What are the Markers of High-Quality Curriculum?

Submitted by: Ruth Poulsen, Director of Curriculum and Assessment
Appeared on the ET Journal Spring Issue 2021


It might have been over a decade ago, but I still remember my first year as curriculum coordinator. Before my role was created, my little school had never had any written scope and sequence documents, and I remember being at a loss as to where to start. With so much to do, what should be the priority? It felt a bit like a cloud of gnats was buzzing around my head. I could swat at one gnat or a few, but there were thousands more problems still buzzing around annoyingly. Lucky for me, an experienced curriculum director from a school down the street gave me some of her valuable time, offering suggestions as I wrote my first action plan and built my first curriculum review cycle.

Ten years and three schools later, it’s still a challenge sometimes to get all of the leadership team on the same page as to what high quality curriculum looks like. There are so many different ideas, so many possible initiatives we could be working on! And of course, if the leaders aren’t on the same page as to the vision for high quality curriculum, then that creates confusion and ambiguity for teachers.

To help manage this challenge, my curriculum team and I created this implementation continuum. The first column in the continuum, “Initial Steps,” is a simple checklist of basic documentation and policies. The second column, “Full Implementation” is where we expect every team at ISB to be operating. However, if you’re just starting out, full implementation might be a few years down the road! The third column, “Deepening Thinking Together,” is more aspirational—we know some teams have many or most of these indicators, while others might have only one or two.

We conceptualized it as a continuum to reflect the fact that there are basic building blocks that might feel boring (no one ever cheered when it was time to update unit planner!), but are absolutely necessary. When the core documents are kept up to date, they provide clarity for teachers, enabling them to work collaboratively to reflect on their students’ learning. The focused conversations about teaching and learning, identified in the third column of the continuum, are the goal. But those conversations simply can’t be very effective without the basic documentation.

At International School Beijing, we use this implementation continuum with the principals, middle level leaders, and teacher leaders to identify areas for growth and determine priorities for action planning. You’ll be able to see many of our priorities from this document: becoming standards-based, embedding personalized learning and social-emotional learning, and others. Your school’s continuum will look different, reflecting your priorities, but many of these indicators could cross to any school context.

I wanted to share this continuum because I know how it feels to be a brand-new curriculum coordinator. I hope this is a tool that can support your thinking as you reflect on how to provide a guaranteed viable curriculum for your students.

Curriculum, Assessment, and Reporting Implementation Continuum

>> Read more on the ET Journal Spring Issue 2021 page 14