3 Steps to Healthy Curriculum Development

Curriculum is indispensable in every educational institution. It is central to the fulfillment of the school’s purpose and direction. Thus, “curriculum work is an essential function of leadership in schools because it is through the curriculum development process that we identify purpose, define activity, and rationalize decision making in schools.”[1]

The role of school leader visibility in the development and continual improvement of school curriculum is that of creating a positive and collaborative environment in which the work can be accomplished, and meet the current and future needs of students. This environment, however, does not exist in all schools – and the role of healthy, supportive, and intentional curriculum development supervision may be lacking. It is an opportunity for leaders to demonstrate trust specifically with teachers.

“National studies sponsored by such agencies as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Institute of Education, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching have all identified significant systemic problems. Their findings point to a need to create orderly, effective change in curricula, set new priorities for faculty, establish systems for evaluating and rewarding success in teaching, and create healthy, vital environments in which students can learn.”[2]

These are all important elements to curriculum development supervision that require the visibility and quality interaction of the school leader.

Step One: Define & Guide

The trusted leader is champion and guide to those charged with creating the curriculum. The role of the school leader is best understood in terms of defining the program and guiding the collaboration of the curriculum design team. As these leaders generally work with trained, knowledgeable, and talented educators, their role is far more about leadership than management.

“It is important to note how managers seem only to manage while, in contrast, leaders actually lead. A major key to school success is focusing on the quality of leadership.”[3]

That rings true in the area of curriculum development supervision.

“Dynamic curriculum leaders establish direction, motivate people, and clarify the steps for changing. In contrast to maintenance leadership, the dynamic curriculum leader makes things happen; it is a visionary and forceful kind of leadership.”[4]

Another key role in curriculum development supervision is continually evaluating the process to establish greater levels of trust in the curriculum. Again, this requires visibility, regular contact, and reflective interaction. Trusted school leaders have the ability, as well as organizational structure, to:

  1. clearly identify student needs,
  2. ensure reliable and meaningful assessments are in place, and
  3. gather clear curriculum data.

All three accomplishments are for deep reflection and evaluation so conclusions can be drawn and decisions made to keep continual curriculum improvement moving forward.[5]

It has been said that, “few education reforms will be long lasting unless they become institutionalized. And the best way to institutionalize curriculum is to formulate sound curricular policies.”[6] Who are the curriculum policy decision-makers? The answer varies on the school’s governance structure. In most public school settings, and in some private and independent Christian ones, the School Board is responsible for macro curriculum decisions (e.g. graduation requirements, strands of study, etc.) – leaving the micro ones to the school leadership (e.g. choice of textbooks, technology, etc.). In many international schools the Head of School is charged with the responsibility, but actual curriculum decision-making is entrusted to department chairs, or curriculum teams within the departments, since these individuals possess the greatest amount of training, insight, and expertise to determine student needs.

Step Two: Maintain Mission Alignment

Regardless of who is responsible for drafting curriculum policy decisions, the school leader’s fundamental charge is making sure these policies are in alignment with the school’s core mission and values, which typically means focusing on student needs.

“Often institutions, departments, or instructors recognize significant problems in the content and design of curricula or courses, but efforts to change are hampered by uncertainty about how to make orderly changes, where to begin, what outcomes to target, and what roles faculty, curriculum committees, and administrators should play.”[7]

The organization of curriculum development management is very important. As referenced earlier, a successful strategy implemented by many trusted leaders maintains a continual cycle of curriculum review and update – organized with this four-step process:

  1. Analyzing the current curriculum and its’ results
  2. Researching curriculum resources and/or designing updates to the curriculum
  3. Purchasing commercially available resources or funding newly designed curriculum and then implementing those updates
  4. Evaluating whether or not updates have successfully met identified program needs, which leads back to step number one

Step Three: Represent All Stakeholders

Finally, the role of the trusted leader in curriculum supervision is to represent all stakeholders. The impact of their visibility is marked by ensuring that the entire community is considered and involved to an appropriate level. The most vital of those community members are the teachers themselves – when it comes to curriculum, they are entrusted with its application and delivery. Therefore, it is imperative schools invest in teachers to the greatest extent possible.

“With the classroom teacher being so vital to the process, it is not surprising that a key to strengthening and deepening what is taught relies largely on professional development. As a result, school leaders at all levels are now recognizing the critical importance of teacher growth and the role of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Like students, it is best if educators remain in a consistent state of discovery and learning.”[8]

In addition to the central focus on teachers, curriculum design experts believe “the key to enriching curriculum is to involve students in real-life problem-solving scenarios.”[9] When students see and understand how their learning helps them better navigate their world, they are self-motivated, and their learning is deep and meaningful. Parents also must be considered in curriculum development.[10] This is especially true in private and independent schools, as parents invest heavily in their children’s education, with the expectation that the curriculum represents and supports their values.

Thus, the school leader’s trust level with parents and students is also vital in developing high levels of trust, through visible quality time and interactions throughout the curriculum development, implementation, and review process.

©2018 Toby A. Travis, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved


[1] Jon W. Wiles, Leading Curriculum Development (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2009), 141-142, Kindle.

[2] Robert M. Diamond, Designing and Assessing Courses and Curricula: A Practical Guide (San Francisco: Josey-Bass Inc., 1998), 33-34, Kindle.

[3] Allan A. Glatthorn, Flyod A. Boschee, Bruce M. Whitehead, Bonni F. Boschee, Curriculum Leadership: Strategies for Development and Implementation (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2016), 927-928, Kindle.

[4] Wiles, Leading Curriculum Development, 154-156, Kindle.

[5] Corey Drake and M. G. Sherin, “Developing Curriculum Vision and Trust,” Mathematics Teachers at Work 57, no. 2000 (2011): 321-337.

[6] Glatthorn et. al., Curriculum Leadership, 1083-1084, Kindle.

[7] Diamond, Designing and Assessing Courses and Curricula, 50-52, Kindle.

[8] Glatthorn et. al., Curriculum Leadership, 949-952, Kindle.

[9] Ibid., 1224, Kindle.

[10] Kathleen Cotton and Karen Reed Wikelund, “Parent involvement in education,” School Improvement Research Series 6, (1989): 15.


  1. Excellent article, Dr Travis. I’d be curious what practical advice you have for leaders who are unable to be physically present at schools (superintendents in rural districts, for example) but still want to achieve high-levels of trust and engagement with their staff. Are there perhaps any technological solutions you’d recommend?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you John. A great question. My first and primary recommendation would be to make regular and consistent connection with your site administrators a top priority; preferably in person, but then by phone, Skype, Zoom, Slack, or some other means if the one-on-one’s are not possible. Invest your time and energy into those primary relationships with your direct-reports, and model what you desire to see in their relationships with those whom they supervise.


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