Five Critical Points for Rethinking School Leadership

Schools are complex places. With that said, it’s imperative for school leadership to negotiate that complexity and constantly seek ways to improve, and meet the needs of students that are about to enter into an even more complex world.

Here are five leadership thoughts to consider as schools start the new year that relate to change and improvement.

  1. Develop a student learning manifesto.  Any real change begins with developing a declaration of what the student learning experience at a school is. This should be more than a mission or vision statement for the school, it should be a manifesto of declarative statements that specifically defines what learners will do. Make the manifesto about learning and students; use that as a foundation for change and a set of drivers for the design of learning and associated programs.
  2. Support the development of a new school language. School improvement begins with a language capable of supporting change.  Engaging in discussions around change is sometimes difficult. Begin developing a language that specifically supports forward thinking by honoring the language of risk taking, creativity, innovative thought, and passion.
  3. Understand the difference between climate and culture.  Immediate changes to a school (going 1:1 for example) are a change to a school’s climate, or immediate landscape. Wise leadership develops strategies for that change to become part of the school’s culture (its beliefs, language, ceremonies, pageants, and stories) over a period of time. Real change is represented by cultural shifts, and not superficial changes to the veneer of school.
  4. Make it yours.  Develop deep insights into the expectations of what your school community wants for their children and design programs around that. Endless visitations to other schools are about making their experience your experience. Develop your own uniqueness that reflect a deep understanding of community wants and needs.
  5. Put it into play. Innovative change means getting things into the hands of teachers and students tomorrow and not in six months.  It doesn’t have to be perfect but it needs to get tested under game conditions and now. Develop a mindset of continual improvement that understands and accepts course corrections as a methodology for success.  Focus on rapid iteration rather than endless pilot experiences and committees.

There are no simple solutions and every school is different.  But a leadership mindset that is focused on developing new stories of student learning and achievement should likewise consider evolving its perspectives on how that is supported and created.


David Jakes is a recognized leader in the educational technology field, David Jakes focuses on the increased need to develop agile, 21st Century, personalized, and digitally-enhanced learning environments.  Based in Chicago, David works with the architectural firm of CannonDesign where he is a Digital Designer and Strategist for The Third Teacher+ and Cannon’s K-12 education practice.  David’s thought leadership encompasses digital storytelling, cloud-based learning environments and their relationship to physical learning spaces, mobile learning, the use and impact of social media in education and how organizations engage in change and improvement.  Before his current position with Cannon, David spent almost three decades in education as a teacher, technologist, administrator, designer and storyteller.  David is a frequent presenter at national and international educational technology conferences where he speaks about the power and promise of a new expedition for learning, and the roles that all educators have in shaping that journey.

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