A changing social, educational and economic context has meant that schools have diversified their post-compulsory curriculum beyond traditional competitive academic offerings. Within Queensland, teachers in their own schools have the opportunity to diversify the curriculum by developing Board-Registered School Subjects which give teachers freedom to respond to the specific needs of their students. Such curriculum diversification represents a type of school-based curriculum development which has been little studied.
The focus of this study is teacher-initiated curriculum change which has implications at the school level in terms of staffing and resources. In developing new subjects, teachers often move out of the traditional areas for which their teacher education courses have prepared them. The literature suggests that teachers are often reluctant to become involved in school-based curriculum development and that allegiances to traditional subject areas and departments will provide barriers to change of this type. The fact that some teachers are diversifying the curriculum suggests a need to focus on the individual values, contexts and backgrounds of these teachers.
The study explores the personal practical knowledge of teachers involved in developing new subjects at the school level. Well documented studies by Elbaz (1983) and Clandinin (1986) use the concept of personal practical knowledge to understand teachers' instructional decisions at the classroom level. This study transposes the notion of personal practical knowledge to understand teachers' curriculum actions at the school level.
In particular, the construct of image is used as a means of conceptualizing the curriculum process through the eyes of the teachers themselves. Images relate to how teachers see themselves in the teaching role; how they see themselves in their school and in relationship to their colleagues and students; and, how they see the curriculum product they are developing.
The study uses a grounded theory approach. Data collection is through a series of unstructured, sequential interviews. Between successive interviews, written feedback is provided to participants summarizing progress, suggesting tentative interpretations and posing questions for consideration at the following interview. Three specific research questions are addressed:
(1) What is the nature of the construct of image as a component of personal practical knowledge?
(2) How can the present understanding of the process of curriculum diversification be refined from the perspective of teachers' images?
(3) What is the substantive nature of the images related to the process of curriculum diversification?
The findings highlight the central role played by the teacher in curriculum diversification of this kind. An understanding of these curriculum decisions comes from an understanding of the teacher as a person. Images are influenced by past experiences which are both personal and professional in nature. In turn, images guide a teacher's actions and form a coherent basis from which decisions emanate. Although not consciously articulated, images nevertheless provide the means of exploring how a teacher understands practice.
By giving a detailed analysis of the individual experiences of a small group of teachers, the study provides a rich portrayal. It highlights many factors which are submerged in studies of larger populations where the purpose is to stress trends and make generalizations. The discussion extends to the implications for supporting teachers in and preparing teachers for their increasingly important role as curriculum developers at the school level.