By: Jeff Heyck-Williams


What is Two Rivers’ curriculum?

A few years ago, a parent approached me with this seemingly simple (albeit essential) question – a question that I should be able to answer quickly without much thought.  My title, after all, is Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and creating and coordinating Two Rivers’ curriculum is a core component of my work.  However, as with many simple questions, the question gave me pause.

It gave me pause for three major reasons.

First, it gave me pause because in the way that it was asked, it begged for a quick sound bite response, but I realized there was too much complexity wrapped in the word “curriculum” to give a quick, simple one to two sentence answer.

Secondly, I made an assumption (probably unfairly) that the parent was asking about a textbook series that I patently would not describe as a curriculum.  Too often, textbook series and/or standards are referred to as the whole of a curriculum.  However, I think of textbooks and the accompanying materials as tools that help us define and deliver the curriculum.  They are not the curriculum itself.

Finally, the question gave me pause because here was a word, curriculum, that sits at the heart of what I do everyday and that I use pretty freely in multiple ways, and yet I didn’t have a clear definition of the word.  In fact, because I use the word curriculum in so many different ways to mean often very different things, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I didn’t have a clear definition.  But if I wanted to have a chance of defining Two Rivers’ curriculum for this parent or for anyone, for that matter, I needed to resolve the question of just what curriculum is first.  


The single best definition of curriculum that I have found is from John Fairhurst Kerr’s seminal work Changing the Curriculum from 1968.  Kerr writes that curriculum is, “all the learning which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried out in groups or individually, inside or outside the school.”  What I love about this definition of curriculum is that it has three core ideas which I feel are essential to understanding exactly what curriculum is.

To begin, Kerr defines curriculum as “all of the learning.”  This is helpful in explaining why a list of standards can never be the curriculum with a capital “C” for a school.  Schools always teach and address learning that stretches beyond the bounds of a set of performance standards.

The second part of the definition, “which is planned and guided by the school,” can’t be over emphasized.  With that simple phrase, Kerr has highlighted the intentional nature of curriculum.  There are many definitions of curriculum floating around, but when I talk about curriculum I am not talking about learning that occurs unintentionally.  For example, students often come to school and learn the lyrics to the latest rap song from their friends.  This is learning, but we don’t seek to impart all of the learning that occurs in schools.  Rather, when I am thinking about curriculum, I am thinking about all the learning that as a school we intend to teach towards.  It is this intentionality of learning outcomes that I would want to convey in answering any questions about Two Rivers’ curriculum.

Finally, Kerr ends his definition with, “…whether it is carried out in groups or individually, inside or outside the school.”  Pairing this idea with the previous ideas of the intentional learning outcomes, we have a full vision for curriculum that includes but stretches beyond individual standardized test measures as well as the confines of any classroom.

That is to say that with great intentionality, we attempt to craft experiences for students that nurture their growth as life-long learners from the moment they are first greeted with eye-contact and a smile as they approach our doors on their first day of school all the way through to the moment that they walk out of our doors for the last time as students and graduate at the end of eighth grade.  That is to say, we recognize in addition to the classrooms that the hallway, playground, community spaces, and lobbies are all equally places of learning.


In answer to the question, I would say that Two Rivers curriculum is defined by an expanded set of outcomes that includes core content and basic skills, but also embraces a broader definition of success that includes critical thinking and problem solvingcharacter, and collaboration and communication.  These outcomes are realized by a rich variety of experiences planned intentionally and facilitated by talented educators.  So while we don’t use a particular textbook, we do provide opportunities for students to have rich and varied experiences that prepare them to become life-long learners.