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Transforming Education: How Do We Start a Movement?

| Bob Lenz

When do you start a movement? How do you start a movement? What happens when things actually move? These questions and more have been swirling in my head since the gathering of the Deeper Learning Network Community of Practice at High Tech High last week in San Diego.

The Work

Funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Deeper Learning Network is made up of ten school networks from across the country that serve a diverse group of students in urban, rural, and suburban schools -- more than 445 schools in 36 states. All ten networks have designed and support schools that allow students to master academic content knowledge and skills as well as critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and metacognitive skills.

As part of the work of the network we have formed a Community of Practice that meets twice a year to share best practices, examine student and teacher work, and look for opportunities to build tools and support policy changes that can support deeper learning in our network schools and all public schools.

We have been grappling with questions like:

  • What does a deeper learner do?
  • What are the characteristics of a high quality deep student work?
  • What does a teacher need to know and do to support the creation of high quality deep student work?
  • As support organizations, how do we facilitate adult learning so teachers can facilitate deep student learning?

We have immersed ourselves in student and teacher work. We have collaborated and challenged each other. We have imagined tools to support deeper learning and now we are making those tools. We have targeted potential state policies and we are making concrete action plans to influence policies that will encourage deeper learning -- but is it enough?

Taking Action

Many members of our Community of Practice are left with the nagging feeling that we are falling short of our potential as a network and a community of practice. Once you have witnessed the profound experience of a human being becoming self actualized and turned on to learning, you become motivated to try and replicate that experience for as many people as possible. While our ten networks serve almost two hundred thousand students, it is really just a drop in the bucket. So, how do we transform the lives of millions of learners?

Personally, I have moved from questions of practice (although I still have those questions) to questions of activism.

What would happen if we could motivate the hundreds of thousands of students and their families in the Deeper Learning Network to demand the same opportunities for their fellow students across the country?

What would happen if our teachers stood up and demanded that all of their colleagues across the country have the same opportunities to collaborate, design engaging curriculum, build relationships with their students, and create transformational learning experiences that lead to success in school and life?

What do we need to do as leaders to inspire a movement for deeper learning? Has the time arrived where we stop facilitating change and instead, we demand it?

Where do we start? How do we start a movement for Deeper Learning? Please share with your ideas and vision!

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Co-Ed PassageWorks Institute

The Movement - Count us In!

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There are a growing number of these conversations across the U.S. We are doing everything we can think of to support educators right now. Not give them advice or more "silver bullet solutions". I have to revert to your words -- they hit the mark -- to support educators across the U.S. to "have the same opportunities to collaborate, design engaging curriculum, build relationships with their students, and create transformational learning experiences that lead to success in school and life?"
Onward! -Mark

Seventh Grade science teacher from Orinda, California

Pushing the Queen Mary

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It's been a long, hard push in my successful but very conservative district - great test scores, great college entrance/SAT scores but lots of grade-slave kids who have to fit it in to a packed schedule of after-school activities. We LOOK good, but under the surface, we sure need INTRINSIC motivation to learn.

It's starting to happen - we've adopted 21st C goals and have been pushed to figure out the action steps. Lots of passive resistance and foot-dragging from a comfortable staff who have been successful with the status quo, and who work very hard at it. How to fire us all up? Get us as teachers re-engaged with learning ourselves, with a little risk? With shh, failing and picking ourselves up and trying it differently? With cracking the edges of subject matter and collaborating across departments - it's not more, it's different, it's social and fun. Also perceived as threatening by a few who see teaching as a competitive sport, or as a safe job.

Slowly, slowly, dressing it all up with inspiring examples of what works elsewhere, with what private schools, even higher scoring schools, and successful corporations do - those images and examples play well with our parents, school board and admin. BTW Edutopia and TED talks are a huge help with supplying these to our school leadership and board. (Which I do regularly.)

Having slowly built trust with my principal, and with the parent community, I'm allowed to try some pretty out-there project work and it's spreading to other colleagues too. Together, we are much less exposed. Educating, informing, taking feedback from stakeholders has helped. Being really, really (uncharacteristically) patient has helped too.

It's nowhere nearly there yet, but a lead of water is opening up between the dock and the enormous inertia of a great ship setting out to sea.

Quote: This is exactly what I

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This is exactly what I am dreaming about - how many project exhibitions, plays, films, student inventions, and more have we experienced where we say, "This is the learning that schools should foster for all kids!" or "I wish I had gone to a school like this!" It can happend. We need to demand it.

Is it possible that with the internet and mobile learning options we have finally arrived at a time when we can guarentee that all students can have this type of education regardless of their physical location?

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

Great ideas and keep moving forward

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Don't let the un-informed get you down! I think you are right for us to target all the groups - especially district big-wigs (love that title!)


Student-Centered Secondary Math Teacher

Hi Bob

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You asked for insight about change and revolution in education.

My insight is that people are afraid of change. At first I used to tell everyone how different my teaching techniques are. I insist that students learn rather than me teach them. I insist that students learn rather than me cover material. I insisted that classrooms had to change if they were going to improve. The result was that a group of parents petitioned the school board to get me fired. Luckily, my principal and the school board are not as closed-minded as they are. I also had some support from some students and parents.

The result was an education for me. Even though my techniques are revolutionary, I insist that they are not. I downplay the differences and claim that there are only a few subtle differences.

The revolution in education will happen and is happening in my classroom and many, many other classrooms. Our work needs to continue and we need to get more principals and district big-wigs on board. The principals and district big-wigs have the power to transform whole schools and districts. Unfortunately many of them are similar to many teachers who are just trying to survive day to day. I believe you and I (and many other great spirits) would choke on such a dull existence.

You are organizing the revolution. So, form teams like the Navy Seals, Green Berets, and Rangers. Make a team for each of the following targets: student teachers, new teachers, principals, district big-wigs, school boards, and politicians. Fight the revolution as guerrilla war. We also need to support each other's efforts.

Personally, I have success with a student-centered, flipped classroom. I also am working on teaching with videos and structuring my class like a video game. Here are some of my links.

My Youtube Channel
My First Edutopia Blog
My Other Edutopia Blog
My Website

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

We need to stand up

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This is exactly what I am dreaming about - how many project exhibitions, plays, films, student inventions, and more have we experienced where we say, "This is the learning that schools should foster for all kids!" or "I wish I had gone to a school like this!" It can happend. We need to demand it.

Secondary Education student in Chicago

As a parent of a student in a PBL school...

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I think Bob Lenz is right: hang in there, keep telling those stories and sharing those experiences. A theater/music presentation at my daughter's school last month reminded me about the lesson of the Montgomery bus boycotts: Have the courage to stand up for what is right, and the patience to stand up long enough, and eventually right will prevail.

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA


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Let's start in Connecticut and keep moving. We need students, parents and teachers who have experienced the transformation by deeper learning - PBL, Workplace Learning, Advisory systems, Portfolio Assessment - to tell their stories and demand that others people have the right to the same experiences and transformation. No more yelling and fighting...we need to to start telling the storie - over and over gain.

Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

At Least in Connecticut ...

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You are absolutely correct that activism is required - most especially including the teachers. Consider the current status in Connecticut though: Governor Malloy (a Democrat by the way for those readers who track such things) makes effective learning for all - reducing our incredible gaps - his lead priority for this year. He invites all parties to the table AND gets agreement from all for a framework for legislation. He submits the proposed legislation (SB24) and big ins a series of public forums around the state. These events have been an exercise in futility as it seems the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) has reversed its position supporting shouting matches at the events AND running inaccurate and negative tv ads. In turn, the legislature all of a sudden, AGAIN, has lost its willingness to act. What was so promising at the start has returned to the usual in this Land of Steady Habits ...

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