Washington DC Public Schools

Bringing Equitable and Excellent Teaching to Life in D.C.

“The Path to Instructional Excellence and Equitable Outcomes” shines a spotlight on D.C. Public Schools’ successful efforts to strengthen teaching and student learning.

When D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) and Leading Educators launched LEAP (LEarning together to Advance our Practice) in 2016, many saw the potential for a significant teaching and learning evolution.  More than three years later, “The Path to Instructional Excellence and Equitable Outcomes,” a new report from Learning Forward, shares lessons learned from system investments that have paid off for students and teachers. 

You know your content but you don’t know why the math works the way it works. It’s a struggle for an adult to say, ‘I don’t know this. I have to study to learn this.’”
— Marian Wilkins, LEAP Leader at Kelly Miller Middle School

DCPS has been a system on the rise for much of the past decade which is part of what made it an ideal setting for LEAP to take shape.  The program, which established a strong vision for students’ instructional experiences rooted in equity and alignment to college and career readiness standards, built upon previous district efforts focused on teacher leadership and curriculum.  Creating a learning architecture that provides consistent opportunities for teachers to learn, plan, and practice collaboratively with high-quality instructional materials provided a structure and arc for collaboration that was already occurring in some schools and filled gaps in schools where teachers and school leaders were feeling a real need for support.  “LEAP Leaders”—teacher leaders, instructional coaches, department chairs, and assistant principals selected to lead content-based professional learning in their schools—are now the drivers of instructional improvement at all 115 DCPS schools. 

Bringing the promise of LEAP to life was a complex endeavor requiring clear focus and strong buy-in at all levels of the district.  The support provided by Leading Educators as a design and change management partner was critical to accomplishing scale with fidelity while also bolstering capacity for continuous improvement.  One such adjustment after the first year of implementation, for example, was to create more school flexibility as to how time reserved for LEAP could be used. Leading Educators and district leaders also made adjustments to the strategy for leadership coaching at school sites, prioritizing more touchpoints for LEAP leaders who needed more support. 

In the piece, Marian Wikins, a math LEAP leader at Kelly Miller Middle School shares, “[The experience of having one-on-one coaching] was amazing.  They were able to give me feedback on my presentations, how I was facilitating adult learning. They came out during debriefs to look at how I was providing feedback, making sure teachers walk away with something tangible. It was also great when they came out to co-observe with me. I really loved having that one-on-one support because it was customized for me.”

The takeaways for system leaders in other contexts center around prioritization and key conditions for success.  These include:

  • Provide rigorous content for teacher learning that moves beyond student data protocols to deepen content knowledge and curriculum expertise together.

  • Select leaders with intentionality.

  • Align resources (including materials, people, time, systems, and money) while gradually building school capacity to nurture those conditions without central office. 

  • Plan for intentional scaling over time using a multilevel program evaluation strategy and a commitment to continuous improvement.

  • Protect time for teacher learning and remove priorities that don’t allow teachers to focus on deepening pedagogical content knowledge.

DCPS’s commitment to centering excellent and equitable instruction while creating the operational flexibility and school-based choice for contextual relevance has made LEAP work. Looking into the future, the district now has bolstered capacity to bridge student and teacher needs with support, igniting the potential to keep rising. Read the full report here.

Welcome, Chancellor Wilson!

On December 20, 2016, Antwan Wilson was unanimously confirmed as the new Chancellor of DC Public Schools (DCPS). An educator for over 20 years, Wilson most recently served as the superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District where he was credited with helping to raise achievement scores in Oakland schools. Wilson is now set to take the helm at DCPS on February 1st.

Since the October departure of former Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Leading Educators, along with others in the education reform community, has followed the appointment process for a new Chancellor with great interest. Over the past four years, we have worked in close partnership with DCPS to support instructional improvement through the Learning Together to Advance Our Practice (LEAP) initiative. This district-wide programming is designed to embed high quality professional learning and leadership development opportunities into the district’s wider plan to improve the quality of teaching and learning that takes place in individual classrooms and schools. The innovation and potential impact of this district-wide approach was recently profiled in the Washington Post, underscoring the powerful culture of shared learning that is part of DCPS’ teacher leadership and instructional improvement efforts.

Under the leadership of Chancellor Wilson’s predecessor, Kaya Henderson, DCPS became the fastest improving urban school district in the country. Leading Educators is excited to build a relationship with the new DCPS leadership team in order to continue the momentum that the district has gained. As we look toward the bright future of DCPS, we are encouraged by Chancellor Wilson’s recent comments stating, “Teachers are tremendously important to the success of the students and the district.”  We look forward to continued partnership with Chancellor Wilson to build a brighter future for DCPS and all the children that it serves.   


Good Luck, Not Goodbye

Good Luck, Not Goodbye

For those with a finger on the pulse of the state of education reform in U.S., Kaya Henderson is likely a familiar name. Heading what has been perhaps one of the most closely watched districts of the last decade, Kaya Henderson has served as Chancellor of the District of Columbia’s Public Schools for an outstanding six years.  And as of Saturday, October, 1st, she has stepped down from her post.

Learning and Practicing Strategies to Improve Instruction with DCPS

In mid-July, approximately 600 educators and school leaders from throughout Washington, DC spent two weeks learning and practicing strategies to improve instruction in schools throughout the city. This intensive effort is part of the District of Columbia Public Schools’ (DCPS) LEAP (LEarning together to Advance our Practice) initiative, and it represents a focus on growing teachers’ leadership capacity within classrooms, throughout schools, and across the entire district.

"I learned so much and developed my capacity as a teacher leader. After these two weeks, I feel more confident in the transformation in our students and teachers that LEAP is going to inspire, and feel more secure in my ability to help lead this work as a teacher leader. I am excited for this year!"

Leading Educators worked in close partnership with DCPS to provide the content and expertise needed to design a tailor-made professional development experience for teacher and school leaders from 115 schools. Over the course of two weeks, participants focused on common core content development, pedagogy for literacy and math instruction, planning for implementation, and equity and leadership.  

"This has been one of the most enriching PDs that I have ever experienced. The videos, the exercises, the culture building activities, the learning and sharing protocols were all very beneficial."

LEAP also marked a significant milestone for Leading Educators. While our focus has gradually evolved over the past five years from working with individual teacher leaders from a number of unrelated schools, to supporting teams of teachers who come from the same school, LEAP pushed our engagement even further. Our partnership with DCPS represents the first time that Leading Educators has brought its model of inquiry, practice, and development to teams of school and teacher leaders throughout an entire school district.

This represents a new phase for our work and the large-scale impact that it can have on student achievement. We are excited to build on this new approach, and look forward to the opportunity to continue to partner with DCPS and other districts around the country that recognize the power of teacher leadership to drive instructional and academic excellence.

DCPS Riding the Wave of Teacher Leadership

The Power of Relationships in Middle Leadership

In April, Leading Educators took seven Fellows to England in partnership with Teaching Leaders UK and the British Council. We are now featuring their reflections here. 

Adrianna Riccio, who shares her reflections below, is a Reading Specialist at Glasgow Middle School in Alexandria, VA. She is in her first year of the Leading Educators Fellowship. 

The aspects of a successful relationship, whether personal or professional, are trust, collaboration, and belief in potential. The feeling you get when someone trusts you to make a decision or believes that you have the potential to do something great is probably one of the best feelings you will ever experience. If you are lucky, you’ll get to experience that feeling over and over again.

I became a teacher because I wanted to be the cause of this feeling in all of my students. I believe in my students’ ability to succeed and I share this belief with them on a regular basis. We know the research and our experiences teach us that students thrive when they experience positive relationships. I believe this is also true for adults who work with children, namely teachers.

When I accepted my new position at Glasgow Middle School this year, I was nervous. It would be the first time that I would be given the responsibility of a team of teachers. It would be the first time in my career that I would need to make decisions about programs, best practices, teaching and learning and student achievement for students outside of my classroom. It would be my first formal leadership opportunity. A few months before accepting the position, I was inducted into the 2013 cohort of Leading Educators’ teacher leadership Fellowship, the inaugural cohort in the Washington, DC area. I had just come back from the Leading Educators’ week-long summer intensive and my mind was spinning with all of the things I wanted to implement during the year.

In American schools, the idea of middle leadership is really just starting to evolve. Typically in public education, the principal sets the tone for the school and others follow his or her vision. The principal makes the decisions, often with the help of a senior leadership team, but rarely will he or she ask for teacher input. Although the positions for middle leadership do exist in some schools, the communication is more like a pipe line rather than a collaborative discussion where middle leaders and teachers’ ideas are regularly taken into consideration. Middle leadership in England is an established part of the education sector with defined goals and objectives. While some schools in the United States have moved in this direction, middle leadership in the United States continues to lack national momentum.

Middle leadership in the English school system has become a national discussion and goals and evaluation criteria have been established. Almost all leaders in the school, including the principal and vice principal, continue to teach and work with students. The senior leadership team relies heavily on the middle leaders and gives them the autonomy to make decisions within their areas of expertise. All leaders in the building encourage continuous professional development and collaboration and this idea is infused in everything they do, from the assistant teachers to the Director of Education. Teachers are collaborating with other teachers, other leaders and other schools. While it would be fairly easy to go back to the Unites States and explain to my principal that we need to collaborate more because doing so is what is making England so successful, I somehow think it goes deeper than just working together. I think it’s because the senior leadership team has developed relationships with their middle leaders that are based around trust, collaboration, and the belief in potential. 

Like every other experience I have had with Leading Educators, this experience taught me an unbelievable amount. I was most impressed with how often I witnessed trust and collaboration between leadership and teachers, and how everyone believed in the potential of both their peers on staff and the students. Middle leadership in the United States is a fairly new concept. Traditionally, the school leadership team consisted of only principals and vice principals.

The idea of giving teachers more leadership capacity is a recent development within education. Positions like subject area leader or instructional coach are affording teachers the opportunity to continue teaching while also exercising their leadership ability. Some middle leaders continue to teach, while others leave the classroom and assume leadership responsibilities full time. Some are given the autonomy to make decisions about their subject area or team of teachers, while others are simply passing on messages from the senior leadership team. They are able to bridge the communication gap between school administrators and classroom teachers. Middle leadership needs to become a national discussion in order for the field of education to advance.

In order to continue to improve middle leadership in the United States, middle leaders must be given the autonomy to make decisions within their field of expertise and it must become a national discussion so that we can create a standard of measure from which to improve. Only when we empower middle leaders to contribute to the success and improvement of their schools will we see all students reach their full potential.

The opportunity to collaborate internationally with other teachers and leaders was made possible because of the important work of Leading Educators and their sister organization in the UK, Teaching Leaders, and the British Council. It is because of organizations like these that the discussion of middle leadership is becoming more widely known. Programs like this in the future will continue to develop capacity in our future middle leaders and improve our schools.