The ‘hidden curriculum’


By Clayton Westerbeck - Assistant Principal, Greenville High School



A school is somewhere a child attends to learn math, history, science, English, athletics, specialized programming such as music and art, and other academic based entities. We can even add career based education to the list such as vocational learning. But, we have to ask, is there something missing, based on scores and graduation rates, numbers that drive the funding of schools? Students struggle for a variety of reasons, one of the biggest is socioeconomic status. Poverty levels directly impact the standard K-12 educational end result for many students nationwide. There must be a way to engage students and get them to believe in themselves. I give you the “hidden curriculum.”

What is the hidden curriculum? It is the oil to the engine of education. It is the “pleases,” the “thank you’s,” and the “good mornings.” But it is also much more than that.

When formalized education began forever ago, it was teacher centered. This approach is simple. The teacher is in the front of the class, there is a board, a book and paper and pencil. The teacher directs the entire lesson. There is guided practice to some extent, but the bulk of the instruction is the teacher giving small assignments to complete. Tasks, practice and drill. Is the academic curriculum important? Absolutely it is. But you have to get students engaged.

Fast forward to now — the age of computers and the net. Students can get anywhere, anytime. Sometimes, this creates roadblocks to learning such as cell phone use in classes. Students will learn whatever they are engaged in.

Teachers have started to create collaborative, student-led lessons. This student-led style of teaching engages students much better than teacher-based learning. The teacher creates and implements lessons that are collaborative in nature such as Socratic seminars (where students openly discuss real subject matter) or simulations. These types of lessons are powerful because students take ownership for their learning. They are engaged in the academic curriculum due to the rapport and trust that was built with the educator.

Much of the research on improving academic results points to this type of engagement that improves test scores, behavior and social interaction. This type of approach helps to promote a positive school culture.

According to Wikipedia, a hidden curriculum is a “side effect of schooling,” and sometimes there are “good” side effects to things. Like a student believing in themselves and improving their attendance because someone (an adult or peer in the school) explained to them that school could be the very thing that propels them to a better life. It’s these small conversations by educators that can give students an opportunity to realize their potential. When students are engaged by educators in conversation on a regular basis, they learn better social skills. These social skills allow educators to engage in more collaborative and engaging lessons. It’s trust and rapport. Everyone cares about the students’ growth and success, and most important of all, the student is aware of this and commits to their own success.

According to The Glossary of Education Reform, “… hidden curriculum refers to the unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn while in school.”

This concept is based on how students interact while in school, such as with their peers and teachers, as well as other adults. They learn what ideas and behaviors are acceptable in society. When you have professional educators that care, build rapport with their students, are collaborative and pragmatic in their thinking, then learning is maximized. Students don’t just perform better with these stronger social skills and values, they perform better overall. This is where education builds good people.

The side effect is that students will be better prepared to be positive members of society and reach their potential as human beings. Those are side effects I can live with.

By Clayton Westerbeck

Assistant Principal, Greenville High School