25 Years, 552 Model Schools, 100,000+ Educators: What Have We Learned?

What are the secrets behind the fastest-improving schools? How has education evolved since you started helping to transform schools? These are some of the questions I’m often asked with the approach of the 25th Annual Model Schools Conference in June 2017.

A larger question I’d like to address is, What best practices have you learned from working with thousands of school leaders and educators? In sharing these collective best practices, I hope to inspire more districts to embark on the journey to transformation.

What hasn’t changed?

Let me start by saying that my basic belief hasn’t changed: All children can learn. They all learn differently and at different rates, have different learning styles and aptitudes. It is because of these learning differences that ICLE promotes a “growth model” that asks educators to stretch each child as far as possible rather than a “proficiency model” that ranks students based on a state test. Our framework continues to help educators across the country promote the development of complex, real-world problem-solving skills.

What has changed?

In the last decade, technology has enhanced and varied education delivery systems, allowing for more personalized and individualized instruction. And with new teaching and learning standards and accountabilities, teachers are facing bigger challenges than ever before both to meet the needs of diverse learners and to spark creativity and innovation—skills that are essential for success.

What must change to prepare students for today’s world?

  • We cannot simply prepare students for the next grade level; we must start preparing students for careers and life beyond school.
  • In most schools, the emphasis on literacy is primarily in the ELA curriculum, but demands in the workplace require that we make literacy an interdisciplinary focus. Today’s workforce needs to be able to interpret and comprehend technical content; analyze data, charts, and graphs; and read nonfiction material at higher Lexile levels than most are prepared for.
  • Educators today are regulated, certified, tenured, and contracted to meet the needs of the 20th century, but today’s students have lived their whole lives in the 21st century. It’s important that we move education into this century immediately.

How do we change an entrenched system?

Teamwork is vital to the school improvement process

There is not one model for change because each school has its own DNA. However, leaders of Model Schools have embraced and fostered a culture of change that supports innovation and the freedom to think beyond “the way we’ve always done it.” Working with these pioneering education leaders for 25 years has given us an invaluable collection of best practices. Here is a sampling of strategies that have helped to transform their districts:

  • Start with the why. It’s important to cultivate a shared vision of your desired outcome before determining what and how to change.
  • Tell your story. Promote your envisioned outcome internally and community-wide. Teamwork is vital to the school improvement process.
  • Be bold. Develop an action plan based on what your students need now and in the future—not on what you’ve done in the past.
  • Lead with relationships. Implement strategies to strengthen engagement among leaders, teachers, students, and families to optimize learning.

Each June, 5000+ educators come together at the Model Schools Conference to learn about these effective strategies and develop an action plan for change. The participants come with different challenges, but focus on the same future-focused question: What do our children need to know and accomplish to be successful in the 21st century?

I invite you to explore your answers to this question at the 25th Annual Model Schools Conference on June 25, 2017!