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What school leaders need to drive change in schools

By Betsy Corcoran
October 10, 2017
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The Innovator Solutions section includes contributions from corporate sponsors and advertisers representing education organizations, businesses, policy-making bodies and other influencers dedicated to transforming education. This post was provided by EdSurge

School is changing.

Forget about those sepia images of rows of battered desks, like weary sentries, facing a dusty chalkboard. Over the past decade, thousands of U.S. public schools traditional and charter, from elementary through high school have begun trying something different.

Valor Collegiate Academies in Nashville, Tennessee, is championing a social-emotional curriculum centered on students demonstrating mastery of skills. Students have personalized playlists; teachers are guides.

In Iowa, 220 school districts (of a total of 357) now offer 1-to-1 technology-to-student programs a change that has taken place in the past six years.

Lincoln West in Cleveland, a large comprehensive school, is being redesigned into a School of Global Studies (where students engage in model UN activities) and School of Science & Health, which has a close partnership with MetroHealth hospital.

For those who have the courage to explore a new path, what tools do you need? What should be tucked into a school leaders’ “virtual backpack” before they begin programs aimed at delivering compelling and relevant education for all their students? Here are four things

We will explore these ideas at our EdSurge Fusion Conference on Personalized Learning in November.

1. A vision … without technology

The worst reason for change, school leaders agree, is because a pallet-full of computers has just landed on the school’s front steps and no one knows what to do with them.  

Thoughtful school leaders are frequently motivated by the experiences they see students having in school. Such reasons contribute to “vision,” a model of teaching and learning that is personalized and supports students variability and agency.

Before school leaders embark on a campaign to change their schools, they need a well-articulated reason for taking their journey and an idea of where they’d like to wind up.

A host of organizations aim to help school leaders define where they want to lead their school communities. Future Ready, for instance, offers a set of resources for school leaders just embarking on the path to personalized learning.

Leap Innovations in Chicago has a four-point framework focused entirely on learners. NewSchools Venture Fund provides support and funding to school leaders who are doing school redesign.

2. A decision making process backed by research

Informing and feeding that vision should be deep knowledge ideally research findings about how students learn, what shapes their readiness to learn and how those principles can be applied in tools to support learning.

Digital Promise has devoted significant resources to showing the links between what we know and how it gets implemented in school. For instance, its research map connects topics, such as student motivation, to published research frameworks and results.

3. A plan for implementation

Putting the best laid plans into action, however, is still challenging. From student privacy and data management concerns, to the challenge of making software tools work well or interoperate, a number of organizations have been developing approaches and protocols to managing these issues, including the Ed-Fi Alliance, which aims to bring different data and IT systems together in meaningful ways.

4. A keen eye for the efficacy of your chosen initiatives

Laying out just what programs are most effective and why is another cornerstone of real change. This past spring, the Jefferson Education Accelerator convened researchers to discuss the most promising directions for laying out the efficacy of education technology and the corresponding teaching models.

These four pillars  vision, research, implementation and evidence — are at the heart of effective school change. 

Elizabeth “Betsy” Corcoran is co-founder and CEO of EdSurge, an award-winning news and information source on education technology. She was previously executive editor for technology coverage at Forbes magazine and She's written on subjects from robotics to engineers jump-starting their careers.