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Lift and lead

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

By Learning Forward
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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Authors

Andrea K. Rorrer, Janice Bradley, and Cori Groth

Andrea K. Rorrer (andrea.rorrer@utah.edu) 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 (janice.bradley@utah.edu) is assistant director and Cori Groth (cori.groth@utah.edu) 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.

References

Adams, L. (n.d.). Learning a new skill is easier said than done. Gordon Training International. Available at www.gordontraining.com/free-workplace-articles/learning-a-new-skill-is-easier-said-than-done.

Benjamin, B., Yeager, A., & Simon, A. (2012). Conversation transformation: Recognize and overcome the 6 most destructive communication patterns. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Professional.

The Center on School Turnaround. (2017). Four domains for rapid school improvement: A systems framework. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.

Cheetham, G. & Chivers, G. (1996). Towards a holistic model of professional competence. Journal of European Industrial Training, 20(5), 20-30.

Gordon, K. (1995). The self-concept and motivational patterns of resilient African American high school students. Journal of Black Psychology, 21, 239-255.

Johnson Jr., J.F., Uline, C.L., & Perez, L.G. (2017). Leadership in America’s best urban schools. New York, NY: Routledge.

Learning Forward. (2011). Standards for Professional Learning. Oxford, OH: Author.

London, M. (1997). Overcoming career barriers: A model of cognitive and emotional processes for realistic appraisal and constructive coping. Journal of Career Development, 24(1), 25-38

Park, V., Daly, A., & Guerra, A.W. (2012). Strategic framing: How leaders craft the meaning of data use for equity and learning. Educational Policy, 27(4), 645-675.

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.

Simon, A. & Agazarian, Y. (2000). The system for analyzing verbal interaction. In A.P. Beck & C.M. Lewis (Eds.), The process of group psychotherapy: Systems for analyzing change (pp. 357-380). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.


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Learning Forward is the only professional association devoted exclusively to those who work in educator professional development. We help our members plan, implement, and measure high-quality professional learning so they can achieve success with their systems, schools, and students.


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