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A New Perspective To Lead in the After–COVID-19 Stage: Excellence and Innovation

For the past three academic years, the education sector has encountered the pernicious task of mitigating the ramifications of COVID-19. Every tenet from operational systems, models of instruction, and equity have been challenged within 27 months of the During–COVID-19 Stage (DC Stage). As most were operationalizing in the present—being forward focused—in my role as a Superintendent and as a Future Ready Schools® advisor, I was underscoring a lens of polarity by being forward focused and future focused. One cannot argue the collective mindset with navigating the nuances of a global pandemic, but there is an opportunity to change the standardization of our model—a leadership chasm to challenge the gross disparities among various racial subgroups.

After deeply analyzing our collective experiences in the context of facilitating bold transformation in the DC Stage, I reference the global debate between evolution being a law or theory. As theoreticians and scientists continue this intellectual banter, we must acknowledge that evolution, change, and adaption is an inevitable in this new economic demand. Decreasing the spurious variability in outcomes will be a macro-organizational lift in the context of designing a bimodal model that is digitally integrated and personalized for excellence. To prepare our schools to be future ready, this needed comprehensive continuous improvement cycle will require a new leadership mindset that is framed with using science to leverage culture and strategy in any learning organization.

Legislation and Reform Efforts

There have been many education reform efforts in the Before–COVID-19 Stage (BC-Stage) to elicit a national movement regarding “school change.” A Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top were examples of legislative policies that explicitly supported the efforts to improve education, specifically in the area of literacy. Moreover, in-depth questions regarding “academic return on investment” or a hyper-perseveration on increased standardized assessment benchmarks became the constant in many federal/state level discussions. Decades of new reform ideas de jour coupled with improving efficiency within academic models has led to education stakeholders and policymakers questioning the impact of their value propositions.

After serving on the National American Rescue Plan Committee and Learning 2025 National Commission, questions continue to persist amongst leaders in our ecosystem such as, What does academic recovery look like in our classrooms in a post-pandemic era? Can creativity be the advanced strategy to mitigate unfinished learning? How do we innovate learning organizations to design universal student-centric models that are modular?

With the new federal allocation of monies from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, how do we move from sustained innovation to a discontinuous model that integrates advanced digital technologies? How do we define innovation and excellence at our organization? These are all great questions as there will be ambiguity with COVID-19 and education in the 2022–23 academic year. The meta-theme: now is the time to be bold for new growth opportunities.

Innovation and Excellence in the AC Stage

Defining innovation should be abstract to solving core problems in your learning organization. Thus, innovation is a process of taking an idea from its conceptual stage to impact in a scaled manner. To simplify in granular detail, innovation is thought to power. We know the future of work will be adaptive, ambiguous, and anticipatory. Throughout the pandemic, our education ecosystem became “agile” and “lean” using scientific methods for collective decisionmaking. There was an emphasis on standardizing education but an intentional focus on shifting a model to be whole-community and student-centric.

Building on key foundational elements and continuing the shift we experienced in the DC Stage, the Disruptive Excellence Framework is a conceptual model that invites a process to challenge the current industrial education phenomena. We immersed ourselves during the pandemic with mining the gap with an important evolution—how technology can serve as an underpinning to advance creativity for excellence. Creating a parallel lever in this new education paradigm—After COVID-19 Stage (AC Stage)—will require innovators to investigate with intentionality utilizing the framework in practice. Because of the novelty with the implications of the post-pandemic era in education, the new baseline of advanced leadership practices are grounded in the all the elements within the strategic model (i.e., design, experimentation, and prototyping). The Disruptive Excellence Frameworkexplicitly addresses cultural competence for systems change, as well as the structured process to creatively change the historical structures that has systemically created achievement gaps for many decades.

Urgency for Disruption and Equity

This seismic change in the context of organizational thinking in the AC Stage will require time, urgency, and a steadfast commitment to building capacity. Experimentation for acceleration has to become the new grounded thread of leadership, which the Disruptive Excellence Framework presents the anthesis of the standardization. It is imperative we cannot return to practices that created equity gaps and educational disparities among historically marginalized groups. Shifting back to the old will perpetuate mediocrity, which is an elevation of the status quo. The time to be bold for Generations Z and Alpha is now. Being a change agent will create opposition, but to achieve excellence and innovation for all, one must be willing to create “good trouble” using the Disruptive Excellent Framework as a guidepost for change.

Michael T. Conner, EdD, is the creator of the Disruptive Excellence Framework and serves as a national Future Ready Schools advisor. Connect with him on Twitter @DocConner13.