A Human Curriculum

I’ve never been at the beginning of something before. I have never started a trend or discovered a band. Don’t get me wrong, I’m into what’s in, but I’ve always lived overseas and often when I hear about it or see it, it usually isn’t cutting edge or new, but tried, true and still viable.

Today however, I’m a first, an early-adopter and a pioneer. One of the few at the forefront and beginning of something new which is also, potentially, the next “big-thing”.

Interested? Well, I think you should be. If you are an educator interested in teaching relevant, transformative and real things to your students so they are truly prepared for the invisible “what’s next” in our ever-changing world, then I have some news for you.

The Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) might just be that absent piece you and your school have been wanting, needing, and missing. This weekend I was fortunate to have a guided tour of this new curriculum from two of the international-teaching world’s great designers: Kevin Bartlett and Simon Gillespie in Miami at a 2-day Principal’s Training Center workshop. It was the first-ever training offered around the CGC. Forty-seven of us gathered to learn, question, and consider next steps.

To begin at the end of my personal story, I’m in. Not only does this curriculum framework make sense from a what’s-good-for-kids standpoint, it also presents those of us who will be using it with an elegant and simply designed format that provides a comprehensive but flexible frame from which we can build and grow learning and learners in our schools.

Quite simply, the Common Ground Collaborative gets at everything that matters, and is brave enough to leave out what doesn’t. (Which surprisingly makes it manageable, adaptable, and relevant.) Recognizing how people learn- adults too- and what people need to learn, the CGC will enable users the opportunity to provide their schools with expertly written modules and units from leading authorities in the field, allowing everyone to focus on the teaching and learning and not the curriculum writing itself. While for many this will be a sigh of relief and a recognition that teacher-written curriculum is often not the best use of teacher time and talent; others will want the professional opportunity to design for their particular context. Which is perfectly fine and doable within the flexible CGC framework.

As a parent and an educator, I’m often struggling with defining what it is my child and the children I teach need to learn in this, the 21st Century. Independently, I’ve been thinking about the need for schools to transform into places where we focus less on the facts, figures and content and more on learning to learn or even on learning to learn with others in collaborative, people-supportive ways. If I can outsource most of the learning now to Khan Academy or the like then maybe my time at school should be more focused on building the social-emotional and cooperative skills in my students.

Well guess what? The CGC provides for that too. The most important difference and ultimately one of the greatest strengths of this curriculum is the emphasis placed on viewing teaching and learning through the lens of eight ‘Human Commonalities’. These are the bedrocks of this practice model and what makes it relevant and futuristic all at the same time. These commonalities are built-out through the conceptual standards in the curriculum, providing a place where students learn while questioning and developing their understanding. It is, to me, a map for teaching how to be human. It is also quite possibly the only thing that matters when you think about our common human problems and needs.

But don’t fret. They aren’t throwing the basics out with the bathwater. The Common Ground Collaborative weaves into the design frame a strand where students develop the competency skills necessary to be a literate person. These skills are taught, measured and highlighted through the competency standards in the CGC “DNA”. The difference though is they are presented as one piece of this complex yet simplistic frame and not as the only piece. Students will be taught explicitly how to become automatic at those things that require automaticity. They will do so through study models and exemplars, which they in turn will practice at emulating.

As a final strand, and one which I am happy to see represented, is a focus on character learning (values and dispositions) within the CGC that ensures there is a roadmap both for teaching and for learning those true and consistently important transfer skills of behavior and civility. This emphasis is part of what will ensure students have the capacity to truly learn and grow while living inside this curriculum. By teaching and then providing time and authentic reasons for students to reflect, consider, and develop a growth mindset, which we all know is necessary in our new age of education, the CGC will imbed opportunities for this type of learning through the character standards within each module.

The Common Ground Collaborative is a small-bite, highly flavorful dish of newness and yet it just seems so familiar and so right.

The process has just started, but the possibilities are huge. Over the next year the CGC team will be discussing this new curriculum and offering other workshops at regional international-school conferences around the world. This weekend, the Common Ground Collaborative tossed a stone in the water. If you get the chance, jump in and try this on.

Come ride one of the waves with us.

Summer Reading/Viewing/Listening


Summer Reading/Viewing/Listening

Not in the spirit of disconnect or the hammock, but out of the urge/need to replenish and invigorate. As we move out of the mindset of crisis management to constructing a sustainable culture, I offer the following eclectic selection (very) as a kind of kindling wood to spark the fire.

Sonia Nieto: Nice Is Not Enough: Defining Caring for Students of Color

Mike Schmoker: Results Now. This is good nuts & bolts, meat & potatoes reading as to what is vital and core to teaching and learning

Parker Palmer: A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited

John Dewey: My Pedagogic Creed. Say what you will about his thorny and onerous prose. This piece penned in 1897 is visionary and accessible, and has as much pertinence in the educational arena as any thinker or writer.

Maxine Greene: Wide Awakeness and the Moral Life. Just so we never fall asleep at the wheel. This is an article from 1978 laden with ideals worth having; a preventative to disillusion, burn out demoralization, and anything else that threatens passion and commitment.

Ken Robinson: Changing Education Paradigms.Listen and learn. Words of one of the world’s great advocates of learning, innovation and creativity, sans jargon or eduspeak.

Ken Robinson: Bring on the Learning Revolution

Ken Robinson: How to Escape Educations Death Valley

David Foster Wallace: This is Water. A powerful commencement address delivered at Kenyon College by this most eloquent of writers. Even though it is for a college audience it resonates with our work.

Neil Postman: My Graduation Speech. One of America’s great iconoclastic thinkers and leaders of progressive education.

Pablo Neruda: Ode to Common Things. Yes a dollop of poetry to keep mediocrity away. A work that celebrates the awe and wonder of the mundane. Because most education writing is like an overheated classroom, where no air circulates but the myopic need to control. This takes spoons, dogs, peaches, locks and elevates them to the domain of the resplendent and sacred.

Charles Mingus: Plays Piano. Because everyone needs time beside a still lake at dusk. Better Git it in Your Soul: Rousing celebration of praising ancestors and influences

Eric Dolphy: God Bless the Child. As lyrical and sensual a full of soulfulness as music can be

Billy Holiday: God Bless the ChildStrange Fruit, Two compositions that should be national anthems

Neil Young: Rocking in the Free World. Turn up the volume, roll down the windows, and drive.

Bob Dylan: May You Stay Forever Young. The acoustic and electric version

Appalachian Spring:Early morning, when the sun rises, the birds scat, and the universe is a perennial state of Spring