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What School Leaders Need to Drive Change in Schools


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—are trying something different.

Valor Collegiate Academies in Nashville, Tennessee, is championing a social-emotional curriculum centered around 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 took place within the past six years. Lincoln West in Cleveland, Ohio, a large comprehensive school, is being redesigned into a School of Global Studies (where students engage in model UN activities) and Lincoln-West 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 are needed? What should be tucked into a school leader’s “virtual backpack” before they begin programs that deliver compelling and relevant education for all students? These ideas and more will be explored at the 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 just landed on the school’s front steps and no one knows what to do with them.

Thoughtful school leaders are frequently motivated by experiences they see students having in school. Such reasons contribute to a “vision,” i.e., 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 would like to wind up.

A host of organizations aim to help school leaders define where they want to lead their school communities. Future Ready Schools®, for instance, offers a set of resources for school leaders embarking on the path to personalized learning. Leap Innovations in Chicago has a four-point framework that focuses entirely on learners. NewSchools Venture Fund provides support and funding to school leaders who are doing school redesign.

  1. 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 is known and how it gets implemented in school. For instance, its research map connects topics such as student motivation to published research frameworks and results.

  1. 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, several organizations are developing approaches and protocols to managing these issues, including the Ed-Fi Alliance, which brings different data and IT systems together in meaningful ways.

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

Laying out the most effective programs—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.

  1. A learning community.

Those four pillars—vision, research, implementation, and evidence—are at the heart of the Fusion Conference cohosted by EdSurge and Digital Promise, on November 1–3 in South San Francisco. They are tapping more than a dozen of the leading organizations in these areas and inviting education leaders from around the United States to engage in vibrant conversation around how they are building schools of the future.

School will never be the same.

Apply for an invitation to attend the Fusion conference here.


 About Betsy Corcoran

Elizabeth “Betsy” Corcoran is co-founder and CEO of EdSurge , an award-winning news and information source on education technology. EdSurge delivers weekly newsletters for educators and entrepreneurs, as well as the industry’s most comprehensive index of edtech products. Follow Betsy on Twitter at @betsy_.