Culture: The Hidden Curriculum

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

As schools consider moving to an online or blended format for the start of the 2020-2021 school year, academic leaders must consider especially what school culture is being created by the impact of COVID-19 and spring 2020 school closings. There are lots of ideas and feelings about what schools should do from all kinds of community members, but what remains at the forefront is the need of our students to learn in a positive learning environment.


We have compiled a list of priorities that academic leaders at each level should consider for their audience - whether the audience is students, families, or parents.


The idea is that you layer on each priority as the school year continues - in the same way that the focus changes across the school year in a brick and mortar school building. Over the course of the school year, the intention is that you increase stakeholder responsibility and engagement. With the four priorities and their tips listed below, you can identify what to pay attention to first and how to integrate facets of foundational social emotional needs to positively support academic progress via online school culture as we all adjust to the effects of district and state health and safety requirements.


This guide does not focus on the following (as they are addressed in other blog posts):

  • Establishing a communication network for regular updates on development impacting closure

  • Building routines using one-to-one devices and blended-learning within daily instruction at all grade levels and courses

  • Procuring/developing student-facing curriculum resources that ensure instruction is aligned to state grade-level standards


So let’s get to it!


Priority 1: Create a Culture of Connection


Focus on addressing this priority for about 1 to 2 weeks right before or at the start of the school year.


GOAL: Ease stakeholders into the start of a school year in an online learning environment. Similar to what you’d do in a brick and mortar school or classroom setting, welcome your stakeholders into the space and create opportunities to learn about your stakeholders, their preferences, and their needs.


In both synchronous and asynchronous sessions for teachers, parents, and students separately, create space and opportunities to answer and ask these questions. Your prep may include collecting links for technology help, setting communication policies, drafting an explanation of what's different, and linking to synchronous meeting tools. Address the biggest questions they might have (even if that means getting back to them), and help allay any immediate concerns in moving to online instruction.


Tip: Provide the contact information for your institution’s office for accessibility and direct students to reach out early and proactively if they need an accommodation.

Tip: have a single source of information where all information lives (see our previous post).


Priority 2: Actualize a Culture of Academics

Focus on addressing this priority for about 1 to 2 weeks at the start of the school year after Priority 1.


GOAL: Continue to ease the transition and build confidence by helping stakeholders establish an interactive social presence online, providing explanation, instruction, and guidance regarding the structure and use of the digital classroom and supports to ensure accommodation, access, and equity for all stakeholders.


Students will begin to log in during this phase. To make this as easy as possible, provide explicit directions and comparisons of the structure of the online curriculum, clearly identifying where students can find course components and what they should do to get started. Create a clear experience of the structure of the course - how they are going to interact with the content, each other, and the teacher; what assignments will look like; what kinds of information they should expect from the teacher and when to expect that information.


Here’s an example structure:


Priority 3: Coerce a Culture of Collaboration

Focus on addressing this priority for about 1 to 2 weeks after Priority 2.


GOAL: Continue to develop additional components of the distance learning course that enhance the learning experience through collaboration and peer support, specifically to increase student independence and motivation


At this point, your staff are beyond “maintenance” of learning in a virtual space and are moving into a space where students need to be assessed on the virtual instruction already provided. Below are some major considerations you should require of teachers during this phase.


  • Provide instructions on how learners can access their grades. Create a short video or support document that walks them through the process.

  • Provide learners with timely feedback to enable them to track their learning progress. A guiding principle to remember is that feedback needs to be objective, individualized, and anchored in a student's performance. Providing a visual to accompany your feedback is really helpful for students to visualize what adjustments need to be made. For example, leveraging the Google Doc comment feature is a great way to give specific feedback because you can point to the exact place in the student work that you are referring to in your feedback.

  • Encourage iteration of academic products using supports and resources. In your feedback, include links to supportive resources or exemplars to help drive their adjustments. Explain when you will review their work again and specify that you will be looking for the changes you recommended.

  • Continue to create a sense of community by encouraging and guiding learners to engage in online discussions. When learners engage in discussions with other learners instead of just the instructor, the opportunities for knowledge retention is great. A number of researchers have conducted investigations into online collaborative discussion groups, focusing on the ways in which discussion activities move learners from learner to expert. It is important to provide learners with opportunities to reflect and share viewpoints.

Tip: If possible, consider including “knowledge check” types of activities by creating low-stakes, simple quizzes or simplified online discussions that reflect the activities you’d already planned for in-class work.


Priority 4: Administer a Culture of Accountability

Focus on addressing this priority for about 1 to 2 weeks after Priority 3.