How vs What – Curriculum design


I have been synthesising my thoughts and experiences as a curriculum leader lately. As curriculum leaders we spend a lot of time engaging people in the “what” of curriculum… committees, working groups, innovation teams, evaluations, accreditations to name a few. In my time, I have seen so many hours expended in getting people to understand the “what” at the expense of the “how.”

Don’t get me wrong we do talk about the how, but not enough for me. Schools seem to always be in this constant flux of defining and comprehending curriculum instead of designing, applying and interpreting it, especially in PYP!  Although to juxtapose my own thoughts I still cherish those synergistic conversations and discussions I have had over the years with esteemed colleagues, on the ‘what’ of curriculum. But there’s wisdom for you!

To find the balance here are a few ideas that might resonate with you…

Simplify the language – having spent a year once on fusing AERO standards with PYP scope and sequence documents, it led me to conclude that written curriculum is just too SYNONYM-MANIC!  Please just cut the crap, our curriculums are cluttered with synonyms and word-smithing; there just seems to be so much repetition in international schools curriculums. Often the legacy of teacher turnover.

Time and value – Don’t put authentic collaboration on the back burner, define it and give it the time it deserves (yes I know I said less defining before, but this is different). Prioritising times for teachers to step aside from the “what” and share more practice about “how” they interpret the curriculum is valuable. Strategies like Teachers Teaching Teachers (T3) is an easy start to building a collaborative reflective culture.

Let people lead to their strengths – good curriculum writers need trust and creative latitude. Succinct written curriculum does not always need democracy, so be selective about composing your teams and defining their roles.

Let sexy data be your friend – data is not just about numbers, it’s about information and all the diverse ways that it can be unearthed. Teachers reflecting on their practice, students reflecting on their learned curriculum are all interpretations that can lead us forward and in addition, support understanding of our “what” curriculum further.




One thought on “How vs What – Curriculum design

  1. Gareth! I love your post. I’m sure you see things on a deeper level than I do being the head of school AND PYP coordinator, but I agree with you about how more time should be devoted to the “how”. I have slowly turned more to this way of thinking as my understanding of the PYP (and curriculum in general) has deepened. I’m sure this is true about many teachers; as our level of familiarity and understanding increases we are able to get past the ‘whats’ more quickly and into the ‘hows’.

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