Beyond the Formal Curriculum

David UrbanThe CACE Roundtable2 Comments

It is inspiring to visit schools around the country and see how they serve their particular community. In our work with Charter Oak Research and CACE over the last nine years, Paul Neal and I have had the privilege to meet with school leaders and do market research to better understand the needs and desires of their schools’ parents and the perception of those outside the school community. This information informs our consulting on how to better recruit families and serve their community to fulfill their mission.

Whereas there are many similarities across the different schools, each school and community are distinct. To understand each setting, we like to spend time on campus to get to know the school and community prior to conducting the formal research. We witness the formal and the informal, the ethos and the culture. Being present and hearing stories helps paint a wholistic picture of what is taking place at each school.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit a Christian educational institution in Asia, in a country where the majority of the population is not Christian: almost 90% of the population is Muslim, 10% Hindu, and less than 1% “other.” I was honored to listen to the school leader explain how his school wants to serve the local community while training up the next generation of Christian leaders. I was personally inspired by the vision he articulated as his staff pursued their work.

During my conversation with this leader, we discussed features of their academic program, including the formal curriculum they had developed and the types of students/families they sought to attract. He shared the learning objectives the school held for the students in order to have the greatest long-term impact on those they serve. We also discussed the challenges of recruitment, how to provide the type of education they desire in their context, the best ways to use limited resources, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on their institution and how that might impact them moving forward.

The Hidden Curriculum

Beyond the formal curriculum, this school leader talked with great excitement about the “hidden curriculum” that was impacting the people. The Glossary of Education Reform explains that the “hidden-curriculum concept is based on the recognition that students absorb lessons in school that may or may not be part of the formal course of study—for example, how they should interact with peers, teachers, and other adults; how they should perceive different races, groups, or classes of people; or what ideas and behaviors are considered acceptable or unacceptable.” The term refers to the informal education that takes place within the school that impacts students and helps them learn values and attitudes. This leader was passionate maximizing the time he and his staff were entrusted with these students. The leader’s vision was for his campus to be a place where students would do more than just show up for classes. He thought strategically about how he could create a place where students would stay on campus longer and have interactions far beyond the classroom.

Additionally, the leader had a compelling vision that their campus be used by those outside of their school community. His desire was to maximize the space to impact the local community and show the love of Jesus even informally as a way to build relationships beyond their own students and families. The desire was to share the campus and their school community’s resources to attract others to the campus, facilitating interactions with the school’s students and families and thereby broadening the ministry.

This leader’s vision can challenge and inspire all of us. As a Christian leader of an educational institution, what is it you are creating? Beyond the formal curriculum and the other information on your website, what is the hidden curriculum set informally and felt by all? How are you highlighting the informal teaching your students experience every day? Sharing these stories is important. They provide families a fuller picture of the goals you have in educating their children.


  • David Urban

    David is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Charter Oak Research. David consults regularly in both K-12 and higher education admissions, marketing and development. He presents regularly on educational trends and best practices both in the US and internationally. David was the North American Coalition for Christian Admissions Professionals (NACCAP) Admissions Officer of the Year in 2010. Dave is a graduate (B.S., M.B.A.) of Eastern University.

2 Comments on “Beyond the Formal Curriculum”

  1. Thanks David. A great reminder to think of the less obvious things that still teach students something.

  2. Im in South Africa aspiring to start a Literacy and Numeracy Programme in the community where formal and informal education are needed the most. As a Christian, I always wanted the ways and means of incorporating the spreading of God’s love to my community. This read is an eye opener. Thank you David.

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