Sean Logan MYP Individuals and Societies and Model UN Teacher, Stockholm International School

Sean Logan explores the concept of the hidden curriculum and ways that this can be used within international schools.

There we were, taking an early departure from the daily ritual of morning line-up. A grind for many. This takes place in the cobblestoned, cold, somewhat intimidating quad - the centre of the school, the heartbeat. The touring students trying their absolute hardest not to break out into a momentous skip whilst making their exit from the quad to the big ol’ bus. The touring staff, in a similar boat, eyes fixed firmly on studying their feet while shuffling on to depart the formal gathering….corners of their mouths champing at the bit to explode into a full-blown grin. Tour. A few minutes prior to this, the boys and girls were being wished very well by the Headmaster in front of the whole preparatory school and the staff who are huddled at the back or placed strategically on the sides.

The narrative: to make and bring back memories you will possess for life, go and make friends for a lifetime

The message relayed from our principal to the boys and girls making this trip is not to worry about winning whilst on tour, not to stress about who has the highest tackle count in the team or which player wins the most races. No. The narrative: to make and bring back memories you will possess for life, go and make friends for a lifetime, and more in another province and different part of the country. In doing this (try) look respectable at all times, please, doff your cap, greet the opposition, shake their hands, thank them, eye contact….remember your please and thank yous when being hosted, be outside! 

School, or club, sports tours - are the best thing ever, #fact, and no, it is not about the age-group ‘A’ team going on all the tours, playing in the festivals, tournaments, getting their photo in the termly school newsletter or yearbook. These opportunities are for all young, aspiring sportsmen/women; well at least they should be, in any event. At a school I taught at a few years ago, which I have plenty of fond memories of both in the classroom and on the sports field, it was the Headmasters’ prerogative that every student should go on ‘a’ sports tour during their time in the Preparatory. I believe we achieved this, more than once in fact, quite incredible. 

You may be wondering why. Why should every learner go on a ‘sports tour’ in their primary/preparatory school years? This potential experience, I believe, forms and delivers almost all aspects of the hidden curriculum. This ‘invisible’ syllabus is often chased and at times, forced by schools. What exactly is ‘hidden curriculum’? Hold on to your seats! 

Hidden Curriculum

"the unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school"

The Glossary of Education Reform, which serves as an online resource for schools, parents, students, and the like has defined the hidden curriculum as the unwritten, unofficial, and often unintended lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school. The site goes on to explain that the ‘formal’ curriculum consists of the courses, lessons, and learning activities students participate in, which I think we all know about - grades are attached to it, exams come from them and dinner table boasts by parents include these. The hidden curriculum which absolutely complements the tangible stuff to the max is a concept 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 behaviours are considered acceptable or unacceptable. Now you get the idea as to why it’s called hidden? Imagine a school, in fact, all schools that made the hidden curriculum the tangible part of the day, the focus, the innermost aspect. The history and content and numbers would follow, I’m sure, or would it? Is this possibly the path schools should take in going forward, if they are not already? 

“It’s never crowded on the extra mile.” 

- Wayne Dyer 

Back on tour, a 4-hour bus trip (more than 1 bus by the way) heading pretty much north, towards the lowveld, sees us arriving and being greeted by students, teachers, and excited parents just like us. Can this be a different part of the country? Hidden curriculum is taking place. After a quick hotdog and a coke, handshakes and smiles all around, the swimmers are off to the change rooms to get geared up. First race begins in 30 minutes - go! In offloading the kit from the bus some bags have exploded - kit everywhere, a few bags are not on the bus, some of the bags have not got the swimming gear in them. Panic stations! By the time our swimmers are on the starting blocks for the first race, everyone, mostly, has got some form of costume on and goggles with swimming caps swapped back and forth. The spirit, the laughter, the gees as they say in South Africa is through the roof. We win more than we lose and the rugby boys and hockey girls are there, cheering on our swimmers. Goosebumps are the order of the day. 

These character-building moments: the skills grown, the courage displayed, the conversations that develop and genuine connections simply ooze hidden curriculum.

As the final few students are billeted out to the host families for the weekend later that evening, a few tears emerge as they may not be with their absolute BFF, but it has been a long day. The local parents open up their homes splendidly to our kids, reports come back that they have braai’s that evening, some go off to the movies at the local mall, a few sneak into the game park for a short safari and enjoy sundowners on a game vehicle. A lucky few end up playing 9 holes, or a version of it at least as the great African sun begins to set - this is seriously the life! Sign me up, and fast. Twilight - my favourite part of the day. 

The following morning is a pretty slow one, for the teachers anyway. We had enjoyed some wining and dining of the local cuisine. The sun is up, not a cloud in the sky, sunglasses on, fields are freshly marked. The mums who have offered to work on this particular Saturday morning home sports fixture are laying tables with tablecloths, boiling kettles, setting the teacups out, chatting, cutting cakes, and putting out mini sausage rolls. Donning a smile at all times, reporting back on how well mannered our boys and girls are and fixtures were played, well supported by family and friends in the community and the boys and girls whose teams happened not to be playing. Relationships between the two schools were firmed up, cemented even after a long lovely lunch, consisting of all sorts of meat on the many braai’s scattered about and fresh salad and bread for days! 

Other Hidden Curriculum Platforms

Sport and sports tours are of course not the only vehicle driving the hidden curriculum that exists in schools. Schools run pastoral care groups that hold regular meetings and various celebrations, often with students of different ages grouped together. A buddy system or a termly reading partner can be established from this setting, chatting over a shared lunch about life, their favourite Avengers character, or what happened at their dance class last week. Perhaps their most memorable family holiday destination or ask who was their grade 4 teacher they had and share a moment.

These unplanned, slow-moving moments, lulls in conversation, potential awkwardness when pairing up or grouping of students, seeing them mull over whether to make eye contact or embrace in some way. These character-building moments: the skills grown, the courage displayed, the conversations that develop and genuine connections simply ooze hidden curriculum. Programs such as leadership and development, leadership training, and/or servant leadership are other brilliant hidden curriculum avenues that can be explored. There are many more that can be added to this list.