Having a written curriculum is another key structural element of any school. It would not be an exaggeration to say the written curriculum is what drives the school. Without a coherent, written, guaranteed, and viable curriculum, the school becomes a collection of classrooms where every teacher is completely autonomous in deciding what to teach, how to teach it and in many cases when to teach it. As a result, when it comes to the classroom as Judges 21:25 states, “everyman is doing that which is right in their own eyes.” Some would advocate for such autonomy in the classroom, and many veteran teachers, even today in small private schools see their classroom as their personal domain. Implementing a guaranteed, viable curriculum that is taught and assessed disrupts the autonomous classroom. Decisions about what to teach or why one should teach certain content falls under the watch of the standards and benchmarks. The written curriculum replaces the teacher as the autonomous agent, and the classroom is no longer private, but becomes public domain. Someone may ask is the lack of a coherent, written curriculum that widespread of a problem in the overseas Christian school? In recent years with more schools being pressured to seek accreditation, it probably isn’t as much a problem as it used to be. However, from my personal experience over the last twenty years of teaching overseas, the Christian schools that I have worked at in most cases had a partially developed curriculum that was not being implemented, or they had no curriculum at all. Basically, the schools were textbook driven. Keep in mind these are schools that have been in existence for thirty to forty years, and all but one were fully accredited institutions.
It is hard to overstate the importance of school curriculum. Outside of a school’s foundational documents, curriculum is the critical agent that carries out the school’s purpose. For the following reasons, curriculum in an overseas Christian school’s essential structure:
• Teacher attrition. While teachers at overseas Christian schools come and go, the written curriculum stays in place. It is quite common for overseas Christian schools to have new teachers who may have a four-year degree but limited classroom experience. Written curriculum will give new teachers the resources and tools they need so they don’t feel overwhelmed about the new school year. The provided stability this brings to the school cannot be understated. Curriculum maps that are well developed and have been left by excellent veteran teachers are an invaluable resource for newer faculty members.
• Extension of mission of the school. Written curriculum keeps a school focused on its mission and vision. Curriculum maps should be intentionally developed to carry out the mission and vision of the school both in student learning and in areas of spiritual growth of the students. Everything in the curriculum maps should flow from the school’s core values, mission, and vision.
• Teacher talk: Teacher discussion that centers around topics like instructional strategies, essential content, and subject philosophies, is invaluable to the school and “helps identify answers to important questions about teaching and learning.”
• Public documents: As stated earlier, what students learn in the classroom is and should be public. Student learning is not a secret operation between teacher and student. Written curriculum communicates to the students, parents, and teachers and accrediting institutions what the students are learning in the classroom.
I had a particularly enlightening experience during my first year of teaching social studies at an overseas Christian school. Upon arriving, I found the school had no developed curriculum and no lesson plans or instructional materials other than textbooks. When I asked about the location of these materials no one seem to know where the materials were last placed. After searching file cabinets and various teacher workrooms to no avail, the administration finally told me that the previous social studies teacher must have taken “everything with him.” I was basically starting from scratch. As a veteran teacher who had many years teaching overseas, I found this to be extremely frustrating. Imagine what a new teacher who has no experience teaching overseas, and who at the same time is adjusting to a new country and a new culture, may think or feel encountering a situation like this. A written curriculum that is developed and coherent keeps a scenario like this from happening.
Next Month: Part 3 School Policies