Leaders from the League of Innovative Schools, a network of the country’s most forward-thinking educators, recently convened in Mentor, Ohio, for the League’s Spring 2017 meeting hosted by Mentor Public Schools. During the meeting, participants visited local schools and examined challenges in equity, leadership, and innovation as they learned each other’s district context, stakeholders, and obstacles. In response to three main questions, they shared best practices around what their districts have done.

1. How do we ensure equitable access to excellent learning opportunities?

In order to ensure equitable access, district leaders engage multiple stakeholders to advance their work. These stakeholders include, but are not limited to, students, teachers, parents, local political leadership, and businesses. League leaders identified funding, local political culture, community consensus, and the skill level of staff being trained in equity as obstacles that remain in their work.

Some districts recommended the following actions:

  • Forming focus groups in the community that include students;
  • Building cultural competency in teachers by offering workshops for staff, recognizing signs of oppression, dismantling racism, and more;
  • Providing students with access to AP and IB classes and free college courses; and
  • Increasing collaboration among all stakeholders and working towards shared goals.

2. How do we lead in a time of change?

District leaders recognize that they must consider the historical, cultural, geographical, economical, and racial context of each district, especially when experiencing a time of transition. These factors influence the rate, path, and process of school district innovation.

District leaders indicated parents, teachers, students, foundations, higher education institutions, community members, school board, and business partners are critical stakeholders to consider, noting the building of trust is key to moving work forward. In order to scale best practices and invite change, it is important to provide training to staff and community members around change management.

Some districts recommended the following actions:

  • Developing a clear vision and culture that supports innovation and accepts failure;
  • Collaborating with other leaders locally and nationally on initiatives;
  • Establishing a trusting and safe environment by over-communicating and staying transparent;
  • Acknowledging, accepting, and respecting fear of change; and
  • Investing in relationships with all stakeholders.

3. How do we sustain a culture of innovation that improves student outcomes we care about?

To sustain a culture of innovation, district leaders work to create a connected community that feels a sense of ownership and pride in its history and culture, while also promoting a perspective shift towards being more global and technology-oriented. This helps districts unite and move forward, together, with a shared vision. It further helps bridge the generation gap in regards to understanding technology and identify students most in need of access to opportunity.Best practices include the following:

Best practices include the following:

  • Engaging stakeholders to work together to overcome funding, sustainability, and political issues;
  • Visiting other schools and districts to see models of excellence across the country;
  • Prioritizing a “culture of innovation” as part of a district strategic plan with metrics that are crowdsourced internally;
  • Providing professional learning opportunities for teachers and encouraging autonomy;
  • Starting innovative efforts on a small scale by piloting initiatives before scaling up; and
  • Building safe spaces that encourage taking risks.

To learn more about our League districts’ work, check out the League district map.


About Greyson Mann

Greyson Mann is the Associate for the League of Innovative Schools.

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