The basic concept of a curriculum sounds simple: It sets academic goals—the skills and knowledge that students are expected to learn—and provides a guide for achieving those goals.
The task of developing a curriculum, however, proves far more complex. Aligning the requirements of public education agencies, school district administrators, principals, and teachers to achieve better student outcomes requires effective curriculum leadership at every level.
Basic Practices and Procedures
The responsibilities of different educational stakeholders—as well as the processes for creating, implementing, and reviewing curricula—vary greatly depending on the size, location, and needs of a particular school or district. However, a general overview of curriculum planning’s purpose, roles, and steps illustrates the complexity of curriculum development and the importance of leadership skills to guide the process.
Ultimately, a curriculum should address the unique needs of a specific student population, but all curricula share common goals:
- Aligning educational goals with state or national standards
- Establishing a framework of educational goals and methods, as well as timelines and standards for measuring progress
- Creating a progression of learning within grades and from grade to grade
- Identifying opportunities for interdisciplinary approaches and curriculum integration
- Assessing necessary resources and funding
- Communicating a consistent vision of the school’s philosophy of teaching and learning
- Addressing the specific needs of diverse students populations
Curriculum Planning Roles and Responsibilities
Curriculum planning processes involve stakeholders at the state, district, and school levels.
State Education Boards
State education boards typically develop broad educational frameworks, setting goals and general standards. Most states have adopted standards set by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a program sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers that seeks to establish consistent learning goals across states.
Districts develop curriculum-related policies and educational goals that are aligned with state standards. Other common responsibilities include identifying core studies for grade levels, developing scope and sequence documentation, and developing systems and processes for facilitating teacher and community input regarding curriculum.
School administrators refine and supplement the district’s vision and educational goals with school-specific programs of study that fit within district guidelines. They also evaluate and monitor curriculum implementation and ensure that the curriculum is aligned with teachers’ professional development plans and goals.
Teachers develop calendars for curriculum implementation and units of study. More importantly, they leverage their teaching expertise, familiarity with lessons, and firsthand knowledge to individualize curricula for their students.
Curriculum development is often the work of curriculum development committees made up of teachers and administrators. These committees can also include representatives from other departments (library staff, for example), as well as specialists in such areas as language, special education, and gifted and talented education.
Curriculum Planning Steps
The steps involved in curriculum planning can be organized by general categories:
1. Planning. During the planning stage, the curriculum development committee assesses issues and needs, identifying any trends in learning outcomes. This allows the committee to establish educational intention and outline overarching topics.
2. Development. The committee refines the curriculum by articulating program strategy, defining courses, and sequencing courses and grade-level goals. It also explores learning resources and identifies or creates assessment tools.
3. Implementation. Teachers continue to develop a new or revised curriculum even after it has been implemented. They have to test and build familiarity with new materials and teaching strategies before they can make informed assessments and suggest refinements.
4. Evaluation. The curriculum development committee uses discussions and surveys to solicit feedback from other teachers and administrators. Assessment metrics include exam results, teacher development assessments, student performance assessments, state-level achievement test results, and scores on advanced placement exams.
Curriculum planning is a continual process. The evaluation phase—measuring successes, identifying areas in need of improvement, and deciding what aspects of a curriculum to keep, revise, or replace—marks both the end and the beginning of the development cycle.
Curriculum Leadership for Better Student Outcomes
Viewed from a high level, curriculum planning might seem largely prescribed by state standards and requirements, but school administrators and teachers still have wide latitude to develop curricula that are specific to the needs of their schools and student populations. Standards dictate much of what has to be taught, but curriculum planners decide how lessons are taught by applying their knowledge of learning and experience in the classroom.
Some curricular considerations are relatively straightforward. For example, a teacher might identify a need to integrate a new technology into the classroom, or a principal might spearhead a program designed to improve test scores in math. Other efforts to improve student outcomes require a deeper understanding of the challenges that students face in school and in their communities.
Incorporating social justice themes across a curriculum, promoting teacher development in areas such as cultural competency and trauma-informed education, and integrating diverse teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles require a deep knowledge of teaching and learning, as well as leadership skills to implement organizational change.
Becoming a Leader in Education
Educational leaders know how to organize teams and lead strategic planning, communicate expectations and goals, solve problems, and work collaboratively to address competing interests. They are able to address regulatory requirements and fiscal demands without compromising the educational and social needs of their institutions. By respecting and empathizing with diverse groups, they create learning environments where teachers and students can thrive.
Teachers interested in creating better learning environments and becoming change-makers in education should consider Mills College’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership. The program helps educators develop their knowledge of teaching and learning, curriculum development, and other educational strategies designed to help address the diverse demand of educational institutions.
Educators looking to advance their careers and play a larger role in improving student outcomes can visit Mills College’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program to learn more.