‘Embedding’ across the curriculum – real possibility or box-checking exercise?

Cross-curricular concepts

As a teacher in a secondary school, we are constantly bombarded with new initiatives, ideas and concepts that are to be ’embedded’ into the school as a whole. These can vary from government-led legislation (cynically often a knee-jerk reaction to whatever the popular press happens to be shouting about or the exact opposite of whatever the last government did, despite how effective it may or may not have been) to governor/headteacher priorities. Ideally, your school should give you the opportunity to trial and put into practice initiatives that are teacher-led and allow us as professionals to develop and expand on interests and skills personally. How often is this actually the case? I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

‘Embedding’

Once the particular idea has been identified as worthy of further development (a tricky process in itself!) the process of ’embedding’ it into school practice begins. Here is, I feel, the trickiest area. Especially in secondary schools, where there is often a tendency to make assumptions about other subjects (“oh they cover that in Maths”) or at worst take a ‘pass-the-buck’ attitudes(they teach them how to spell in English so I don’t have to bother), it is often difficult to see how something can be truly entrenched over the entire school. Very often it leads to things which are merely bolted on, such as an extra lesson here and there, or a learning to learn week, or a poster around school. This can sometimes feel like a box checking exercise, where we have successfully used ‘X’ in our teaching and can now move on safe in the knowledge that is is embedded into our practice. Or is it?

Tackling the Issues

The conundrum lies between being able to prove something is actually happening in lessons, and a sense of trust in your teaching staff. Very often these things should simply be the process of good teaching (what teacher should not be developing a pupil’s ability to communicate as well as particular subject-related knowledge or skills?). But senior management and Heads of Department have the onus placed on them that they need to in some way prove and measure the fact that these things are taking place in classrooms on a regular basis. It seems naive to assume that we will return to a system where the inherent values and skills of a teacher are taken for granted, and perhaps this could lead to stagnation on both sides of the classroom wall. In the culture of assessment-driven education and a constant need to verify and measure teaching and learning aims and outcomes, is it truly possible for innovative, creative and highly important practices to be truly embedded across the entire school?

Possible Solutions

Invariably this must rest with the school’s approach to CPD. If a teacher truly believes they can test out theories, ideas and concepts with the full backing of the senior team, only then can you be assured that pupils will continue to be exposed to the full range of experiences they are entitled to as learners. While of course schools and departments need to maintain assessment standards, teachers must be able to feel that there is some space in the curriculum (yes, even at KS4!) to allow them to trial new teaching methods and base their teaching on a range of priorities. Only then will we be able to truly educate. Despite the pressures rained down on teachers, they must never be allowed to feel that all they are doing is preparing the next generation for a series of exams. We need to educate the whole child to deal with and thrive in the ever-changing environment they will find themselves in once they leave the classroom space. Some of these ideas will stick, and become whole-school policy, while others may fall by the wayside. But at least they will have been attempted. A combination of trust in your teaching staff and commitment to innovation should lead to a pupil cohort that is constantly kept on its toes. I am hugely interested in how other schools approach these areas and how much people feel their school ’embeds’ new ideas across the curriculum. Please share!

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I'm a writer, teacher and drummer based in London. Short fiction and reviews are my main staples, along with some dabbling in novel writing.

2 thoughts on “‘Embedding’ across the curriculum – real possibility or box-checking exercise?

  1. As a head in a primary I am not adverse to ignoring new initiatives and sticking to what I believe in . A school has to know its own strengths and weaknesses and as leaders we have to know when is the right time to introduce something new or to abandon something that is clearly not benefiting the children or the staff. Teachers will only take risks with their own learning if they feel confident that the leadership will support them to do so. By doing this you become part of the learning yourself , can ensure that that the teacher has the best chance of succeeding and then enjoy the fact that they will share thier successes .WE have had small successes and major ones that have helped us transform.

  2. Thanks Debra, it’s very interesting to hear about this issue from the point of view of a head. I am sure it must be very difficult to balance external and internal pressures. I like the idea of abandonment too, I think it’s often quite hard for schools, especially successful ones, to let go of certain areas if they are not impacting enough on the whole school. I love the idea that we are all learning together!

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