Curriculum Matters – Garry Smith

Many years ago, it seems like several lifetimes ago, I worked in further and higher education. I taught sociology, plus a few other subjects as diverse as map reading and orientation (theory and practice), psephology, statistics to name a few, and I managed a programme responsible for half of the college’s total recruitment. It was overall an interesting period in my life bearing in mind less than 10 years earlier I had walked into that same college as a student with no qualifications at all.

The programme that I ran started with 300 enrolments a year onto part time courses typically lasting 2 to 3 days, within 2 years I had absorbed another programme area into mine and expanded it. We then recruited around 3000 students a year. A lot of students attended a series of courses and some continued onto full time study and eventually to university. I learned a lot from the experiences and together with my experiences managing a number of companies, creating a few companies, and being a director of a few, has helped me in setting up and running my own company for the last 9 years.

So this morning I was chatting with my wife Karen over tea/coffee in the conservatory, I was running some ideas past her, again, she is a very patient woman having put up with me for 28 years. It is true that she knows me better than I do myself. The ideas I was running past her were ones I have also discussed a lot with my CRGI colleague and friend Jayne. I am also influenced by some of the things I have read recently and our steadily growing student numbers.

To date our curriculum offer has had 3 strands, Ju Jitsu, self defence and self defence and fitness, each with its own separate and differentiated content, aims and objectives. I am comfortable with this and yes it is proving successful, we incorporated the Ju Jitsu into our offer in September 2014 and created a management triad of myself, Bill and Jayne and we have around 8 other senior black belts who we consult with when making any significant changes to the Ju Jitsu. The self defence is run solely by me although both Bill and Jayne teach this too.

The decision we have taken is to expand our number of classes and the curriculum offer. There are a lot of very small factors influencing our decision and a few bigger ones. Going for growth presents many challenges but I have realised I am currently sat snugly in my comfort zone. It is an easy thing to do like boiling a frog; I have sat here with the water slowly warming around me so to speak. Luckily for me, I hope, I have an inquiring mind and am open to the opinions and ideas of others. Insular thinking is the cause of stagnation and the enemy of progress. So message received, thank you Karen, thank you Jayne, it is time to begin the process of putting ideas into action.

There will be no sudden change, there is much yet to discuss, but it is now a time to commit to action. I am currently reading Smarter Faster Better; the Secrets of Being Productive and it is very interesting, Duhigg uses great analogies and storytelling to put across some fascinating ideas and concepts, it is consolidating and building on my prior experiences and learning. It has given me the encouragement I needed to make my decision to expand the business.

Instead of thinking about all the crap that is out there, see previous articles on McDojo’s, Warriors etc, it is time to build on what we have created so far and take it to the next level, we have good product delivered well by competent, well informed people who I trust.  So I am listening to the voices of those I trust, preparing the ground with the start of a business plan, bringing in those who can help make this happen and visualising the journey ahead. The old maxim that “the only thing constant is change”, Heraclitus, is true.

So it is time to build the team and develop a more expansive, or at least expanding curriculum offer. This is not simply a lets bolt on whatever we can method of building, grabbing random martial arts to fill the timetable so we appear to offer everything to everybody. I have seen that happen and I have seen it fail. Firstly I have made a formal business offer to Jayne and am pleased she has accepted, there is a lot to do and we need to build an academy with a coherent curriculum.

When the terms curriculum or curricula are used in educational contexts without qualification, specific examples, or additional explanation, it may be difficult to determine precisely what the terms are referring to—mainly because they could be applied to either all or only some of the component parts of an organisations academic program or courses.

Having a background in academia I am keen to avoid misusing the terms curriculum or curricula. I personally think it is central to building a lasting and coherent educational organisation. For me, and I would like to think us, the term curriculum refers to the lessons and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program.

In many cases curriculum is often defined as the courses offered by an organisation, school or college depending on how broadly those using it define or employ the term.

For ourselves curriculum typically refers to the knowledge and skills our students are expected to learn, which includes the learning standards and learning objectives they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that are taught as well as any books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the methods of assessment, (grading/tests), we use to measure student achievement and learning. This will involve learning facilitated at the Academy and supported by digital learning packages developed via CRGI.

So we have our emergent plan based on experience, observation and discussion, we have our ambition to build a growing thriving learning organisation and we have the intention of basing it on a sound academic foundation. We have some support from Sheffield Hallam University and we will seek to accredit our learning in appropriate ways where that will improve our offer.

If this does not work out, and it is clearly a work in progress, then we may just be forced to return to the back of an envelope.

So what is the moral of this tale, well we run a Dojo, but it is an aspirational Dojo. The professionalization of what we do is important to us, it is what differentiates us from our competitors, and it is our USP,(unique selling point). As we progress this will be key to our ability to market what we do as gold standard and as such allow us to develop a commercially viable business. We have seen a number of full time Dojo’s come and go as they launch on a well meant wing and a prayer.

Anyone who has built a house, or even an extension, will know that you cannot do so on dodgy foundations. Carefully defining what will be our curriculum offer is the foundation of our expansion; it is worth taking a little time deciding what it will be and how it will facilitate the kind of high quality learning experience we want it to provide where both the learners and the organisation itself operate with a growth mindset and culture as opposed to a fixed one.

We are sure we will learn valuable lessons along the way but if you have already done this and wish to offer us some advice, we are all ears, thank you.


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