Beneath the iceberg

In a recent TEDx talk I was fortunate enough to deliver, I suggested how there are two curricula at play in every school, every day:

  1. A visible, fixed curriculum made up of subjects, driven by the National Curriculum, and planned, taught and assessed by teachers.
  2. An invisible, dynamic curriculum made up of attitudes, behaviours and capacities, driven by a school’s culture and modelled by teachers.

Where the visible curriculum requires proficiency in knowledge retention, reasoning, applied logic and computational capacity, the invisible curriculum asks for instinct, intuition, inquiry and creativity. Where the visible curriculum delivers important but largely abstract, propositional knowledge and learned proficiencies, the invisible curriculum delivers experiential, tacit knowledge gained through our sensory experiences and social encounters.

Though we spend many hours planning, teaching and assessing the visible curriculum, it remains abstract for many primary children; it is the invisible curriculum that is real and it is influenced by children’s emotional state. As Eric Jensen says, how we feel is what’s real, it’s the link to what we think.’ if the visible curriculum delivers academic outcomes, the invisible curriculum delivers attitudes, behaviours and skills for life.

So what is driving the invisible curriculum? Or does it just ‘happen’ by virtue of multiple humans working, playing and learning together? Can it be codified? Designed?

It is driven by a school’s culture, the shared beliefs, values and customs that shape students’ emerging views of the world. And culture happens in school whether you like it, or know it, or not. Leaders are the cultural architects of their schools and teachers are the cultural architects of their classrooms.

Enough words already! Here is a graphic that I hope illustrates how the curriculum landscape and the cultural climate of a school co-exist. Both are essential elements in education, but currently one receives more attention than the other. Could this change?

View the TEDx talk here

Screen Shot 2019-04-15 at 15.24.47


4 thoughts on “Beneath the iceberg”

  1. I didn’t watch the video yet, but I get the sense that a lot of the invisible revolves around emotional intelligence. And I sense there is a move towards more balance in that regard – in the wider society at least. How effectively that’s filtering down to kids is another question.

    Talk about the invisible curriculum reminded me – this being Autism Awareness Month… that it’s something that autistic children struggle with because of their developmental differences.


  2. Does it stretch the metaphor too far to point out that there is always a certain proportion of the iceberg above the water line; therefore increasing the size of the iceberg by adding to the cultural elements will naturally push through into curriculum?


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