3 Keys to Leading Child-Centered Change

By Dr. Brad Gustafson, Principal, Greenwood Elementary School, Plymouth, MN and author of Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for Digital-Age Students and co-author of Personalized PD: Flipping Your Professional Development

It seems like education is being poked and prodded from nearly every direction.  Some of these influences may be helpful, but they get lost in the torrent of new initiatives, misguided policy, and priorities that emphasize test scores over student learning and creativity.

I recently came across a tweet from George Couros (@GCouros) that read, “If you are going to make decisions that have an impact on the classroom, you need to be in classrooms often. Don’t decide from afar.”

Judging from the hundreds and hundreds of “likes” and “retweets” the tweet above garnered in the first few hours, countless others agree with George.  The truth of the matter is if you want to change something you really should understand it first.  The people who want to change education probably have the very best of intentions, but that doesn’t make them right.

What is “right” is focusing on what we can directly impact for our students.  As school leaders, we have a tremendous responsibility and capacity to lead meaningful change alongside those we serve.  I tend to believe that the challenges (and opportunities) school leaders face today will require us to think differently about change.

Easier said than done…it can be hard to know what to think about and what to prioritize.  In my new book, Renegade Leadership, I share many practical examples accompanied by pragmatic advice.  The book also includes actionable ideas from more than 30 other leaders.  In a slight departure from the practical nature of my book, I’d like to briefly reflect upon the thought process of a Renegade School Leader.

If you can relate to any of these things below you might already be a Renegade!

1.       Renegade Leaders love kids and this love is demonstrated in how they spend their time, allocate resources, and scaffold their school’s culture to prepare for the future.  Before last year’s budget is replicated and rubber-stamped, past purchases should be re-evaluated and compared to the needs students will have tomorrow.

2.       Renegade Leaders question the status quo with the same fervor that new ideas are frequently vetted with.  We also take responsible risks to ensure pedagogy is connected to students’ real, actual lives.  If the same lesson or staff meeting could have transpired 50 years ago it might be time to reflect upon its relevance.  (Renegade Leaders model these changes before they ever consider mandating them.)

3.       Renegade Leaders understand their school community’s current reality and lead child-centered change from that context.  We know that building upon best practice and applying innovation to our current reality is a quick way to build student-wins.  The image below demonstrates how innovation can be applied to current traditions to amplify learning.


The thoughts above are more about how to look at leadership and change differently.  I’d love to connect further at #RenLead on Twitter to hear your thoughts.   If you’re interested in blazing a trail with other leaders in education then I hope you’ll also check out my book on Amazon HERE.



Our guest-blogger is Dr. Brad Gustafson, a National Distinguished Principal, author, and speaker from Minnesota.  Brad co-hosts the “UnearthED” program on the BAM Radio Network.  You can connect with him on Twitter @GustafsonBrad or via his Adjusting Course blog found at www.BradGustafson.com

Are you interested in sharing your ideas, insights and questions? If so, click here to sign up for a post. Julie Vincentsen, Principal of Ruggles Lane School, will reach out with specifics. Are you interested but nervous because you’ve never blogged before and don’t know where to begin? Don’t worry – as long as you know how to use Microsoft Word you will be up to this challenge. We write for our communities all the time – this just changes your audience. You probably could even take a current newsletter you’ve written and repurpose it for your colleagues.

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