Professional Learning

The Ripple Effect: Small Changes Can Have a Big Impact on Your District

4 Min Read

Photo: Dr. Bill Daggett takes the stage for his keynote speech at MSC 2018.

School transformation can be daunting. Sometimes all it takes is one small change to create a ripple effect that will make all the difference. Professional learning opportunities can help lead you to those initial steps to maximize student achievement and achieve your larger goals.

Each June, my colleagues at the International Center for Leadership in Education and I welcome 5,000+ educators to the Model Schools Conference (MSC). For 27 years, we have showcased Model Schools—as well as Innovative Districts—that are seeing rapid improvement and transformation in student learning. MSC uses a peer-to-peer learning model that offers proven strategies and best practices, data that shows sustainable growth, and tools to help you replicate the outcomes.

This year, educators can Act for Impact at the 2019 Model Schools Conference and start a journey that will lead to growth for students. It’s a vibrant community of fellow educators who instinctively know that small changes can lead to big impact.

Vincent Van Gogh one said that, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” This holds true for many of our models of rapid improvement.

East Middle School in Rapid City, S.D., a 2018 Model School 

In East Middle School, teachers collected and used student data daily to provide a snapshot of students’ academic strengths, needs, patterns in behavior, and attendance. However, it wasn’t until they made a small shift to focusing on data at the building level that their instructional strategies, differentiation, and content pacing started to make a discernable impact. 

Now, teams of teachers, rather than individual teachers, work together to analyze data, resulting in more meaningful conversations around individual students and their achievement. They effectively leverage data to identify, respond to, and monitor student needs; implement effective strategies schoolwide; and facilitate more rigorous and relevant instruction. With a focus on sixth grade and ensuring a successful transition to middle school, East Middle School is seeing growth, especially in math.

On the Smarter Balanced assessment, sixth grade students were at 22 percent proficiency. Those same students jumped to 54 percent proficient as eighth graders. Subsequent cohorts are continuing this upward trend.

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The team from East Middle School at the 2018 Model Schools Conference in Orlando, Florida.
Point Coupee Public Schools in Louisiana, a 2018 Innovative District

This Louisiana district had been plagued for years by low pay, subpar performance, and poor public perception. But in 2015, new leadership set in motion a strategic plan to “Go ROGUE,” which stands for Raising Our Goals and Uniting Everyone.

While improving schools, transforming the culture districtwide, and gaining community support is an ambitious agenda, a series of small things—like leveraging social media, creating a marketing plan, and better supporting teachers—began to shift the culture. With a transformed perception and newfound support, the district was able to streamline and personalize professional development and inspire teachers and leaders to work smarter with technology to increase student learning.

This transformation put the district on the fast track to success. In 2018, Point Coupee was one of only seven districts in the state to show growth on the third- to eighth-grade state assessment and experienced the second highest growth in the state. Stakeholders are now praising schools, student performance continues to rapidly improve, and initiatives such as opening a STEM magnet academy and implementing a K–2 foreign language immersion program are coming to fruition.

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Educators from Point Coupee Public Schools at the 26th Annual Model Schools Conference in 2018.

That’s why I encourage you to Act for Impact. Taking a small step can have a great ripple effect on your students.

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


Are you a school that’s made a big impact through a series of small changes? Want to share your story? Apply to present at the 2019 Model Schools Conference, on June 23–26, in Washington, D.C., by Nov. 15, 2018. The conference includes featured speakers with expertise on topics such as equity, social-emotional skills, instructional excellence, blended learning, and more.

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