The ABC's of Leading High School Change

The current buzz about XQ Super School Project and efforts to stimulate rethinking high school education is an exciting opportunity for some and for others a hope that this effort will be different. There is no shortage of innovative models of high school, there is a shortage of school communities with a willingness to change. Innovative models have to be coupled with different measures of effectiveness and a different mindset among leaders on how to change this stable institution that we all have a love/hate relationship with. I wrote nearly a decade ago based upon the analysis of practices in some of the most rapidly improving schools. I
crafted the list of common characteristics into the “ABC’s of Leading High School Change. These 26 items form an agenda of titles for high school improvement efforts. Here is link to a copy of the full 26 items. The first three, labeled with the letters A,B and C frame the critical elements of this three pronged approach to high school improvement.

Aspire for Rigor, Relevance and Relationships is a simple phrase to constantly remind educators what the personal behaviors and instructional experiences in should be in school. Regardless of the subject you define, depth of learning you desire or assessments you build, rigor/relevance/relationships will guide to good work.

Begin with the End in Mind is not only an effective instructional planning process, championed by Wiggins and McTighe, it is a challenge to rethink how we measure high school success. As long as parents place a priority on high school getting their son or daughter in the “right” college, schools will not change. As long as student build lasting memories from a school prom rather than a student project, high school will not change. As long a states count students by grade level, fund schools on attendance and rank schools on test scores, high schools will not change. High school change begins at the end, in defining high school success differently.

Consider Schools a Living Biological System challenges school leaders to rethink their mental model about school organizations. Schools are dynamic ecosystems, constantly affective the the community in which they reside. Teaching is not a linear process that can be controlled regardless of the quality of teacher and teaching materials. Leaders need to use mental model that is more like an wildlife expert trying to grow an endangered species or farmer trying to grow a productive crop. Leaders provide the basics, let nature take its course and gently intervene as appropriate.

I am hopeful about the impact of the XQ SuperSchool Project. Perhaps this list of ABC’s adapted from the publication
Leading High School Change resource kit written for the International Center for Leadership in Education. That publication is out of print, but the lessons from rapidly improving schools is still valid.