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Executive Report: Teachers want time and support for curriculum implementation

November 6, 2018 Phil McRae, ATA Associate Co-ordinator of Research

Alberta Education is in the process of rewriting the K–12 school curriculum. Six subjects and all grades are under review and will be rewritten simultaneously in both English and French. Alberta Education’s goal is to have the K–4 curriculum in six subjects approved by the minister by December 2018. The government hasn’t finalized implementation timelines for the new curriculum but is considering partial implementation in September 2019 and full implementation of the six subjects in K–4 by September 2020.

This is the most ambitious and far-reaching curriculum redesign in the recent history of education in Alberta, and so the Alberta Teachers’ Association conducted research surveys (in English and French, as well as a stratified random sampling of the profession) in October 2018 to gather the perspectives of K–4 teachers across the province. More than 2,800 teachers made their voices crystal clear on the essential conditions necessary for a successful implementation of this new K–4 curriculum.

Teachers were equally enthusiastic and concerned that the essential conditions for a successful implementation may not be in place for either their students or themselves as teaching professionals. The key findings outlined in this research report speak immediately to the need for an implementation timeline that is longer than six months to one year, and the importance of limited field testing for rural and urban teachers before the new curriculum is made mandatory for all Alberta students. It also includes thousands of qualitative comments detailing specific resources and supports that are needed.

Overall, the key findings showed that Alberta’s K–4 teachers are excited about new programs of study defined by less content and greater flexibility, and look forward to their successful implementation. However, 89 per cent of teachers in this large representative sample believe that six months to one year is not a reasonable time frame for implementation of a new curriculum. A majority (76 per cent) feel that implementation should be done over a one- to three-year period.

While 47 per cent of K–4 teachers stated that they feel ready to implement the new curriculum by 2020, readiness was broadly interpreted, as reflected in some qualitative comments. A review of this data point indicated that comments associated with readiness include a sentiment of professionalism already in place to adapt to any new curriculum (or the myriad of complexities already in their learning environments for that matter) despite resource and time concerns, or a desire to move ahead with new programs of study given that curriculum redesign has been ongoing for several years.

While 62 per cent of K–4 teachers are aware of the vision for the new curriculum, only 43 per cent have seen a copy of the draft curriculum. This suggests a need for clear and transparent communication by Alberta Education to teachers over the next several months along with cohesive professional learning opportunities from the education partners to meet teachers’ diverse needs.

This study indicates that a majority (83 per cent) of K–4 teachers have not yet discussed the new curriculum with their colleagues (including their principal) or prepared (94 per cent) for its implementation. This is not a surprising finding given that the new draft curriculum was only first publicly released in the middle of July 2018.

Of the K–4 teachers in this sample, 92 per cent have not yet met with central office colleagues to discuss or to help prepare for the new curriculum implementation. If the K–4 curriculum is to be approved (in some form) by the minister in less than two months, these data indicate that many conversations remain to be had across the system so that K–4 teachers are fully aware of the design and structure of a new concept-based curriculum, and have an opportunity to give further voice to the practical and tangible resources and supports necessary for successful implementation.

Respondents identified time as both a resource and a concern. As a resource, teachers need time to review the new curriculum, adjust to new expectations, and create resources, plans and cross-curricular connections. As a concern, respondents cited the implementation timeline and the potential for a dramatic rise in work intensification.

K–4 teachers have a strong desire for adequate resources and supports to be delivered on scheduled non-instructional or professional development days (87 per cent) and through face-to-face workshops (78 per cent), collaborative unit and lesson planning (77 per cent), and resource selection and development (57 per cent).

The French version of the survey revealed concerns similar to those expressed in the English version, with a notable difference being that French first-language respondents voiced greater concern about the availability of French resources and the lack of preparation for implementation. Another dimension of need identified by respondents is for resources and supports related to First Nations, Métis and Inuit foundational knowledge and stories, as well as resources on contextual perspectives of Indigenous people.

In conclusion, K–4 teachers are enthusiastic about the new curriculum and are looking forward to the long-awaited updates to the programs of study. However, they have also expressed some very specific needs and have legitimate questions and concerns that must be taken into consideration as soon as possible. The entire education system needs to focus its energies on supporting the teachers and school leaders who are closest to K–4 students on a daily basis if the new curriculum implementation is to be successful. ❚


Who is responsible for curriculum?

Alberta Education has the ultimate responsibility for curriculum and has a department dedicated to supporting development and implementation.

The Alberta Regional Professional Development Consortia receive government grants annually to support curriculum implementation across the province.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association supports curriculum by offering professional development through its workshop program, 21 specialist councils, various committees, conferences and events, and the ATA library.


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