Professional Learning

Finding the Courage to Lead as an Educator

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Photo: Dr. Bill Daggett during a keynote address at the Model Schools Conference.

I can safely say that the common attributes of effective and impactful educators make for a long list, but of all of these qualities, courage is among those I would rank highest—and for good reason.

In the course of my work with school and district leaders across the country, I’ve had countless conversations about how to overcome any number of obstacles that stand in the way of student success. Many of these discussions have addressed similar and familiar struggles, but no two were exactly the same, owing to the unique composition of each district’s DNA—its culture, its history, its people.

What I’ve seen as a constant element, however, in working through solutions to some of the most endemic problems facing districts is the concerted fortitude and persistence required of all educators in the system—from boardroom to classroom—to tackle these challenges, and to willingly confront the fears and discomforts of change for the benefit of their kids.

Simply put, it takes courage to lead well and do what’s best for students.

Every year, as my colleagues at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) and I plan our annual Model Schools Conference (MSC), we establish a theme for the event to add context and focus to these four days of intensive and collaborative professional learning. We want the theme not only to inspire but also to provide a lens through which the 5,000+ leaders and teachers in attendance can view their participation and shape their experience.

Model Schools Conference 2019
Educators at the 2019 Model Schools Conference.

Connect with Courage

I’m pleased to announce, then, that the theme for our upcoming June 2020 conference is Connect with Courage—a fitting phrase to describe the strength of conviction and applied sense of purpose needed to drive meaningful, long-term improvements in our schools. But in order to tap into this requisite courage, we need to search ourselves and dig deep, because the road ahead is long.

I’m reminded of the closing keynote at the 2019 MSC delivered by author Simon Sinek. In his powerful speech, he underscored that there is no “winning” in education because educators are players in an infinite game, much like the world of business or even relationships. If not winning, our goal is constant improvement—how to make the culture of our school stronger than it was last year; how to leave our classrooms better than when we found them; how to continually better ourselves for the benefit of others.

But it’s incredibly hard work to lead effectively in the infinite game of education and to put our just cause of preparing students for their futures ahead of the pressures of short-term metrics—from test scores to professional benchmarks and expectations—that often cloud our greater purpose. And that’s why Simon emphasized as his closing point that to effectively operate within our world of education, we must have the courage to lead.


In the coming weeks, we will announce the full list of Model Schools and Innovative Districts that we will proudly showcase at MSC next June, but for now I’d like to share—and to congratulate—the following schools and districts that have been accepted early to this prestigious and exemplary group. They have displayed the tenacity and resolve in bringing significant improvements to those in their charge. They are:

  • Belleview Santos Elementary School, Belleview, Florida—2020 Model School
  • Chastain Road Elementary School, Liberty, South Carolina—2020 Model School
  • Alexandria Middle Magnet School, Alexandria, Louisiana—2020 Model School
  • Wilder School District, Wilder, Idaho—2020 Innovative District

These organizations truly represent courage in action, whether through the innovative approaches at Wilder School District to empower student self-ownership of learning; Alexandria Middle Magnet School’s successes in dramatically reshaping school culture and leveraging Data Team PLCs to shed at-risk status in a two-year timeframe; the journey of growth for Belleview Santos Elementary School by building instructional leadership capacity while implementing the Rigor/Relevance Framework; and the community-minded initiatives at Chastain Road Elementary to improve access and opportunity for all students.

I look forward to sharing more about our 2020 selections in the coming weeks and invite you to join us in Orlando, Florida. You can learn firsthand from our Model Schools and Innovative Districts about how their courageous successes can be replicated in your district or school to move the needle on student learning.

Visit the MSC website for more information about the conference details. More information will be posted about the Model Schools and Innovative Districts as it becomes available.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Join us for the 30th Annual Model Schools Conference in Orlando, FL from June 2629, 2022. Now a hybrid event, MSC is extending and enhancing beyond convention center ballrooms and across the world.

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