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School Design Toolkit for University of Tennessee Course

A set of tools for school system leaders to design their own schools and better serve high need students

Through years of research and practice around school resource use, we have found that high-performing, high-growth schools are responding to the changing context in education by using people, time, technology, and money in ways that look significantly different than the status quo. While there is no one “right way” to organize resources, we believe that there are trends in how high-performing schools serve high-need students. The following resources describe those trends, as well as outline what we believe to be a strong process and set of tools to help schools organize. 

Contact us with any questions.

Assessing the Need

  • School Check: This reflection tool allows school teams to compare their current resource use decisions to best practice and subsequently identify prioritized resource use changes and is organized by ERS’s six design essentials.
  • Professional Learning Diagnostic Tool: Does your school system have the conditions and practices in place to connect professional learning to the everyday work of teaching—and to a systemwide strategy for student success? Find out with this self-assessment tool. [Note: While the tool is targeted at school systems, it provides an indepth look at professional learning also useful for school leaders.]

Clarify and Communicate Priorities

  • Student Shadowing Video and Experience Summary: Student shadowing is a great tool to help teams more deeply and authentically experience what big strategic shifts in the student and/or teacher experience might be required. This document includes a protocol, questions, and tips to support your team as they learn more about what he or she experiences in a typical day. Also included is a powerful video about what one school leader learned after shadowing a student.

Designing the Strategy

  • Designing Schools that Work: Strategic designs don’t happen by accident. They happen because school leaders and their teams develop a deliberate strategy for organizing resources. We believe this paper—which has detailed stories of districts putting the strategies into action—is a great place to start for anyone looking to transform their school.
  • Igniting the Learning Engine: A deep dive into how four school systems are redesigning and scaling professional learning for the age of high academic standards by connecting professional learning to the day-to-day work of educators.
  • Professional Learning Toolkit: Artifacts, tools, and resources used by the four studied school systems featured in Igniting the Learning Engine.
  • Building Block Profiles: Strategies or options that effective schools use to organize resources to meet different types of student need, as shown in the table below.

Design Essential 

Building Block

Personalized Time and Attention

Expert-led Collaboration and Professional Learning

Responsive Learning Community

Talent Management and Teacher Leadership

Re-organize to Make it Work

  • End State Descriptions: A planning tool that helps school teams outline a very detailed description of exactly what a successful implementation of their building block will look like.
    • Student and Experience: When your building block is up and running, what will students and teachers experience? What do you want the experience to feel like for them?
    • Key Actors: Who will be involved during implementation? What specific actions will they be responsible for and when?
    • Resource Implications Chart: Planning conversations will uncover how staffing plans, schedules will need to change to support implementation. This tool tracks each of these changes.
  • School Scheduling Tools: A school’s master schedule defines which teachers meet with which students, for how long, and about what topics. The priorities it represents, whether explicit or implicit, are a critical aspect of shaping how learning takes place in the school. We recommend school teams to take these three steps with accompanying tools to make the most of their time and build a strategic schedule. To learn more about the school scheduling process, read Three Steps to a Strategic Schedule. 
  • Finding Time for Collaboration: Learn six strategies for finding enough time for meaningful collaborative planning among your teachers with the Connected Professional Learning Case Study.
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