Curriculum Leadership Truths

Tools for Effective Principal Leadership: Curriculum

What is a curriculum leader? A second grade teacher can serve as a curriculum leader. Principals and assistant principals should also be viewed as curriculum leaders. A central office staff member may have the title of chief academic officer or curriculum director, but that does not mean they are the only curriculum leader in the school district. Once teachers begin communicating with teachers in the same grade level and make connections with the next level (i.e., middle school and high school transition), students will benefit from increased clarity on the essential learning outcomes.

Curriculum leadership involves working with multiple people to ensure that the curriculum is aligned both horizontally and vertically. “Curriculum development is the essential function of school leadership. Whether the role is carried out by a principal, an assistant principal for curriculum, a team leader, a department head, or by leading classroom teachers, the curriculum defines all other roles in a school” (Wiles, 2009, p.2). This article addresses ten leadership truths that apply to first year teachers as well as veteran curriculum directors at the central office level.

Curriculum leadership involves working with multiple people to ensure that the curriculum is aligned both horizontally and vertically. “Curriculum development is the essential function of school leadership. Whether the role is carried out by a principal, an assistant principal for curriculum, a team leader, a department head, or by leading classroom teachers, the curriculum defines all other roles in a school” (Wiles, 2009, p.2). This article addresses ten leadership truths that apply to first year teachers as well as veteran curriculum directors at the central office level.

1. Priorities Matter…You Revisit Them Daily

“All learners benefit from and should receive instruction that reflects clarity about purposes and priorities of content” (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006, p. 6).

2. Curriculum Development Is A Process, Not A Product

Curriculum mapping is an ongoing process which asks teachers to develop curriculum goals, identify essential content, skills and concepts, and reflect on the taught curriculum. Some school districts make the mistake of diving into curriculum mapping and attempting to complete a product. When teacher teams become satisfied with the product, then the process is at risk. Curriculum development is “an ongoing process that asks teachers and administrators to think, act, and meet differently to improve their students’ learning” (Hale, 2008, p. 8).

3. Communication Matters

Curriculum gaps create a barrier for student learning and have a detrimental effect on students’ opportunity to learn. Gaps are created by a lack of communication among educators, varying implementation practices, available resources, and decisions about pacing. According to English (2000), “Curriculum design and delivery face one fundamental problem in schools. When the door is shut and nobody else is around, the classroom teacher can select and teach just about any curriculum he or she decides is appropriate”(p. 1).

4. It’s Lonely At The Top

John Maxwell (2008) wrote the statement, “It’s lonely at the top was never made by a great leader. If you are leading others and you’re lonely, then you’re not doing it right. What kind of leader would leave everyone behind and take the journey alone? A selfish one. Taking people to the top is what good leaders do.” Empowering others is one of the main roles of curriculum leaders. If you are feeling lonely, take a moment to reflect on why no one seems to be following.

5. What Gets Measured Gets Done

Developing curriculum is essential for any school district. However, educators need to know if the curriculum is meeting its intended outcomes. Teachers may indicate that they value 21st century learning skills, but if the district’s benchmark exams and the high-stakes state exam measure lower-order thinking skills and do not measure 21st century skills, then there will be a temptation to teach to the test. Curriculum leaders understand that curriculum alignment consists of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Without a method of measurement, then it is highly unlikely that the curriculum will be implemented across classrooms.

6. Alignment is Critical

Curriculum Developers can spend so much time developing curriculum documents that they forget to take time to analyze alignment and have conversations with multiple groups. “Poorly aligned curriculum results in our underestimating the effect of instruction on learning. Simply stated, teachers may be “teaching up a storm,” but if what they are teaching is neither aligned with the state standards or the state assessments, then their teaching is in vain” (Anderson, 2002, p. 260). If alignment is important for your vehicle, it is even more critical when dealing with children’s lives and their future aspirations.

7. Gaps Exist In Every School District…Seek Solutions

Jacobs (1997) wrote, “If there are gaps among teachers within buildings, there are virtual Grand Canyons among buildings in a district” (p. 3). Curriculum Leaders can conduct a Gap Analysis. Another method is to have ongoing conversations with teams of teachers to analyze common student misunderstandings. Data analysis has become more prominent in public schools over the past ten years. The use of quality data can help schools identify gaps. Curriculum gaps create a disjointed curriculum. In Toward a Coherent Curriculum: The 1985 ASCD Yearbook, Stellar wrote, “The curriculum in numerous schools lacks clarity and, more important, coherence. Students move from teacher to teacher and subject to subject along a curriculum continuum that may or may not exhibit planned articulation” (p. v).

8. Curriculum Development Is Never Neutral

If you have ever worked with a team of teachers to develop curriculum maps, align the school district’s curriculum, or evaluate curriculum, you understand that curriculum development is a political act. Fenwick English (2000) wrote, “Knowledge is never neutral. The selection of knowledge is fundamentally a political act of deciding who benefits from selecting what in the school’s curriculum and who is excluded or diminished” (p. 30).

“Curriculum is always a means to somebody’s end…..No selection of curriculum content can be considered politically neutral” (English, 2000, p. 53). If you are asked to review curriculum or develop curriculum, then you should be careful to avoid bias. What is good for your own child may not be good for every child. Politics are unavoidable when it comes to curriculum development, but educators can improve the curriculum development process by seeking multiple perspectives.

9. Leadership Is Not A Title

This statement has been made in business leadership books and it holds true in any organization. You may be the chief academic officer or the department chair, but titles don’t matter. People matter. Maxwell (1995) wrote, “If you really want to be a successful leader, you must develop other leaders around you. You must establish a team” (p. 2). If curriculum development becomes a matter of pleasing the person with the title, there will be little buy-in and that will have a negative impact on students. “A good leader has the ability to instill within his people confidence in himself. A great leader has the ability to instill within his people confidence in themselves” (Maxwell, 1995, p. 55).

10. The Ultimate Goal Is Student Achievement

According to Wiggins and McTighe (2007), “The job is not to hope that optimal learning will occur, based on our curriculum and initial teaching. The job is to ensure that learning occurs, and when it doesn’t, to intervene in altering the syllabus and instruction decisively, quickly, and often” (p. 55). School districts must confront the brutal facts of their current reality in order to improve (Collins, 2001).

One of my favorite quotes on the topic of curriculum leadership is from Allan Glatthorn (1987):

One of the tasks of curriculum leadership is to use the right methods to bring the written, the taught, the supported, and the tested curriculums into closer alignment, so that the learned curriculum is maximized” (p. 4).


Curriculum development plays a significant role in teaching and learning. Most educators will admit that planning is an essential part of their profession. If curriculum development drives the work of teacher teams, then schools must create time for teachers to collaborate, engage in conflict and provide a process for reflection and revision. Curriculum development should be a priority in schools, rather than something that is handed to teachers as a top-down product. When teachers collaborate to develop the curriculum, they will have co-workers who support them when they come to a fork in the road in instruction. Curriculum leadership is important to the success of a school district and these ten truths can help a leader develop multiple leaders. Curriculum leadership is about empowering those around you to be successful.

Curriculum: The Heart of the Teacher Leader Role

Truths About Curriculum

  • Rather than trying to do the current things, we must strive to do the important things.

  • It’s about creating a culture of collaboration where teachers learn from and inspire one another.

  • It’s about providing consistent focus every day.

  • Pursue excellence!

  • Culture – Are teachers complaining about student’s behavior or are they sharing the accomplishments of their classes?

  • What matters is not the quality of words in a frame ( the Mission Statement) but the quality of relationships in the building.

  • The success of programs depends on the adults who lead them.

  • Everyone in the school contributes to building a strong school culture.

  • School culture is not about the big things, it’s about the little things.

  • The best instructional initiatives do not count for much if the teachers are not empowered and supported by the administration to carry them out.

  • We can choose to make a difference every day, in spite of adversity.

  • Decisions are not driven by the convenience of the adults but by the needs of the students.

  • Great schools determine what’s best for the students, and then figure out how to make it happen.

  • Engage others in collective pursuits of solutions.

  • Success as a teacher is determined by our relationships, appropriate expectations, and consistency.

  • Happy teachers are more effective teachers.

  • When you remember your “why” it can carry you through the stresses of the day.

  • When you listen to teachers they feel valued. When teachers feel included in the decision-making process, they take ownership in the school … not just their classroom.

  • Teachers are professionals. Treat them like professionals.

  • Micromanagement is the quickest way to destroy the morale of the faculty.

  • Trust is foundational to any healthy school culture.

  • Notice the little things…and recognize it.

  • Never underestimate the value of encouragement.

  • Our job is not to reflect on society, it’s to cultivate society. We have to help improve each student and to help improve the world.

  • We need to be connected. These connections provide camaraderie, encouragement, and inspiration.

  • We all have flaws because, as it turns out, we are all human.

  • We should be patient with one another.

  • You change culture through relationships…one conversation at a time.

  • Great principals walk around … a lot. This is how they validate, recognize, communicate, and how they support.

  • We will not cultivate a culture of growth if we are never willing to step outside of our comfort zone.

  • You do not become awesome by staying the same all the time.

  • Seek to leverage the experiences, passions, and expertise among the staff.

  • Culture is built on the little interactions every day.

  • The quality of the school is directly related to the quality of the teachers.

  • The best way to take care of students is to take care of the teachers.

  • We must focus on making sure every child has a really good teacher.

  • If you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid — Albert Einstein.

  • Collaboration is the best way to improve professional practice.

  • Good teachers steal awesome ideas wherever they can find them. (Principals can do this too).

  • Principals can’t mandate collaboration. Best practices are not implemented as a result of mandates. Teachers need to believe in it and feel supported and empowered to implement.

  • It’s the principal’s job to promote a culture within a school where collaboration becomes the norm.

  • EdCamp style faculty meeting — get topics and each teacher gets 7 minutes to discuss their topic. Then they rotate.

  • Twitter chat – faculty meeting. Use certain hashtag(s)

  • Positive reinforcement goes a long way in promoting professional behaviors that characterize great schools.

  • What gets validated gets replicated.

  • Schools with a healthy culture have adults who talk to each other.

  • Never underestimate the importance of personal communication.

  • Make sure to have a strong relationship with your support staff.

  • Welcome new perspectives and ideas that can help us all become even better.

  • Encouraging words never get old. Ever.

  • The best faculties function as a team — as a cohesive unit.

  • Principals cannot force “buy in”. Teachers “choose” to buy in.

  • When teachers feel support, they are much more receptive to instructional leadership.

  • Excellence is what results from thinking “good enough” is never good enough.

  • Educators who are extraordinary became that way by making lots of little decisions to rise above mediocrity.

  • Student achievement happens … When students are inspired. When teachers are empowered. When teachers have maximized their instructional efficacy through professional collaboration. When adults share a common commitment to connecting with students in the school.

  • Student achievement is a function of student engagement.

  • Don’t just focus on test scores. Focus on student engagement.

  • Complaining is injecting negative energy into a situation.

  • Don’t just complain, look for solutions.

  • Good school culture is not accidental.

  • Good school culture results when all adults in the building are motivated to do what is best for kids.

  • Good school culture is a reflection of everyone in the building.

  • It doesn’t cost anything to focus on the students. To collaborate. To keep a positive attitude.

  • Administrators have greater credibility when the teachers know they are aware of the realities of the classroom.

  • Make the most of unscheduled and unplanned moments. They could end up being the most important moments of your day.

  • Don’t just evaluate … support.

  • Have a commitment to rise above the status quo.

  • What if … !!!

  • Micromanaging yields bare minimum performance.

  • Reflection is important for all of us.

  • Good administrators should never lose sight of what we ask of our teachers. We need to look for ways to lighten the load.

  • To impact student achievement it’s important to invest energy into creating a school culture where teachers and students are engaged in the educational process.

  • My attitude affects your attitude.

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