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What’s behind the label of ‘curriculum leader’?

Scanning job advertisements for curriculum management positions supports several insights into the broad application of formal learning in a knowledge-based economy. Roles with the responsibility to foster a deep relationship between teaching and learning are for curricula across a whole school, a school sector and region, a school department and year group. Consequently, the title for curriculum leaders can fall under:

  • Program Coordinator
  • Program Manager
  • Program Director
  • Key Learning Area Leader
  • Assistant Principal – Curriculum
  • Assistant Director Learning & Curriculum – primary, middle or secondary
  • Director of Curriculum.

Regardless of the title, the curriculum management role has a standard set of responsibilities and skills that can be grouped into four fields of endeavour:

  • Firstly, the highly social nature of the role shows the curriculum manager to be an activist who participates, contributes, develops and delivers knowledge, understanding and a practical demonstration of pedagogical practices.
  • Secondly, the role is often framed as vitally focused on productive relationships between the manager and their staff, in which he or she supports and enhances professional standards across the board, through mentoring individuals and demonstrating how being engaging can also be aimed at developing a sense of rigour.
  • Thirdly, managers need to be forever liaising, sharing best practice, collaborating and working closely in team-based settings. 
  • And fourthly, their management style brings together the skills of coordinating, budgeting, reporting and assessing

Not surprisingly, the dominant strength named in the advertisements is the need for excellent communication skills. Alongside this, job advertisements call on the ability to develop innovative, engaging and creative resources and the development and implementation of ongoing school improvement initiatives.

Curriculum managers also require well-developed interpersonal skills to build partnerships within the school and the broader school community, and they should have experience of working in cross-cultural environments, together with strong administrative and organisational skills.

What do formal studies say about curriculum leaders?

Education leadership websites such as that of ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) and ACEL ( Australian Council of Educational Leaders) show a prolific number of books on curriculum leadership in their bookshops. Many researchers and writers frame an educational vision: for instance, Michael Fullan’s writings on ‘deep learning’ and John Hattie‘s on ‘visible learning’. 

Many principals and teachers have written accounts of their classroom and school-based practice. For instance, former classroom teacher Starr Sackstein’s From Teacher to Leader: Finding Your Way as a First Time Leader without Losing your Mind and Rebecca Mieliwocki and Joseph Fatheree’s Adventures in Teacher Leadership: Pathways, Strategies, and Inspiration for Every Teacher. The latter draws on the expertise of ‘State Teachers of the Year‘ to outline a path for educators to become successful leaders. So there is no shortfall in finding detailed studies of curriculum management through several perspectives.  

The digitising of theses is also a valuable access point for some quite detailed studies. For instance, Peter White’s 2000 thesis on ‘The leadership role of curriculum area middle managers in selected Victorian government secondary schools’ is an incredibly in-depth study. The experiences of Curriculum Area Middle Managers (CAMMs) show how the senior management team (SMT) members worked holistically (White, 2000, pp.174–180).

Curriculum leadership is also a significant theme of Education Services Australia’s online journal Curriculum & Leadership Journal, which identifies the two main categories of capabilities as:

  1. Relational, as effective leaders professionally support and mentor staff by showing trust; enacting emotional intelligence and interpersonal care and integrity and 
  2. Organisational, as leaders need practical management skills; contextual awareness; strategic thinking; problem-solving and harnessing change.

(Curriculum and Leadership Journal, 2007)

Models of effective curriculum management today are consolidated through dedicated leadership courses run by educational leadership institutes, nationally and internationally, like Melbourne’s Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership and the Harvard Education Leadership Institute.

The exponential growth of knowledge, fuelled by faster and more reliable broadband, brings with it unprecedented opportunities to communicate with anyone, anywhere. According to Eric Sheninger (2017), that means meeting stakeholders where they are and engaging with them in two-way communication. ( https://www.teachthought.com/ the-future-of-learning/ 7-pillars-digital-leadership-education/)