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Why Curriculum Design, you Ask?

By Theresa Cullen Hill
Why Curriculum Design, you Ask?

Every summer I look forward to the opportunity of teaching a course with the Principal's Training Center (PTC). The teaching, learning, networking, and collegial atmosphere of the PTC is unmatched by any other professional development endeavor I have been associated with. If you have not yet experienced a class with the PTC, you should make it a professional priority to do so.

Last summer, Pip Curtis, a native of New Zealand and current Middle and Upper School Principal at Shekou International School in China, and I taught the course "Curriculum Design for International School Teacher Leaders." This course emphasized the critical elements of curriculum design with a focus on international school needs.

Why is curriculum design such an important issue?

I remember my own PTC curriculum course with Bambi Betts, Director of the PTC, back in 1998. She posed the question to our group, “Would teachers prefer pre-ordained curriculum, created by a third party, or the opportunity to create and refine their own?”

This question led to an interesting discussion; it is still an interesting discussion today, and I have yet to work in a school where a curriculum was simply handed to a teacher. Even with the emphasis on nationalized standards and expectations in the United States, the UK and elsewhere, teachers are tasked with determining the day-to-day curriculum and many are trying to figure out how to incorporate and assess its standards. Yet, many are not properly trained, or do not feel equipped, to simply create curriculum. Often those who do have training or comfort in this area find in leadership positions, expected to lead fellow colleagues. With the frequent teacher turn over in international schools, a solid curriculum framework is thus crucial.

Why is the international school setting different when it comes to curriculum design and leadership? What do people need to be looking out for?

International schools have the added pressure of dealing with a transient student, teacher, and administrator population. Having a cohesive curriculum framework is therefore critical to the success of a school’s educational program. We also serve a population of students with a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, and differing language proficiencies. The importance of a language arts curriculum meeting these challenges is another critical point of the international school curriculum.

We are also preparing students for the universities in different countries around the globe. This is no easy feat, and requires, again, articulated, rigorous academics to adequately prepare international students for the challenges of global tertiary education.

Our course focused on the realities and good practices behind how leaders should plan, focus, and implement engaging, thoughtful, and purposeful curriculum. We also focused on the mechanism behind how to make this a reality. We addressed the critical area of assessment, and determined well-written standards and course goals. We looked at models of unit plans, year-long course overviews, and other areas of curriculum, giving concrete examples. And what made this all the more exciting was the opportunity to leverage broad international curriculum expertise and perspective.

And of course, no two schools are alike. We always emphasize the importance of an individual’s current work context, and utilize the time to create curriculum specific for one’s own school. In our course, we tailored the work to ensure it met the needs of our learners and our learners’ schools.

Opportunities such as these are what makes PTC courses uniquely international!

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