Real and Lasting Positive School Change

Raising the bar and expectations for our students falls on the shoulders of our teachers.  Encouraging, developing, and supporting teachers as they shift the teacher-learner paradigm is built upon a foundation of strong leadership provided by empowered, and empowering, school leaders.


Real and Lasting Positive School Change


There are a couple of catch phrases that seem to creep into my conversations on nearly a daily basis. One is- This is hard work, but good work.  No truer words could be spoken when you reflect on those of our profession who make a dedicated and concerted effort to improve teaching and learning in their schools and classrooms.  The second frequent catchphrase is- Changing teaching and learning does not come with a magic wand.  For Christmas, I actually was gifted a magic wand. Though I love it, it still won’t change school practices with a flick of the wrist.  


The magic comes from the hard work and dedication of our teachers who have joined our efforts to bring personalized learning to our classrooms.  Again the catchphrase- this is hard work, but good work surfaces.  Hard work.  No magic wand.  Because changing teaching and learning requires open mindedness, steadfastness, dedication and most importantly, support.  


Raising the bar and expectations for our students falls on the shoulders of our teachers.  Encouraging, developing, and supporting teachers as they shift the teacher-learner paradigm is built upon a foundation of strong leadership provided by empowered, and empowering, school leaders.


School transformation is truly an all or nothing deal.  If we genuinely want to change teaching and learning in our classrooms, if we want to offer the best educational path for our students via a 21st Century learning environment, and we honestly believe that we can make a difference, then it has to be ALL IN-teachers, school leaders, and district leaders digging into to this work together. It is not about throwing money at a problem. It is not about adding bells and whistles to our instruction. And it is most certainly not about chasing the next-best shiny new initiative. It is about district leaders who empower school leaders to bring innovative practices to their schools. It is about empowered school leaders who understand and embrace the hard working teachers who stand up and say, “I will do this work.”  “I will engage in professional development.” “ I will plan with my team.” “I will share my best practices.” “I will invite those who can support and help me improve my practices into my classroom.”  


What does school transformation look like?  It is so easy to type into a blog post declarative statements like, “District leadership needs to empower school leaders so that in turn, they can support and empower their teachers.”  The tough part comes when you reconstruct that sentence into a question and ponder the answer, “What are the conditions school districts can create that make it possible to empower school leaders to be more effective in leading real, lasting positive change in practices in their schools?”   


In my experience, districts need to have an unwavering vision and a set of policies that send a clear message of the expectations they have for their schools, leaders, teachers, and students.  Students’ high school experiences too often fail to prepare them for postsecondary education or for the rigors of work in an information-based economy (National High School Center, 2008). Wishing to graduate more students from high school prepared for college and career requires a rigorous educational environment. Raise the bar.  Close the gap.  Graduate students with the soft skills they need for success in life and work in the 21st century.


Say what you mean, and mean what you say.  After the ramping up efforts have been put into place, the next phase of implementation is to re-engineer the learning infrastructure (Sturgis, 2016).    Districts need to develop a strategic plan that manifests their vision.  They need to create the conditions necessary for school and teacher leaders to become empowered catalysts for school reform. They need to remove the barriers to innovation- red-tape bureaucracy, top-down decision making, one size fits all professional development, limiting stakeholder involvement, blanket initiatives.  This is not easy to do, nor can it be done overnight.  


The great news in all this, is that it IS happening.  We are seeing districts of all types and sizes making the changes needed to alter the path of their schools and trajectory of their students’ lives.


When district leaders have set change in motion, when their vision and expectations are clear, and when school level supports are in place, then the principal and teachers can begin to engage in the actions needed to implement practices that result in real, lasting positive change for their school and students.  In our cohort schools, empowered school leaders and teachers have implemented a personalized learning model of instruction that demonstrates effective practices that include relevant, rigorous, hands-on learning activities, practices that ensure that every student is connected with short and long-term goals, and an educator who serves as his or her mentor to champion their students in meeting those goals.


Will this all result in the real, lasting positive change we need for our students?  It is too early to tell, but building a system of change on evidence of a strong foundation is a promising sign.  The magic wand is just not included.




National High School Center. (2008, August). Preparing High School Students for Successful Transitions to Postsecondary Education and Employment. Retrieved January 10, 2017, from


Sturgis, C. (2016, December 19). Investing in Student Agency. Retrieved January 15, 2017, from