How to Achieve Systems Change: Action Steps

In education reform innovation is identified as a key driver of systems change. We discuss ways to grow leaders who have a different way of schooling.

Written By dwalker

On October 14, 2014

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While my colleagues and I were planning CTL’s 20th Anniversary Education Forum and Celebration, we recognized that the three themes central to inventing the next 20 years of education—equity, innovation and systems change—were not separate but rather interrelated. Systems Change This recognition emerged from the table discussions held at the September 9th event, as the graphic recording by Sara Thompson illustrates vividly ( In particular, innovation was identified as a key driver of systems change. The two discussion groups, one led by Dr. Ann Larson, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at U of L, and the other by Cindy Parker, KDE Division Director, Next Generation Professionals, responded to questions regarding the nature of systems change (Lois Adams-rogers and Kathy Ronay from Systems Group 2 are pictured below). Table groups were asked: What are ways to grow school and district leaders who have a different conception of schooling? How do we develop the will and skill for inventing new ways of educating students?  Not surprisingly, a number of suggestions regarding leadership development, mentoring and actions were made, including:

  • Revise teacher and administrator preparation tracks.
  • Provide purposeful mentorship for leaders.
  • Participants at CTL's 20th Anniversary CelebrationInvest in leaders who help others see a new conception of schooling by leading visioning and discussion efforts, who create room for risk taking, and who set priorities for sustainability of efforts as well as leveraging opportunities.
  • Examine existing policies and practices to determine if they support or impede systemic change
  • Develop clear, common definitions, as well as processes and protocols that lead to desired changes; for example, what constitutes student centered-learning?
  • Create bottom up willingenss and desire, coupled with top down flexibility and support to achieve desired changes in a coordinated way.
  • Create a culture of innovation and risk that empowers teachers.
  • Visit successful sites/models and promote “theft “ of good ideas.
  • Achieve coherency of efforts.
  • Start with the willling and find champions to lead systemic change efforts.
  • Promote multi-generational involvement to assure success.
Alison Hunt

2012 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Alison Hunt

Other key points in the discussion emphasized that systems change must affect all parts of the system, with impact diminished if piecemeal efforts are undertaken.  The panel following table group discussions and sharing, made suggestions for improving our current system of education, including a new conception of accountability that makes room for teacher judgement and responsibility.  Panelist Allison Hunt (pictured here) labeled the current system as one that emphasizes compliance and standardization rather than encouraging teachers to personalize learning for their students.  Panelist Dr. Kent McGuire suggested that as educators we need to think differently about equity, shifting from the current narrow construct of achievement gaps to a commitment to moving everyone up.  Finally, panelist Gene Wilhoit noted that education is still dominated by the factory model of education, and posed the question: What is the system to which we aspire?