Cast your mind back to your first term as a music teacher. Some of us were lucky enough to have the guiding hand of a more experienced practitioner or head of department. Others were more isolated in one person departments. Either way, when starting out we are likely to have sought the safety net of using someone else’s lesson plans, teaching slides or curriculum content that had been previously thought about or tried. With so much already to worry about when you’re standing in front of a class of young people for the first time, getting a leg up on the lesson content is really helpful. Now cast your mind back to the time you taught the first lesson that YOU fully created, resourced and delivered (influenced by previous learning of course). Whether it was a success, a disaster or somewhere in between, you will have learnt so much more about yourself and your craft than if you’d stayed in that safe space of delivering someone else’s content and thinking. And if you were given or had the tools to reflect on what happened, that development of craft would have been further accelerated. This is why I think the model music curriculum and any prescriptive ‘content first’ curriculum is wrong- headed, disempowering and rooted in a deficit view of teacher development. We need mechanisms for growth, collaborative spaces for reflection and clear processes for re-drafting. We need a ‘thinking first’ approach to curriculum design.
There have been a few definitive turning points in my career so far, and the first came as an NQT when my head of department said to me at the start of my second term of teaching, “don’t feel pressured to follow or teach directly from my slides. Don’t be afraid to come up with your own interpretation or try a new idea”. A simple but liberating statement that filled me with both fear and a sense of possibility.
The pre-set content I’d had shared with me to deliver previously was fantastic, thoughtful and helpful, but when you are delivering someone else’s work, ideas and thinking, you have not done the thinking for yourself, and this detracts from your sense of achievement, empowerment and most importantly, your development as both a teacher and curriculum maker. My head of department recognised this and saw an opportunity for me to develop here, knowing that there was no magic bullet to speed my development along, but believing in my ability to learn, grow and think for myself, as well as build on what was already in place.
That term I had triumphs and disasters, made break throughs and hit brick walls. This still continues in different ways today. I began a journey developing my craft, both as a teacher and curriculum maker, that has led me to where I am now, and will never stop. I was empowered, trusted and supported to explore, to think, to take risks, and there were processes and mechanisms for reflection and learning to make sure that my journey of growth was continuous. This is what every teacher deserves, and this is the kind of culture I think we should be striving to create for everyone in our profession. Models, frameworks and networks for developing our thinking, our craft and our curricula are the models we need to be creating in any national approach to improving music education. Because if there’s one thing that unites every successful music department in this country, it’s not the similarities in their content but the similarities in their mechanisms for thinking about and developing their curricula and the team around it.
The Model Music Curriculum supports a content first approach. A content first curriculum provides a sticking plaster. It is a temporary safety net. It is a quick fix. It is a reference point. It is a passive document. It does not develop teachers and teaching. A thinking first curriculum asks teachers to be active curriculum makers and redrafters. A thinking first curriculum puts music teachers in the driving seat, holds them to account for their choices, forces them to get underneath the detail and own what they deliver. A thinking first curriculum is slow, testing, even painful at times. It is thrilling, exciting and empowering. And it acknowledges that a curriculum is never EVER complete. That it is more than a list of content, knowledge or skills, no matter how beautifully sequenced. That it must bend and respond when something stops working or a better way is revealed. A thinking first curriculum enables a rich, authentic and purposeful curriculum to thrive, driven by values, practices and context. Not one single curriculum for the whole nation, but tailored curricula, crafted by teachers, that work flexibly within and with their community. Not by dumbing down or bending to students’ whims, but by acknowledging, utilising and recognising the different ways a curriculum can be designed, developed and deepened.
We are privileged as school music educators to be able to not only teach, but make curriculum. It’s scary and it’s hard, but every single one of us can develop in this with the right processes to inspire a thinking first curriculum.