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Leading for Tomorrow: A Call for Course Correction in Schools

Dr. Philip Lanoue

Change. We talk about it in schools every day. As educators, we are locked in a constant struggle to improve for all students. That’s a good thing. But there’s a problem with change: We have a tendency to focus only on what’s directly in front of us, often based solely on our own experiences.

As a former school district superintendent and school building principal, I know the feeling. With so much to think about in the day-to-day operations of running a school—or a district, for that matter—the prospect of big, complex, and downright scary change can seem overwhelming.

But we can’t let that stop us. Big change is what’s needed in our schools. And it starts at the top—with school and district leaders who are committed to embracing the transformational work of school improvement, both inside and outside classroom walls.

Course Correction is a new monthly column on school leadership. It was created to provide you with a safe space for the kind of contemporary, tradition-breaking thinking that is required to change the learning landscape for ALL students. It is our hope that we can support you in a move beyond stale education rhetoric to the bold decisions and actions required to prepare all students for the world in which they will live and work.

We hope you enjoy this first installment—and that you’ll check back once each month for new ideas and practical advice.Dr. Philip Lanoue

Many years ago a colleague told me that there soon will be a time when we can no longer predict the future based on the events of the past. For public schools, that time has arrived.

As educators, we find ourselves at a crossroads, where past instructional designs no longer offer a roadmap for creating learning cultures of the future. Our students need learning tools and learning environments that are in sync with their personal desires and abilities to access education in new ways.

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To make this happen, school leaders must intensely reflect on their own core beliefs. What does it mean to educate students in technology-rich and content-rich classrooms and schools? The answer necessitates a change in the conversation—one that puts our children and young adults at the center of their own learning experiences, and gives them access to the tools and resources they need to take the reins of their academic future. All of this needs not to be scripted, but supported by a corps of thinkers, designers, and well-prepared leaders, from the classroom to the superintendent.

So, where do we start start?

First we need to understand and embrace the reality that schools need to change. I’m not talking about the kind of change that simply aims to help students perform better on standardized tests.

For too long, we’ve asked this question:

How do I lead the charge to improve student test scores and school ratings?

It’s no secret by now: This line of thinking does not and will not yield the creation of equitable educational environments for all students.

Rather, a better question, one that embodies the core of what we need to do, is:

How do I lead a complete instructional and cultural transformation in my schools and community–one that designs opportunities to meet the personal learning needs of all students and capitalizes on their own unique talents and interests?

As school leaders, we must be prepared to embrace fundamental changes in how we think and work. An excellent resource for this is Education Reimagined: A Transformational Vision for Education in the U.S., from the nonprofit Convergence. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

Here’s an excerpt:

SIMPLY PUT,the current system was designed in a different era and structured for a different society. Our economy, society, and polity are increasingly at risk from an educational system that does not consistently prepare all children to succeed as adults and is least effective for the children facing the greatest social and economic challenges.

This chart, also from the Convergence report, highlights what’s needed to move from a “school-centric” to a “learner-centric environment.”

Learner Centered Paradigm school leadership

As you contemplate the need for change, here are two more questions to consider:

What conversations are you engaged in about school redesign? Will your schools look the same or different in the years to come?

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