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Teaching curriculum studies in teacher education programs as a basis for teachers to engage in transformative curriculum practice

Ian Macpherson
School of Curriculum and Professional Studies
Faculty of Education
Queensland University of Technology

Overview of the paper

This article presents my personal view of teaching curriculum studies in teacher education programs for transformative curriculum practice. It allows me to value each student and his/her experience and expertise; to strive for quality and excellence in professional work in terms of inputs, processes and outcomes; and to see my input as an ongoing journey rather than as a finite destination.

It has been said that "an emancipatory intent is no guarantee of an emancipatory outcome" (Acker et al, 1983: 431, quoted by Smith: 1993). In the context of this article, praxis is the intent while empowerment is the outcome which, in turn, forms the basis for transformative curriculum practice.

The article begins with a view of curriculum as praxis and it goes on to contend that empowerment for transformative curriculum practice is not something which is allowed or given. Implications are suggested for teaching curriculum studies within this view of curriculum as praxis. These implications are used to reflect on the teaching of a one semester curriculum unit in an inservice degree course. (The unit is entitled Teachers and the Curriculum.) Reflections draw on my perspective and those of the teachers enrolled in the unit. They are then focussed as a set of principles for teaching a curriculum studies unit in an inservice degree course in First Semester, 1994.

Perspectives on the unit by myself and by the teachers enrolled in the unit are reported. The article concludes by using Smith's ( 1993) three forms of empowerment as a lens for reflecting on the perspectives and posing the questions: "Was there any empowerment through praxis?" and "What is the potential for transformative practice?"

It is important to note that this article does not focus heavily on the practicalities of class sessions, interactions between myself as lecturer and the teachers and the individual thinking processes in which the teachers engaged during the semester - it does not present my kit bag of tricks or my set of recipes or the precise algorithms which teachers used in their thinking processes. Rather, the emphasis is on a translation of the implications for teaching curriculum studies into a set of principles to guide the practicalities of class sessions and interactions. The principles which emerge may be played out in all sorts of ways depending on resources available, dispositions of teaching staff, and the particular needs and interests of those enrolled, be they at preservice, inservice or higher degree level. It would be expected, nevertheless, that the approaches and strategies used in class sessions and interactions would reflect broader principles associated with adult learning, critical pedagogy, and teaching in higher education institutions.

A view of curriculum praxis

I define curriculum in the following way:
Curriculum is a praxis - a dynamic interplay of theoretical concepts and professional work within a critically reflective mindset. As a praxis, curriculum has no particular starting point -it is a constantly-evolving and living organism made up of an interacting set of ideas, people, space, time and resources. It is the set of learning environments to which learners have access; of learning activities which learners experience; and of learning outcomes which learners achieve, all within the immediate contexts of an individual teacher's (or curriculum practitioner's) and an institution's mission/policy/vision (including its organisational arrangements) as well as the broader contexts of community and society.
A number of curriculum principles are embedded in this definition. The PRAXIS is shaped by CRITICAL REFLECTION and orchestrated by the facilitator of learning, hence the emphasis on TEACHER-CENTREDNESS. Curriculum is directed towards learning, hence the significance of LEARNER-CENTREDNESS. Teachers and learners, taken individually, exhibit a UNIQUENESS which may be traced to their particular VALUES-ORIENTATION. These curriculum principles whose application would suggest that the "shape" of curriculum may vary across learning settings and across learners. Further curriculum principles relate to the need for FLEXIBILITY and INCLUSIVENESS. Any teaching about curriculum which develops from the definition above via an application of these curriculum principles cannot be prescriptive and restrictive;rather it must be EVOCATIVE, SUPPORTIVE and EMPOWERING.

I see four dimensions within this view of curriculum - the context of curriculum, curriculum issues or matters of contestation, conceptions of curriculum and the practice of curriculum. Each of these dimensions constantly interacts with the others and in no sense is there am imposition of hierarchy among the dimensions. The process of curriculum inquiry may be entered via any one of the dimensions at any time. I would not expect, for example, that the dimensions be taught in a linear fashion. Rather, I would want to facilitate a learning environment where I would work out from the already "known" world of the teacher as Curriculum Practitioner. The starting point may well emerge from a teacher's thinking about some current curriculum practice. An investigation of that practice may well lead into the other dimensions. A teacher, therefore, does not necessarily have to have a well-formed 'position' about the curriculum practice. A concern to reflect on and investigate current curriculum practice is the motivation to apply this view of curriculum as an investigative tool as well as a means of professional empowerment leading to transformative curriculum practice. It is a way for curriculum practitioners to reflect on and theorise about their curriculum practice; to articulate their own curriculum theory and knowledge; to engage in professional development as an ongoing and integral part of their curriculum practice; and to use this ever-evolving professional growth as a platform for transforming their curriculum practice.

Curriculum, so defined, may have the potential for empowerment - not in the sense of "allowing" teachers to make curriculum decisions, but of giving them the "space" to grow professionally in order to be recognised and valued as they engage in curriculum decision making in classrooms, schools, systems and the wider community. The following statement provides a broad context for the way in which empowerment is viewed in this article:

When teachers are empowered, they will have authorisation to significantly influence and participate indecisions related to t he educational undertaking in virtually all its dimensions. The power to decide should not be confused with the permission to advise. Allowing teachers to participate in decisions does not equate with empowerment. To have power in its true sense means there is no need for it to be "allowed". When it is allowed, it can also be withdrawn. When one has rightful power, it is not subject to revocation by powerful others. Allowing teachers to make recommendations is akin to the anti-feminist male who argues against the need for his wife to become liberated on the grounds that he currently "allows" her to go out with friends if she chooses. (Romanish, 1991:15)
The question may well be asked at this point; "Why focus on such a view of curriculum which is quite clearly geared towards notions of teacher empowerment and transformation of teachers' curriculum practice?"

The following ideas may provide some background to addressing such a question.

Teachers know their work is changing, along with the world in which they perform it. At long as the existing structures and cultures of teaching are left intact, responding to these complex and accelerating changes in isolation will only create more overload, intensification, guilt, uncertainty, cynicism and burnout... The rules of the world are changing. It is time for the rules of teaching and teachers t work to change with them. (Hargreaves 1994)

Teachers are, whether the government wishes it or not, front line operators in the construction and development of curriculum discourse. The debate over what shall constitute the curriculum at any moment cannot proceed without them. Teachers are inevitably, whether they wish it or not, caught up in the continuous struggle to def ne and redefine the relationship between certain forms of power and certain forms of knowledge which shape our conceptions of the past, of the present and of the future. (Bates 1991)

It is teachers who, in the end, will change the world of the school by understanding it (Stenhouse 1976)

We must be able to make clear to our students, to their parents, to the community and to the nation what a child attending the public school system should, as a result, typically know, be able to do and be able to understand We must be able to measure that achievement and report on it to our students, their parents, the community and the nation. This is our mission and charter.

But it can only be implemented with the leadership, commitment and goodwill of the profession. They must drive it. We must show them that it furthers their own professional goals, as judged by the ubiquitous yardstick of what's in it for kids. If we seek to impose it as an external audit on an unwilling and unconvinced profession, it will fail (Boston 1995)

It is important to recognise that the concept of curriculum leadership presented in this rationale emerges from an analysis of contemporary practice and the desires for educational organisations to focus on the curriculum rather than on a unified literature and theory base. The concept develops very much from the contemporary field of curriculum studies which places emphasis on the centrality of the teacher in curriculum practice and in curriculum theorising about that practice. Recent trends and current policies such as national agendas which are impacting upon the curriculum and recent structural changes in the various educational sectors are producing a situation in which educational practitioners at the local level are experiencing an intensification of their professional work In particular, the amount and the complexity associated with curriculum decision-making highlight the need for leadership to be exercised at different levels of the setting. Curriculum leadership is about empowering educational practitioners to engage in transformative curriculum practice. The literature and theory base, then, relates more to the empowerment of teachers and educational practitioners as curriculum decision-makers and comes predominantly from the contemporary thinking in the field of curriculum studies. The area of interest is a response to the position that teachers are central in transforming curriculum practice. (School of Curriculum and Professional Studies 1995)

Implications for teaching curriculum studies within this view of curriculum as praxis

Thinking about curriculum as a praxis which aims to empower teachers (as a platform for transforming curriculum practice) suggests a number of implications about teaching curriculum studies. These include:
  1. emphasising and using an inside-out perspective of curriculum practice which teachers bring to the study of curriculum in teacher education programs;

  2. accepting that each teacher will bring a unique set of beliefs and values relative to curriculum practice;

  3. negotiating of pathways so that the uniqueness of each teacher as a curriculum practitioner is both emphasised and catered for;

  4. valuing inside-out perspective of curriculum in teaching curriculum and engaging in curriculum inquiry whereby curriculum theory emerges from a process of theorising about curriculum practice rather than something which is imposed on practice;

  5. contextualising teachers 'perspectives on their curriculum practice within a mindset that contests, critically reflects and reconstructs rather than accepts describes and reproduces;

  6. recognising that curriculum is a living organism; that it is something which teachers as curriculum practitioners do (very often in collaboration with others), critically reflect upon and constantly reconstruct - it is a praxis;

  7. structuring programs so that teachers build their own curriculum knowledge and expertise as they theorise about their curriculum practice using the four dimensions which incorporates relevant concepts and processes from the field of curriculum inquiry;

  8. creating learning environments which facilitate the meaningful professional development and empowerment of teachers as curriculum practitioners. (See Macpherson, 1994 for a fuller description and explanation of this view of curriculum as praxis and of these implications. See also Johnston, 1994.)
The School of Curriculum and Professional Studies which offers the unit, Teachers and the Curriculum, has a view of curriculum and of teaching curriculum studies which supports these implications (School of Curriculum and Professional Studies, 1993). The Faculty of Education approves the outline of the unit whose rationale states in part:
The unit asks teachers to question the significance of curriculum in the total sense and its relation to their roles as individual professional teachers. Such questions concern not only the content of curricula but also the processes of curriculum development. The questioning takes place in a way that encourages practising professionals to reinterpret their own experiences in a wider theoretical framework At the same time, it facilitates their development of a school-based curriculum perspective that is realisable within the individual teacher's professional role. Since unit participants serve in diverse professional roles, they also stand to gain much from developing a broad perspective as a consequence of interacting and sharing with professional colleagues engaged in revising varying curricular aspects of the educational process. (Taken from a class handout given to the students at the outset of the unit).
But where does a personal set of implications developed within a supportive School and Faculty environment lead in terms of actually teaching curriculum studies? The implications drawn from my personal view focus on making connections between my known world of curriculum inquiry and the known world of teachers who take the B.Ed. (Inservice) curriculum unit. For my teaching of the unit, I needed to be concerned specifically about the learning environment I was going to create as a means of facilitating professional growth and empowerment through praxis. I wanted the experience in the unit to be an integral and meaningful part of the teachers' professional lives - not just another unit which has to be passed on the road to a degree; but an opportunity to develop potential for transforming curriculum practice.

Thus, a learning environment evolved - one which sought to engender empowerment through praxis. The empowerment which I had in mind reflected Romanish's view. It evolved with the application of the implications listed above, and it was being driven by a set of principles that were emerging out of practice. The next section of the article recounts what happened in this unit in First Semester, 1994 from my perspective.

Applying the implications and developing principles to guide ongoing practice with reference to a one-semester curriculum studies unit

My story

I approached the unit as an example of negotiated curriculum. Obviously, there were some non-negotiable parameters. (The unit is compulsory and I had only one of several groups. The broad content to be addressed as well as the assignment details and assessment criteria needed to be comparable across all groups. The university's expectation that there would be the equivalent of fourteen three-hour class sessions was yet another non-negotiable parameter.) Within these parameters, the unit was negotiated in terms of -ha we should address, when we would address it, and how we would address it. Negotiation did not occur until teachers were introduced to the unit and had the opportunity to think about where they were coming from and what they wanted from the unit. They were also given the opportunity to hear where I was coming from in terms of my views about curriculum and how it should be taught. It was made clear, however, that the negotiation would occur openly and without a sense that everything had already been decided anyway! The negotiation occurred in the second and third class sessions, and it really became part of the overall discussion relating to the teachers' professional work in its various levels of context - local, systemic and national. Teachers identified the following as expected outcomes of the unit and so the collective production of their own professional knowledge about curriculum had begun:

to feel passionate and empowered (have the ability) to engage in curriculum making
to understand the whole business of curriculum
to understand changes
to look at theory (praxis)
to consider curriculum issues like relevance
to develop a curriculum designed for a special group
to relate current issues to my practice
to consider where I stand re curriculum
to be able to make informed curriculum decisions
to look at elements of curriculum that influence student performance
to understand how curriculum relates to working with kids in classrooms.
(Extracts from class handouts)
In the early weeks of the semester, there was some bewilderment about what I was trying to do. Some teachers asked me with some degree of frustration for a straightforward definition of curriculum. I resisted by saying that this was our task as the semester unfolded and I suggested, instead, a process whereby we could develop a view of curriculum. The process contained the following elements:
Coming to some sort of working definition of curriculum, both individually and as a group;
Identifying an area of interest/concern in the teacher 's curriculum territory;
Developing a sense of advocacy for that area of interest/concern;
Documenting the process as a means of articulating professional knowledge about curriculum and the role of the curriculum practitioner.
(The documenting was to occur in the two assignments for the unit). (Extracts from class handouts)
And so we began with where the teachers were at with respect to their current curriculum practice. They were encouraged to share their frustrations about what it was really like to be a curriculum practitioner in the context of so many policy initiatives and directives as well as school and system restructurings. They felt free in what was developing as a non threatening environment to say that they felt demeaned, deskilled and debarred from making any significant contribution to what they were expected to teach and how they were to teach it. Centralising forces in terms of curriculum policy and decentralising trends in system and school structures were creating confusion and a sense of impotence and hopelessness. What was the point of doing a unit which focussed on teachers and the curriculum when there appeared to be so few possibilities for teacher-led action? The starting point, therefore, was one of frustration, confusion and anger - impotence rather than any feeling of empowerment.

The first few weeks, then, were hard work! The challenge for me was to turn frustration, confusion and anger into a sense of purpose, direction and confidence. Besides the group negotiation, there was NEGOTIATION on an individual basis so that each teacher began CRITICALLY THEORISING AND REFLECTING - engaging in the process of praxis with reference to his/her own curriculum practice. Class discussions provided the background in terms of relevant concepts and the development of a framework for critical reflection (largely based on matters of social justice and viewing curriculum decisions and provisions from the perspective of the least advantaged). While this background was set within the views of curriculum and teaching curriculum studies as already outlined and(related very much to the associated relevant literature which emphasises teacher-focussed and learner-centred views of curriculum and curriculum decision-making), there was not a sequential treatment of the principles and dimensions in class sessions. Rather, we used these as building blocks to develop a critical lens to contest and extend our existing professional knowledge about curriculum. Teachers' tentative attempts to reflect on and theorise about their own curriculum practice were documented in the first assignment in which they began to identify issues in their own curriculum practice that were worth further consideration and ACTION. Here were the beginnings of RELEVANT AND MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT by teachers.

From early reading, thinking and discussion, teachers identified the following themes as worth their further consideration:

Curriculum is very much a value-laden activity.
Curriculum has to do with learning.
Curriculum can be seen as something which is intended, experienced and associated with outcomes.
Teachers as curriculum practitioners are central in defining, debating, making decisions about and understanding curriculum. (The participation of others in the process is not denied).
Empowerment, accountability and credibility are important concepts related to curriculum and to the teacher's role as a curriculum practitioner.
Teachers are curriculum makers.
(Extract from class handout)
Later, when sharing their work on the first assignment (an analysis of their role in making curriculum decisions in a learning setting with which they were familiar), the teachers, as a group came to the view that:
Curriculum is about learning. It involves:
Appreciating diversities;
Understanding the impact/implications of broader policies and sectors;
Identifying issues (matters for contestation).

Having a position;
Understanding your own values;
Arguing a case;
Recognising the politics of curriculum;
Challenging perceptions/assumptions;
Reaching a shared understanding of what is valued/should be included/who should be involved in the curriculum and curriculum processes.

Understanding curriculum decision-making structures and processes;
Supporting participation (through professional development, etc.).

Empowering for lifelong learning;
Answering "what is good? " (and defining what "good " means, using developing critical frameworks for reflecting and theorising);
Continuing to reflect, review and reconstruct.
(Extract from class handout)

At this time, I used the expected outcomes which had been identified earlier in the semester as a checklist in order to obtain ongoing feedback from teachers. Their feedback is summarised as follows:
Mostly, the feedback suggested that the shared expectations were being attained There was a real sense of being on the move. There were some areas which required further attention. For example, "to develop a curriculum designed for a special group ", "to relate current issues to my practice ", "to look at elements of curriculum that influence student performance " and "to understand how curriculum relates to working with kids in classrooms". (Extract from class handout)
Teachers also offered their written reflections to me as a more individual source of feedback at this point in the semester. These reflections appeared to indicate that the implications (identified earlier in the article) and the principles (as mentioned above and elaborated a little later in the article)were being experienced by the teachers in their thinking, discussing, theorising and documenting processes. There was a real sense of their taking over the control of their professional development agendas. In summary, teachers said they were:
analysing what happens in curriculum decision-making within settings and experiences with which they were familiar;
identifying ideas and issues which they considered worth further investigation and action;
interacting with their own values and beliefs and critiquing them with reference to class peers' values and beliefs, the relevant curriculum studies literature and lecturer input;
listening to their peers' points of view, and accepting the challenges which other points of view made to their own position;
refining their own positions as a basis for clear articulation and assertiveness in advocacy;
being comfortable with feelings of annoyance, discontent and the apparent impossibility of handling the complexities inherent in curriculum decision-making;
developing confidence to share positions and advocate with others;
learning the importance of well-argued documentation as a basis for sharing and advocating positions;
being prepared to accept the change, nor for the sake of change, but for "doing things better for kids " was a fact of their professional lives; and
characterising their role as researchers of their own practice.
No doubt, it would be interesting to explore in much greater depth what teachers actually did as they engaged individually and collectively in these processes. However, such exploration cannot be undertaken at this stage, given the data actually collected for this article.

Class sessions in the second half of the semester and work related to the second assignment (which required an in-depth analysis of some aspect of their curriculum practice and which, for the most part led on from the work completed in the first assignment) included an emphasis on these expectations. The expectations, as outlined above, were developed by the teachers themselves, and they clearly indicate that the challenge was being met - students were on the way from that initial sense of impotence towards empowerment. In the second part of the semester, the unit focussed heavily on the teacher's role as a curriculum practitioner and curriculum change agent. Teachers expanded on their initial theorising and became much more action-oriented. At the same time, there was a growing sense of direction, purpose and confidence in what they were doing.

Throughout the semester, teachers (through reading, class activities and discussions, and written documentation) engaged in the processes of critically reflecting and theorising - they were engaged in that dynamic interplay of theoretical concepts and professional work (praxis). This critical reflection and theorising were not recorded in a reflective journal per se and many of the records kept in the early part of the semester remained as a personal record for use as an individual resource. I saw my role very clearly as a facilitator of these processes. I had no predetermined ways of operating in mind - certainly no recipes or pat answers! I constantly used the implications and found that NEGOTIATION meant taking what the teachers were saying and where they were coming from as unquestionably essential to establishing a common meeting ground and a workable starting point. It was important to convince teachers that there was value in theorising about their own practice, and that a theoretical base from the field and the literature was a necessary starting point in their professional growth as curriculum practitioners empowered to transform practice.

CRITICAL REFLECTION AND THEORISING were not simply "buzz" words, but lived experiences in the teachers' participation in this unit. Indicators of critical reflection and theorising were given, but no set way of doing them was provided. An ACTION ORIENTATION gave the space to the teachers to elaborate their ideas and to begin collaboration with their colleagues in their respective work contexts. Negotiation and an action orientation became very significant in initiating and maintaining RELEVANT AND MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT.

So, the emerging principles to guide ongoing practice were:

  1. Negotiation (relating to the first three implications)
  2. Critical reflection and theorising (relating to the fourth, fifth and sixth implications)
  3. Meaningful and relevant engagement (relating to the seventh implication)
  4. Action orientation (relating to the eighth implication).
It is this set of principles which became my theory out of practice - my way of creating a learning environment which sought to facilitate a growing sense of empowerment through praxis as a basis for transforming curriculum practice.

The seats are empty and the silence settles - where have all my teachers gone? Have they grown professionally? Has my praxis approach worked? Are they empowered? Has the emancipatory intent - the potential for empowerment - resulted in an emancipatory outcome? What potential developed for transforming curriculum practice? What action and further growth will take place? As I pondered these questions, I sensed a degree of satisfaction with my efforts to make the connections between my world and theirs through NEGOTIATION; with the several unexpected snippets of positive feedback along the way as teachers began to appreciate the opportunity for RELEVANT AND MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT in curriculum as praxis; with the general change of mood from frustration, confusion and even anger to purpose, direction and confidence through CRITICAL REFLECTION AND THEORISING; and with the written documentation which conveys the feeling that these teachers can and are going to make a difference and transform curriculum practice through an ACTION ORIENTATION and a growing sense of empowerment.

But that's my perspective. Let's turn now to what the teachers thought.

The teachers' perspectives

At the end of the semester, teachers were asked to write a brief account of their experience in taking this unit. The outline for the account asked them to consider where they began, what they did along the way, what understandings and skills they developed, how they felt about the approach taken by the lecturer, and what position they now valued and held about curriculum generally, their role as a curriculum practitioner, their contribution to the curriculum change process (locally, systemically, nationally, etc).

In the last class session, teachers wrote a very short account of their experiences in the unit.

When they finished writing their accounts, they spent time reflecting on their accounts individually. The teachers were advised that the accounts and the reflections would remain anonymous. The reflections focussed on what the teachers now value about curriculum from having completed the unit, what professional growth occurred in the unit; and what was most signific ant about the way in which the unit was taught. I shall let their accounts (a cross section of which appears below) and their reflective comments speak for themselves. (It is important to note that the teachers were asked simply to complete the story and the reflections - there was no discussion beforehand. Any words, phrases that appear in their accounts and reflections, therefore, came from internalising the discourse of the unit over the semester.)

I came to the course expecting to be given ready-made answers regarding curriculum design and development issues. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the approach taken by the lecturer. My brief experience in SBCD during my teaching years also provided me with a desire to critically analyse curriculum issues and practices which I did throughout this subject and have developed skills such as critical reflection, action reflection and research. The approach of this course created a conductive environment for adult learning I felt that opportunities always existed for self-directed learning, and we were able to pursue issues without fear of seeming to feel excluded. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this course was it has made me feel empowered to be involved in curriculum debates (Teacher #1)

Curriculum development is a collaborative and participative process and is a critical aspect of teacher professional status.Developed a more confident approach to curriculum issues and I am able to feel more empowered for and knowledgeable about advocacy in SBCD.Good - strategies and methods were effective. Good interaction and discussion with highlights of the course

I began my studies with, shall l say, very large blinkers on. My state of mind was very negative and my only motivation was money. I might also add that I was nervous, not very confident in myself and frightened of failing. With the help of others in the class who were feeling as daunted as I, I stumbled through the first assignment and succeeded. Ian was very patient, informative and persistent in advocating his ideas and promoting the importance of our role in curriculum change. Somewhere along the way, I "saw the error of my ways " and actually became interested in curriculum. I now feel informed and a lot more knowledgeable on curriculum-related matters. My confidence has grown and my fear of failing diminished I owe a very big thank you to both Ian and the members of the group for helping me jump my hurdle. (Teacher #2)

That "I" can make a difference.At work, I have become more vocal in discussion of curriculum and curriculum-related matters. (CONFIDENCE)Sharing of different views.

My experiences with curriculum {up to the point of beginning this unit) has been very directed Curriculum decisions had been made by those in ' power " at my school, and l had very little input into them. My experiences in this unit have led me to gain the confidence to participate actively in the decision-making process. My confidence has stemmed mainly from the knowledge base which has been built up over the last 14 weeks. Although I realised how little I knew about the curriculum process, I didn't realise how much it affected me until I became involved in making these decisions. My participation in the curriculum process has impinged on many other areas of my teaching, and I now feel empowered in my own teaching context. (Teacher #4)

In terms of curriculum development, I now value the contribution of others in the curriculum and decision-making process.During this unit, my professional growth has entailed learning more about the forming of policies in my own school/education setting.The flexibility and negotiation aspects of the unit have enabled me to focus on areas of particular interest (this was of particular benefit).

On beginning the unit, I was a little unsure of what the course would encompass. The idea of curriculum and my experience with it was frightening. I did not feel confident that I had much experience to deal with the ideas which we were to discuss. Along the way, I reflected on my own practice and determined values and beliefs I hold. I enjoyed participating in group sessions and discussions and felt these were of great importance. Talking with other professionals was very educational. I now understand the complexities of curriculum. I am aware of the procedures involved in curriculum change If eel empowered to be able to change the curriculum by justifying the reasons for change. I feel that the time allotted for informal and guided discussion was good. There was a balance between theoretical and practical sessions. I feel curriculum is a complex process, but not impossible to understand. (Teacher #8)

I value its complexities, but also the fact that it can be changed. Change can occur on a small or large scale and be specific to your school/area.I have been able to determine my values and beliefs about curriculum and have therefore been able to understand the need for change. I feel empowered to be involved in change.I think the balance between theory and practical discussion has been to the benefit of the course.

In the beginning "curriculum " was quite a scary term. It took some abstract thinking to get a grasp on it. However, through the semester, the work became part of my experience. I was able to understand the concept of curriculum in everyday (school) life. Along the way, there were mixed emotions, ranging from very confused lows to very high highs, only to realise that I wasn't in control and hit a low again This showed me how individual "curriculum " is and that my experience was not necessarily someone else 's. I enjoyed the lectures and gained quite a lot from listening to others, to see others were at times as confused/ happy as I was. Basically along the way I had to continue to think and was challenged to possibly rethink my stance, through readings and lectures. Now, I feel empowered to change if I feel it necessary. Also, I feel as though I have succeeded in making a valuable change. I realise the change path may not be smooth, but I am at least am armed with skills and knowledge - nothing is impossible! (Teacher # 10)

Curriculum occurs where teaching/learning is happening and this is why change is up to educators.Understanding of the process and in tum empowerment to do something constructive.Really enjoyed it. Gained heaps from others. Learnt heaps from the lectures. Actually looked forward to lectures and I have gained insight into curriculum.

As teachers reflected upon these accounts and talked about them within the group, it became apparent that there was a congruence between what I thought had happened and what they had experienced. Matters of curriculum had become meaningful for the teachers and the accounts and reflections recorded above capture something of the excitement which they felt. They had been involved in a struggle to make personal meaning of their curriculum world, but they had begun a process for which they appeared to have a commitment to continue. No longer was curriculum a term to be feared because of its remoteness, its abstractness, or its generality. Rather, it was something that opened up possibilities for real action to make a difference in their lives as curriculum practitioners and in the lives of their learners for whom they were facilitating learning opportunities.

There did appear to be empowerment through praxis. As three other teachers commented:

I value my feeling of empowerment ... I enjoy knowing that my feeling of empowerment is informed.
I now value my role in curriculum as more than someone who dispenses it to the masses...
I now value the power that teachers have to become change agents.
The notion of praxis - the dynamic interplay of theoretical concepts and professional work within critically reflective frameworks - also seemed to have been experienced. Yet another three teachers, for example, said:
I liked the mix of theory and discussion of actual situations...
This unit was to me more of an exposure to the ideas related to curriculum than being taught. I found it to be very interesting and enlightening. The whole thing came together very well.
I think the balance between theory and practical discussions has been to the benefit of the course. (Teacher #8 see also above)
If statements like these are indications that empowerment through praxis was occurring, and that potential for transformative practice appeared to be developing, then the following statements may underline the significance of the emerging principles that were being used:
The unit wasn't taught - students were prompted and class discussions were developed.
Support, encouragement and systematic step by step approach were features that I appreciated.
Consultation and negotiation processes in the unit were very effective.

I have improved my ability to reflect on my curriculum decisions and make appropriate changes.
I feel confident after much reflection to theorise and advocate for what I believe in.
I feel I am much more critically reflective. I feel I am now better able to analyse.

The sharing of personal experiences and discussions were invaluable.
The unit has helped me to develop a critical approach and reflective stance with regard to curriculum and has encouraged my involvement in action research.
I have found l am more interested in all parts of the curriculum than just subject matter. I can also see that I can get more involved in education rather than teaching a subject.

Curriculum can be changed and we are the people who can start the process.
I feel confident after much reflection to theorise and advocate for what I believe in.
Collaboration with peers and self-reflection can be used as professional development.

Using Smith's lens to conclude

So was there an emancipatory outcome - empowerment through praxis? I would say a tentative "Yes", given the evidence provided by my perspective, and a more confident "Yes", given the teachers' perspectives. There did seem to be that growing appreciation of empowerment in Romanish's terms, and this growth seemed to have something to do with the learning environment which I had created, using both the implications as outlined and the emerging principles. What about the potential for transformative practice? The change of mindset towards a commitment to transforming curriculum practice appeared to be implicit in the teachers' perspectives and reflections.

But it would be presumptuous to conclude this paper on that almost self-congratulatory note. Let me leave you, instead, with the following ideas. Please use these ideas as a lens to draw your own conclusions and to develop your own ways of creating a learning environment which seeks to engender empowerment through praxis and to create potential for transforming curriculum practice.

Smith ( 1993) identified three forms of empowerment - empowerment as self-growth; as political consciousness raising; and as collective action/struggle. I believe that all three forms of empowerment were evident in this unit and they were striven for via critical and collaborative forms of curriculum inquiry. For example processes of negotiation (aimed at meaningful and relevant engagement and using narrative/autobiographical forms of curriculum inquiry) allowed for self-growth; critical reflection and theorising about policy and practice contexts (using critical analysis forms of curriculum inquiry) contributed to political consciousness-raising; and Action Research forms of curriculum inquiry/action (focussing on an action orientation) were used as a framework for collective action/struggle.

For each form of empowerment, Smith (1993) developed a set of indicators which provide a lens for us to reflect further on my perspective and those of the teachers.

The main indicators of empowerment as self-growth are:

- changes in self knowledge - increases in self-esteem - strengthening of personal confidence - growing sense of determination and assertiveness - the acquisition of specific social/work skills

(Smith, 1993:79)

The main indicators of empowerment as political consciousness-raising are:

- developing scepticism about appearances - questioning assumptions of neutrality and equality in educational provisions - recognising the 'raced', classed and gendered nature of curriculum and schooling - recognising historical and political antecedents to contemporary practices (Smith, 1993:80)

The main indicators of empowerment as collective action/struggle are:

- authentic participation of the researched in the research; ie. the dissolution of the conventional distinction between the researcher and the researched and the incorporation of genuine sharing of perceptions and self reflections of all participants who have an interest in the outcomes of the research

- the development of a shared ideology critique which is integral to subjecting individual and shared understandings to critical review

- a reconstructed and shared theory which forms the basis of a critique of the interests served by contemporary understandings, practices and institutional arrangements

- planning of activities or programs designed to challenge, resist or transform those conditions which are creating the false consciousness, or the alienation, or the oppression of particular groups

- collective strategic action (Smith, 1993:81-82j

When the teachers finished writing their accounts and reflecting upon them individually, I shared with them Smith's three forms of empowerment and their accompanying indicators. Their response as a group was heartening - there was an obvious identification with the indicators particularly in terms of self growth and political consciousness raising. I am left to ponder whether the indicators for collective action/struggle became evident in these teachers' professional lives as curriculum practitioners in the ensuing months.

For me, the indications are that the views of curriculum and of teaching curriculum studies outlined in this article have currency; that the principles derived to create an empowering learning environment are worth further development and implementation; and that teachers don't have to be just implementers of curriculum, but empowered makers of it. In this way, they can transform curriculum practice both for themselves and their learners.

With the continuing use of the implications and the emerging principles as outlined in this article, we have the opportunity to celebrate the centrality of teachers in curriculum decision making; to understand and theorise about their curriculum work from their perspective; and to provide professional development experiences that enrich the feelings of self-worth, engender a sense of empowerment, and energise actions which have the potential to transform curriculum practice. Seizing such an opportunity will emphasise the fact that teachers are curriculum leaders who have and are developing professional understandings and capacities for transforming curriculum practice.

We would do well, in all of this, to remind ourselves again of the well-known statement by Lawrence Stenhouse:

It is teachers, who in the end, will change the world of the school by understanding it.

(Stenhouse, 1976. This statement was chosen by former students of Stenhouse to appear on the memorial plaque located in the grounds of the University of East Anglia.)

Statements like these and the tenor of this article are not revolutionary calls to irresponsible and idiosyncratic action on the part of teachers. Rather, they call for professionally thoughtful, considered and responsible actions for which teachers will be accountable to the learners and the broader communities whom they serve. These actions will demonstrate the ever-evolving professional development of teachers whose growing sense of empowerment will provide a platform for transforming curriculum practice - not change for the sake of change, but for the continuing quest for excellence and quality in learning inputs, processes and outcomes - "doing things better for kids".


I realise that I have alluded to, more than described transformative practice. I have talked about the potential for it rather than about it! It will be as teachers take centre stage with a growing sense of confidence and competence out of empowerment through praxis that we will see examples of their transforming curriculum practice - "doing things better for kids". These examples will be set within the context of the quest for quality and excellence as well as within the broader statements of vision and mission which school communities set for themselves. It behoves those charged with the responsibility to lead in these communities to value and support teachers in their key role of creating, facilitating, maintaining, and continually reflecting upon the learning opportunities for their learners.

How teachers are actually valued and supported varies, of course, from setting to setting. However, an adaptation and application of the implications and principles for teaching curriculum studies as outlined in this paper are suggested as a framework for thinking about, valuing and supporting teachers in their key role in whatever learning setting they serve.

It is not enough, then, to teach curriculum studies in teacher education programs for transformative curriculum practice. There must be a very evident sense of curriculum leadership in learning settings - a leadership which will facilitate the growing potential of teachers to transform curriculum practice. But that is a topic for another paper!


Bates, R. (1991). Who Owns the Curriculum? In Capper, P. (ed) Pathway to the New Century. PTTA Conference Proceedings. Christchurch. 16-22.

Boston, K. (1995). Benchmarking education systems: professional and political possibilities. Unicorn, 21(2): 33-42.

Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing Teachers Changing Times. Cassell: London.

Johnston, S. (1994). Resolving questions of 'why' and 'how' about the study of curriculum in teaching education programmes. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 26(2): 525-540.

Macpherson, I. (1994). Thinking about and teaching curriculum. Curriculum and Teaching, 9(2): 45-58.

Romanish, B. (1991). Empowering Teachers: Restructuring Schools for the Twenty-First Century. University Press of America: Lanham.

School of Curriculum and professional Studies (1993). Report of a Review of Curriculum Studies and of Teaching Curriculum Studies in Higher Education Programs. (Chaired by Bob Elliott and contributed to by Tania Aspland, Sue Johnston, Ian Macpherson, Christine Proudford, and Howard Thomas). Unpublished paper, Queensland University of Technology: Brisbane.

School of Curriculum and Professional Studies (1995). Minor Change Submission of the Area of Interest in the M.Ed course from Professional Studies in Curriculum to Professional Growth and Curriculum Leadership. Coordinated by Ian Macpherson and contributed to by Tania Aspland, Bob Elliott, Brian Hansford and Christine Proudford.) Unpublished paper, Queensland University of Technology: Brisbane.

Smith, R. (1993). Potentials for empowerment in critical education research. Australian Educational Researcher, 20(2): 75-93.

Stenhouse, L. (1976). An Introduction to Curriculum Development. Heinemann: London.

Please cite as: Macpherson, I. (1996). Teaching curriculum studies in teacher education programs as a basis for teachers to engage in transformative curriculum practice. Queensland Researcher, 12(1), 17-37. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qr12/macpherson.html

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