“What’s it like in other schools? In other districts? In other states?” After eight years in the classroom as a math teacher and another seven as a school leader, I transitioned into a role at Education Elements just over a year ago in part because I wanted answers to those questions. The field of education has that head-down, just-keep-digging quality to it, where we’re so far down in our trenches that it often feels impossible to pause, lift one’s head, and get a sense of the landscape. I wanted to see what factors were supporting successful innovation, reform, outside-the-box thinking, and school change around the country, even if doing so meant leaving a school I loved and had helped build. A year in, I’ve worked directly with teams from close to a hundred schools and visited dozens of their campuses. In just 12 months I’ve collaborated with ten districts in six states. I certainly can’t pretend to have anywhere near a complete picture or complete answer, but as I think about what drives successful future-focused education, some factors are abundantly clear. The districts and teams I’ve seen doing it well seem to have certain approaches in common.
Sometimes, the really thought-provoking stuff just lands in your lap...or in the seat next to you. On a recent flight, I was lucky enough to sit next to an employee of one of the major airlines, who shared anecdotes about the culture change she experienced after the airline she worked for was acquired by another carrier. The most compelling anecdote she shared: the “49-Degree Rule”. Apparently, the airline she’d originally worked for had been very focused on the notion of employee autonomy and empowerment, but the acquisition came with a host of new rules and policies, including one that said employees were only permitted to wear their jackets at work when the ambient temperature was at or below 49° Fahrenheit. What??!!
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“Working with consultants isn’t cheap - how do we know if it’s what we need?” We hear that one a lot as we talk to districts considering whether they should hire a consultant to help them personalize learning in their schools. There’s no right or wrong answer as to whether you should seek support or go it alone, but there are some questions that are worth thinking about as you consider your path.
What’s the most meaningful thing a district can do to support innovation in its schools? When my colleagues and I at Education Elements work with schools and districts, our approach to innovation and change involves a framework of 25 key factors, all of which are important. In the past year, though, we’ve been thinking a great deal about one of these – “roles to support teachers” – and the tremendous impact it has on innovation. Specifically, we’ve come to believe that there is a certain kind of innovative leadership, a set of skills and a way of thinking about innovation, that can enable district leaders, instructional coaches, school leaders, and teacher-leaders to have a transformative impact on their schools through the way they support teachers. We believe that one of the single most impactful efforts a district can undertake is to help their district leaders, school leaders, instructional coaches, and teacher-leaders learn to practice this kind of innovative leadership.