Updated: Jul 15, 2022
This blog post is part of an ongoing series on subject leadership in the primary school. You can read the rest of the blog posts here: Subject Leadership In Primary Schools Blog Archive
Recently I blogged about Why Subject Leadership Training Is A Top Priority. Whilst training subject leaders, I am often asked by subject leaders, particularly those new to the role, how they can get staff on board with their curriculum changes. Here's a summary of my answer to them:
It is so important that your staff are on board with what you want to achieve as a leader. If you don’t get their buy-in you will forever struggle against disengagement.
What you need to know that will eventually get the staff on board is the why of the curriculum change.
Let’s have a look at a process you might follow in order to really get your staff to buy in to your new curriculum so that the children get teaching that really meets their needs.
1. Identify exactly why this new curriculum is needed.
Spend some time thinking of all the reasons why what was in place before was no longer fit for purpose and think of specific examples for each of those reasons. Then, spend some time detailing how the new curriculum that you have designed solves the problems that you found with the old curriculum. Go into as much detail as you can as this will be your why, and the why, as we’ll see is really important. The why is your reason, and your purpose.
2. Communicate exactly why this new curriculum is needed
The greatest chance you have of staff being on board with your new curriculum is to explain why it is needed. If you can communicate this to them really effectively then you will have a much easier job on your hands. The exercise in step 1 will give you the content you need to deliver. You will also need to explain what the new curriculum is like, how you want it to be delivered and so on, but the part that will sell it, and ensure that the majority of teachers adopt it, is the why. This part, step 2, is not necessarily a single action – you may deliver a CPD session, but you will need to think about how you can constantly drip feed your why.
3. Provide the resources that teachers need
One of the reasons why staff might want to hang on to the old ways is because the preparation work has been done, and they've taught it before and know what they're doing
. Staff wellbeing and high workload should be a priority for you. Think about what you can provide for the staff so that they don’t feel like taking on the new curriculum will mean lots of work and a detriment to their wellbeing. But, in the process, make sure that your wellbeing is not at stake – you should ask for time, and prioritise and manage that time well, in order to complete any work on resourcing that you think is necessary. The Prepare phase in the EEF’s Putting Evidence To Work: A School's Guide To Implementation guidance report has more about this. It says ‘Implementation is easier when staff feel trusted to try new things and make mistakes, safe in the knowledge that they will be supported with high quality resources, training, and encouragement to try again and keep improving.’ Which brings us to another point...
4. Trust staff
First and foremost, be careful that your prejudices around staff who might not want to adopt your new curriculum aren’t evident. If staff feel that you think they won’t do it, there will be a lack of trust and an atmosphere which is not conducive to your roll out. In your long-term process of roll out, ensure your monitoring and evaluation is supportive and developmental, rather than judgemental.
Acknowledge to staff that you are aware that this is a long process, and that things might not be perfect straight away. Show them that you want them to work alongside you and that you are willing to acknowledge that the curriculum will need to be tweaked as a result of their feedback to you – this sort of approach, although only breifly described here, should generate a good team spirit and the idea that this isn’t just something that is being done to them, but it is something they are a part of.
5. Be prepared for adoption to be a long process
However well you do the above, there may be people who don’t adopt the new ways immediately. The Diffusion of Innovation model might help you to think about this. Whenever something new is introduced, there will be varying responses. There will be those who adopt it early on and then those who take varying amounts of time. You should plan for step 2, as I’ve already mentioned, to be an ongoing step.
Perhaps at first your messages will be school-wide, but as time goes on you should plan some more personal approaches for those teachers who have not yet adopted your changes. The potential is for some of those conversations to be difficult, so I’d recommend something like NEFIART from Andy Buck as a way to structure difficult conversations. It’s also best that when it comes to this, you have the backing of SLT and that they know who is and isn’t adopting the new curriculum – they should support you in developing staff who are resistant to the change.
One of the strategies mentioned in the EEF’s Implementation guidance report is to ‘identify and prepare champions: individuals who can motivate colleagues and model effective implementation, overcoming indifference or resistance to the intervention’. Try to identify others who you're sure will be an innovator or an early adopter (see the diffusion of Innovation model) who you can utilise a champion, particularly if there is someone who has a lot of influence in the school.
Implementing a new curriculum is a big job, and it is not a single event – it is an ongoing process. Put an action plan in place that lasts a whole year (if not longer), and really make sure that all of your efforts in the coming year serve the purpose of embedding this new curriculum (even if tweaks are going to be made for next year based on the evaluation of its delivery). Steps 1 and 3 need to occupy you in the immediate future, along with some CPD for staff in readiness for the next phase. You can begin to address steps 2 and 4 in the next few weeks and months but these will be continued throughout the whole implementation process.