How Schools Will Thrive in the Education Revolution 

After decades of hoping the problem would go away, educators — from the classroom, to school sites, to the district boardroom — finally understand that we are living in a very rapidly changing world. And they are starting to realize that schools that transform to help students and teachers embrace the challenges and opportunities of this new reality will thrive, while those that do not risk becoming increasingly irrelevant.   

This is not the hand many educators would have chosen, but it is the hand we have been dealt. As I describe in my new book, THRIVE: How Schools Will Win the Education Revolutionwe exist in a time of consumer-driven economies. Families have a radically greater number of options for their children’s education than they had just two decades ago. In this environment, your school needs a powerful value proposition that shouts to families, “Pick us!” from all of the options they have. Schools that become what marketing guru Seth Godin calls “irresistible,” which increase their value proposition over time, will have a greater chance of survival; those that fail to boost their perceived value will risk losing students and, potentially, closing their doors.   

Is that an overly grim view of the future? I don’t think so. Just last week I spoke at an event with more than 100 public school superintendents from a wide range of districts, and most were nodding in agreement with the basic premise of these increasingly competitive times. District-wide choice, crossdistrict enrollment, the rise of charters, and the explosion of new, hybrid, virtual learning options are all challenging both public and private schools to re-focus on the lifeblood of their schools: enrollment demand. 

The challenge facing educators today is simply this: how do we find the sweet spot in the overlapping Venn diagram of “what government standards require, how students learn best,” and “what our customers really want”? 

All schools must meet some standards of learning. And we are seeing significant convergence around a post-industrial age model of learning that is more student-centric, differentiated by learning strengths and student interests, and focused more on inquiry and critical thinking than on content delivery and regurgitation. Those two circles of the Venn diagram are increasingly in focus. I have had the privilege to visit and work with nearly 200 school communities in the last seven years and, at a very high level, stakeholders across wide ranges of income, geography, and school type are shouting that they want and need the kind of learning that will engage students, excite them about the learning process, and give them both the content knowledge and skills to succeed in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, and complex.   

The problem now is not “why” schools should change or even “what” that transformed school will look like at the classroom level. The problem for school leaders is “how” we get there in a way that is both effective and sustainable. To answer this question, we have to deeply learn what our community of stakeholders truly values, and then ensure that we are both promising and delivering on a strong user-centric value proposition. 

Can your entire school or district intentionally make this transition and hit that sweet spot, or is this something that only happens slowly, organically, one classroom at a time? In THRIVE, I lay out three, powerful meta-pathways that can lead to rapid, sustainable change across the entire school system.   

3 Pathways that Lead to Sustainable System Change 
  1. ALIGN YOUR SCHOOL VISION WITH WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE CLASSROOM
    The first pathway is to understand and align your school vision with what actually happens in the classroom. If you say you are going to create a more engaging, relevant, student-centric learning environment, then your strategies and implementation tactics have to align, not in one classroom, but in many classrooms.  You have to deliver on your promises. 
  2. ADAPT SUCCESFUL MODELS FROM OTHER INDUSTRIES FOR YOUR SCHOOL CONTEXT
    The second avenue for sustainable change is to borrow methods that are proven to work. We already have a set of time-tested tools that can accelerate school or district-wide change. These are practices that have proven successful in diverse organizations outside of education for decades; we just have to adapt them to the language, routines, and special considerations that make schools different from other organizations. 
  3. ENGAGE WITH YOUR COMMUNITY AND PROVIDE FOR ITS NEEDS
    The third pathway is to deeply engage with the individuals in your community, to ask what is important to them, what job your school is being “hired” to do, and then measure progress towards satisfying those needs and aspirations over time.  This does not mean we get rid of measures like test scores and graduation rates; it means that those traditional metrics do not fully measure what we and our customers value in a K-12 education.  We expand our community engagement tool kit. 

Education has undergone the most profound period of evolution in the last 150 years.  In times of evolution, some individuals and species die out and others survive and thrive. We don’t want good schools to close, but in a time of increasing school options, decreasing birthrates, and the movement of population due to economic driverssome schools will thrive while others will not. We know how to meet this challenge. In THRIVE I share pretty much all that I have learned in the last seven years, including a long reference list of schools that are rapidly evolving today, and detailed playbook of most of the hands-on activities that I have developed or borrowed to help school teams find and build a culture of growth and innovation.  

In my opinion, schools that boldly embrace this changing, evolving landscape, that find the sweet spot of standards, great learning, and demand, are much more likely to be healthy and thriving in the years to come. The great news is that there has been a radical increase in the number, distribution, and variety of schools that are already making these changes that will allow them to nimbly and dynamically engage the steep change curves of the future. You don’t have to invent any wheels of “how” to change your school or district; the models are already spread around the country and around the world. We know how to get there; it is up to you to join the march. 

Written by

Grant Lichtman is an internationally recognized thought leader in the drive to transform K-12 education. Based on two decades of work as a senior administrator, teacher, and trustee in K-12 education, he speaks, writes, and works with school and community teams to build capacity and comfort with innovation in response to a rapidly changing world. He shares his numerous articles, speeches, and resources at www.grantlichtman.com, and is the author of four books: Thrive: How Schools Will Win the Education Revolution; Moving the Rock: Seven Levers WE Can Press to Transform Education; #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, and The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School.

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