instructional program. Medium changes may include an innovation like integration of subjects, a new subject or a new approach to the existing subject. Major changes will affect many aspects of the curriculum, for example content, methods approaches, materials; subtracting or adding to what already exists. There could also be changes in the conceptual design and organization calling for new planning Shiundu, J. S., Omulando, S.J. (1992)

Reasons for Curriculum Change

There will never be perfect curriculum for all ages. The environment keeps changing and this creates new needs in the society, the curriculum has to change continuously to address these needs. Since the school is a social system serving the society, changes in the society will definitely provoke changes in the school curriculum. Consequently, changes in the community, its population, and professional staff need to be reflected in the related changes in the school curriculum as they directly alter the learner’s needs, interests and attitudes. Therefore, the main aim of curriculum change is to improve learning (Bondi, J. &Wiles, J., 1998).

 In addition, educational change is among the variety of social changes. In itself, it is a function of change in the society. This contends with the view of education as an agent for social change. In this case curriculum change is necessary for broader changes in the society.

Resistance to Curriculum Change

When curriculum authorities and bureaucrats attempt to introduce curriculum change in schools, educational stake holders respond by opposing the new changes. Teachers often experience periods of engagements before frequently returning to the entrenched practices and resolutely awaiting the next innovation. Their personal learning may not even translate into the required changes (MacDonald, D. (2004); Hipkins, R. (2007). There are cases when changes are introduced in fashions that breed in rivalry among teachers, for instance when change brings about promotion to some while undermining the roles of others. Other times change interferes with the school routine and causes additional burden to teachers and administrators.

Whenever the opinions of influential or outspoken individuals such as the politicians and government educational appointees are ignored, there would be massive protests against change. Even though these individuals lack curriculum expertise, they possess the political will and the contextual support that determines vital factors in implementation such as funding and consent for new programs Gruba, P., Alistar, M., Harald, S., Justin, Z.

Another factor that may contribute to resistance to curriculum change is lack of involvement of the community, especially parents, in the initial plans for change. Research has revealed that successful curriculum change is only possible if the community members are actively involved Montero-Sieburth, M. (1992). According to Zais (1976) people normally resist change because of fear of failure. Comfort with familiar routines and psychological glue to rigid and overbearing systems creates discomfort with the suggested changes. Given that curriculum change has implications on social values, and values take along process to change, curriculum change come gradually with more pressure for the change.

Strategies in Creating a System that Supports Curriculum Change

In tradition
al literature on organizational culture, culture and change are depicted as polar opposites, with culture acting in opposition to change. Even though resistance seem to be part of typical school culture, transformational leadership can foster school reforms through maintaining of collaborative norms such as collegiality, experimentation, high expectations, trust and confidence, tangible support, appreciation and recognition, caring ,celebration and humor, protection and involvement in decision making, traditions,, honest and open communication( Glickman, C.D., 2004).

Trust is a prerequisite in achieving all the above elements that are required in support of curriculum change, without it relations will flounder and the management will not get unified support for change. In order to have trust, the curriculum manager should build a school system anchored on respect, personal regard and integrity. (Bryk & Schneider, 2002). Cultures of collaboration and collegiality are promoted in an environment that supports interaction and participating, interdependence, shared interests and beliefs, concern for individual and minority views and meaningful relations (Zepeda, S.J., 2007).

It is possible to overcome resistance to change and bring about structural curriculum changes if support systems are established. Such systems can not simply be sold, they have to be marketed. Usually the concept of “sales” begins with a product and attempts to persuade prospective consumers that they need it. Curriculum marketing must begin by sensitizing the stake holders about the need for change. Once they are converted, production philosophies and capacities have to be adapted to their needs and values to make marketing more effective. It is wrong to approach change as a guarantee to solutions of existing problems.  The “quick fix deal” usually does not work and may cause further resistance Montero-Sierburh, M. (1992).

 In order to satisfy needs and values of prospective customers, education leaders need to raise and provide answers for the following questions

–          If a specific change were adapted, how would the value structure of the various constituencies be influenced?

–          Would these values apply to all groups or to limited personnel?

–          How might the proposed changes be managed to maximize desired values?

–          If change is not possible, how might conditions be altered to prepare for change?

Answering these critical questions require educational leaders to be familiar with the nature of change to be implemented and an equal insight into the values and needs of the groups who will be affected by the change. It is important to note that support groups are key figures in reducing opposition to change, and in developing the zest for restructuring.  The leader needs to identify the target groups that are crucial in for affecting change. Some of the critical individuals in this group are teachers, and teacher organizations, school administrators, school boards, parents, civic, business, political leaders and tax payers in general (Schlechty, P. & Bob, C. 1991).

Among these groups the key “markets” for change are the persons, groups or agencies that will be required to alter their behaviors to give up established interests or to provide funding for change. Since the issue of support logs at the center of any curriculum change, certain requirements have to be met to win the support of educational stake holders.

a) Gaining teachers’ Support

Fulfilling teacher’s needs is one way to getting their support for curriculum reform. In the event of change teachers have a crucial need for recognition and affirmation – affirming peoples’ importance to the future of an enterprise does not only affirm them, but it also affirms the enterprise itself. Secondly, recognizing their need for support, collegial interaction, intellectual variety and success in the proposed changes will make a positive difference in their attitudes (Schlechty, P. & Bob, C. 1991).

Further support can be achieved by recognizing and addressing various stages and expressions of teachers’ concerns. This will range from creating awareness, giving information, clarifying teacher involvement in terms of resources he may need, who he may need to work with, how his ideas may be in cooperated and the expected out come . A forum based on listening, recognizing and praising success is more likely to be productive. (Glickman, C.D., et al. 2004; Balflour, L & Mackenzie, A., 2009).

Enthusiasm will be guaranteed when teachers are actively involved in the change process, and feel assured that their suggestions and views will be taken seriously. In addition, collegiality assurance is vital for teachers as change initiators. They need to be assured that by working together, routine matters will be managed while they are busy with the change process. It is also important to upgrade teacher’s competences and employ additional staff to share the burden that may be brought about by additional programs, methodologies and enrollment. Curriculum supervisors need to be aware that the use of “Seasonal” or adjunct staff and ill prepared teachers is inadequate to bring about expected curriculum changes. Gruba, P., Moffat, A., Sondergaard, H., & Zobel, J. http//

 According to Cheng (1994) the curriculum manager needs to approach teachers in the following ways to ensure their cooperation in the change process;

1. Provide important human resources in terms of participating time, experience, knowledge and skills for better planning and implementation o curriculum change.

2. Produce high quality decisions and plans of change by invoking different perspectives and expertise.

3. Promote greater responsibility, accountability, commitments and support to implementation and results of curriculum change.

4. Develop meanings and culture which contributes to team spirit and organizational integration in the school.

5. Provide opportunities for individuals and groups to enrich their professional experience and pursue professional development

6. Provide more information and greater opportunities to overcome technical and psychological resistances and change ineffective practices at different levels.

Accepting curriculum changes without much resistance also requires that teachers be allowed to operate in an atmosphere of academic freedom. An environment where they can grow, gain stimulation and exploration into new horizons. It is the responsibility of the curriculum manager to create and maintain such an environment that can stir up and accommodate curriculum change (Holmes, A.F., 1977).

b) Getting the Support of other Education Stake Holders

 Once the teachers are on board, other educational stake holders also need to be persuaded to accept the intended change. It is crucial to gain support of parents, union leaders, business and political leaders who influence curriculum school policies and actions. The values and needs of these outside groups may not be easy to identify and satisfy, but attempts must be made to maximize their satisfaction. As much as their needs vary from each other, it is essential that educators learn to listen and hear what each one of them is saying (Shiundu, J.S. & Omulando, S.J., 1992). For instance, parents should be listened to and answered – as they ask about how their children will benefit from the proposed curriculum change. Business leaders, political activists, and other community members may want to be convinced that the new curriculum will provide opportunities for learners to learn what is socially and culturally valued. Like parents, these groups simply want to be sure that the schools will continue to perform as they want them to perform.

c) The Learner’s Support

In this process it is not wise to ignore learners; th
ey are the direct recipients of curriculum change.  Success in curriculum change depends largely on the extent to which they have accepted to embrace the change. The first step in formulating goals and content for the new curriculum is in establishing learners’ current needs, concerns, interests and attitudes in relation to the intended change.

 If the change address all these, then it is likely for them to accept it. If not alterations must be made, for no child will ever be willing to learn things which are not interesting and none of their concern. In reference to the American learners today, Kauchak, D. & Eggen, P. (2009) recommends curriculum change that will address changes in the learners; with regard to sexuality, drug abuse, obesity, crime and violence, and drop out.

Building a Result-Driven System for Effective Curriculum Change

Whenever curriculum change is accepted people want to see immediate improvements in the learning process. Unfortunately this is not usually the case. Many times curriculum change programs are founded on large scales, vague expectations, and broad results that fail to link up cause and effect and confuse activities with actual improvements. Educators need to build a system of results oriented assessment that demonstrates the improvements resulting from the implemented changes. In stark contrast to the activity programs, Robert, H. & Thomson, H.A. (1992) found out that results driven improvements are better than lengthy preparation rituals and aim at accomplishing measurable gains rapidly. They are more likely to have an impact on both long and short term organizational outcomes. Why?

– Result driven approaches to innovation are implemented only as needed. They avoid excess investments that infuse he school with hodgepodge of improvements of activities, and focus on incremental innovations only when specific goals are supported.

-Results-driven approaches are incremental thus allows for testing to determine what really works. Assessment is constantly done to monitor how each improvement strategy contributes to the over all improved performance .This allows for rational decision making during the implementation phase.

– Knowledge of what is working both reinforces the effort and energizes the improvement process further. This is built on the notion that success inspires more success as it contributes to a “among change agents.

– Change-driven improvements that are implemented incrementally tend to establish a continuous learning cycle in the organization. Using incremental projects as testing grounds and closely monitoring results, lead to gradual overall improvement across the entire school program and creates a spirit for further experimentation and more improvements in the future.

Tips on Strategic Management of Results –Driven Programs

Lack of strategic leadership in task based change makes it wither or diffuse (Carless, D., 2002). The following tips have been suggested by Schaffer, R. & Harvey, A.T., (1992);

– The manager needs to ask each unit to set and achieve a few ambitious short term performance goals.

– Periodically review progress, capture the lessons that are being learned and when necessary reformulate the strategy.

– Institutionalize the changes that prove to be effective and discard the rest.

-Create the organizational context that encourages the workers to identify the crucial needs, and challenges confronting the organization.

Results oriented projects are more productive when the results are built around major integrating themes. Researches have established that restructuring efforts around such a themes or vision bring about more lasting change than those loosely understood. An effective direction setting vision is that which aligns all those involved in curriculum change to work together. Themes such as teacher collaboration, cite-based management, interdisciplinary learning, and school-community partnership are often used by Curriculum change activists. If change is viewed to be thematic many stakeholders will l support it (Norris, C.A., & Charles, M.R., 1991).


Balancing Change with Tradition

In order to garner support for curriculum change balancing change and tradition should be the new theme of global education reform. This argument is built on the premise that education is the society’s reproductive system; the means by which society norms, culture, beliefs, values and aspirations are passed on from generation to generation. True education is supposed to prepare individuals to be productive members of their society, in the way they embrace the society’s norms and practices.

Consequently, curriculum change needs to address the most current needs and concerns of the society as expressed in its values, norms and aspirations. Otherwise it (curriculum change) will be like a wave which lashes incessantly at a rock (traditions) without any success. As noted by Rotberg, I.C., (2004) a nation or society’s priorities are typically reflected in its education system. As a result when a society experiences major social shifts- political, demographic, or economic, attention is on educational reforms to address the changes. In the event that the proposed educational reforms are not matched with the changing social context, it will be resisted.

In analyzing educational reforms in 16 different countries Rotberg captured varying themes of educational reform and concluded that each country’s reforms, whether real or rhetorical, stem from its particular societal context and are molded by that context. I n some cases, the context facilitate change; in others, it limits it. Which ever the case, the reforms in all countries must balance change and tradition. In the context of the school curriculum, the curriculum managers have to ensure congruence of the changes with immediate societal needs and concerns. As change comes the curriculum experts need to also understand that in every culture there is a strain towards consistency that has to be accommodated in the expected changes (Park, R.E., 1950).


Curriculum change will always meet resistance, but this can be reduced if curriculum managers understand the nature of resistance and its triggers. In most cases these triggers can be avoided if the managers create systems that embrace change. A school system is comprised of several stake holders whose interests, concerns and aspirations have to be accommodated in the changes. A school culture and climate that embraces collegiality and collaborative efforts succeeds in having everyone on board for support of changes that everyone sanctions and envisions as coherent with societal, individuals’ and school values and objectives. Sharing in the vision, the process and results of change encourages support, participation and involvement of the stake holders.


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