Lift and lead

What it takes to thrive as a leader of a turnaround school

By Andrea Rorrer, Janice Bradley and Cori Groth
Categories: Change management, Learning designs, School leadership, Standards for Professional Learning
October 2019
Vol. 40, No. 5
Leaders in turnaround schools have unique professional learning prospects and needs. The demands and scrutiny in turnaround schools may be more intense than in other schools, as the changes necessary to improve often require attention to and interrogation of many factors, including current leadership, teaching, and learning methods. Consequently, our work with leaders in turnaround schools has revealed the need for greater attention to the conscious development of resilience. The Leadership and Inquiry for Turnaround (LIFT) initiative in Utah supports turnaround leaders’ development and builds resilience and capacity of school leadership teams to thrive and lead their schools to improvement, even in the face of major challenges and adversity. Here is how professional learning can help mitigate the challenges of leading in a turnaround school

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Andrea K. Rorrer, Janice Bradley, and Cori Groth

Andrea K. Rorrer ( is associate dean in the College of Education at the University of Utah, director of the Utah Education Policy Center, and professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy. Janice Bradley ( is assistant director and Cori Groth ( is associate director at the Utah Education Policy Center.

About LIFT

To date, LIFT has been funded by the Utah State Board of Education, initially through enactment of legislation in 2015 that identified schools whose performance was in the bottom 3% according to the state’s accountability system. These schools were given up to three years to improve student performance.

The first cohort of 26 turnaround schools was identified in fall 2015 and included both charters and traditional public schools. Many of these schools were previously or simultaneously identified as Title I priority or focus schools, as part of existing federal accountability policies.

Five additional school cohorts were identified in 2017 and eight more in 2019. All schools identified as turnaround are invited to participate in LIFT.

LIFT uses continuous planning, self-assessments, and improvement cycles, promotes active learning and engagement with models, and builds collective responsibility. LIFT’s professional learning design is:

  • Grounded in systems theory;
  • Research-based and data-informed;
  • Adult learning-centered and need-based;
  • Focused on learning community;
  • Collaboratively planned;
  • Job-embedded;
  • Scaffolded and sustained; and
  • Aligned to professional learning, leader, and educator standards.


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Park, V., Groth, C., Bradley, J., & Rorrer, A. (2018). Reclaiming turnaround for democratic schooling: Leadership moves to build capacity for teaching and learning. In C. Meyers & M. Darwin (Eds.), International perspectives on leading low-performing schools. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

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Andrea rorrer
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Andrea Rorrer ( is director at UEPC at the University of Utah.

Janice bradley
+ posts

Janice Bradley ( is chair of the Learning Forward Foundation and assistant director, professional learning at the Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah.

Olympus digital camera
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Cori Groth ( is associate director at UEPC at the University of Utah.

Categories: Change management, Learning designs, School leadership, Standards for Professional Learning

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