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.

7 thoughts on “A Human Curriculum”

  1. Hi Jen: I am very interested in in the topic here. Your blog article really got my attention, as I am just completing a Masters in Education in a few months, and was hooked on your topic. I am also a teacher in an independent school (K-8) in Maryland, USA. CGC is an engaging idealism framework that seems to resemble the P21.org holistic framework of 21st Century skills for learning and teaching, and ISTE standards for the more forward thinking educators. Though, here in Maryland we are struggling with the U.S. CCSSI (Common Core Standards Initiative) which finds a similar genesis as CGC’s holistic approach your describe (as I read further through your links). The main issue I’ve observed is the hurdle over how to assess students within a common core curriculum. With more national education systems worldwide moving into data driven accountability through standardized testing of students, this is a critical flaw in the common core mindset in education. In Maryland, we didn’ t yet have textbooks supporting the CCSS math strategies, for instance, before rolling out a state common core math in primary schools this year. Nevertheless, what was the take-a-way message you learned on assessing student outcomes in the Common Ground Collaborative training? How do IB schools implement comparison/accountability testing of students? Regards, Ginny J. from USA.

    1. Ginny, thank you for reading my post and for your series of thoughtful questions. While I was part of the work in Miami and feel good about what I’m seeing, your questions- specifically those around how the assessments are used in the CGC are questions I can’t answer but would also like to know more about. Best bet- contact Kevin Bartlett directly: [email protected] He is the best person to answer you (and he will probably do so by Skype which is nice!) and then you can let me know the answers and we can continue to grow and collaborate around this conversation together. All the best. Jen

  2. Hi Jen,
    Really terrific summary of our work and our few days in Miami. It’s been 20 years or so spent trying to wrestle to the ground the major, tricky design dilemmas of ‘curriculum’, the final decade tag-teaming that wrestling match with Gordon. So it’s really gratifying to read such an eloquent, and accurate response to our work. Equally important, to feel the energy and passion you bring to this commitment to giving kids the best possible learning and supporting teachers in doing what they do best.
    It was a pleasure working with you and I hope you will stay involved. The work will not get any easier and we need people of your commitment and talent.
    Best from Brussels, Kevin

  3. I like the sound of this Jen. Reminds me of the learner profile in the IB. Will you be taking this on at school?

    1. Hey Jo,
      Happy to have you read this- it is exciting stuff and will only get better. Maybe by the time you are coming back out it will be up and running in your next Int’l School. 🙂
      We aren’t adopting this at the moment, but I’m interested regardless. The hope is always to take what we know and improve on it. The CGC does this and would benefit so many schools out there.
      Take care!

  4. Great post, Jen. I’m excited to bean early adopter too. I’ve barely begun to process everything we learned, but I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. There’s so much to love about the CGC curriculum, and even though it’s in the early stages, it’s exciting to jump in with both feet.

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