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There are a lot of people who want to change education. However, many get frustrated because they don't know what it takes.

After more than a decade of teaching people around the world how to do itI've decided to share this list of key skills, abilities, knowledge, and dispositions necessary to improve education today. They're what has informed my career as an education consultant and what I've seen consistently in my mentors, heroes, and students. These capacities make the difference between people who talk about improving schools and people who actually get it done.

Note that these are equal valid for young people as they are for adults, and equal true for people new in education improvement as they are for seasoned reformers.

16 Capacities to Improve Schools

  1. Change Management—School improvement agents should be able to move all people in schools—including students, teachers, building leaders, and others—through transitions and times of change.
  2. Humility—If you're trying to improve schools, you should maintain a modest view of your own importance in schools and society regarding your efforts. Its not about you; its about education, society, and democracy.
  3. Collaboration & Teamwork—Improving schools requires that you be able to build and sustain the necessary group and cross-group cohesion and operations needed to establish and maintain success.
  4. Conflict Management—School improvement agents should be able to identify and successfully navigate conflicts and problems from an operational, day-to-day perspective, whether in individual classrooms, throughout whole buildings, across school districts, or throughout the education system.
  5. Decision-Making—When you're trying to improve schools, you should be able to discern how, when, where, and why to make decisions, and how to help others make decisions, both on a micro- and meta-level scale throughout schools.
  6. Diversity & Cultural Competency—Improving schools requires that you be able to acknowledge, embrace, and enable all sorts of differences as powerful motivators and assets throughout education.
  7. Coaching—School improvement agents should be able to guide, transition, and mentor others through their daily professional and personal challenges without attempting to teach or lead them.
  8. Motivating & Empowering—Improving schools requires that you be able to meaningfully engage others in consistent, substantive, and sustainable ways throughout the education system.
  9. Personal &  Professional Goal Development—School improvement requires that you recognize your own goals and their relevance to your position, as well as help others do the same. Your goals, personal and professional, inform all your work to improve schools.
  10. Knowledge Management—Improving schools requires using diverse ways of identifying, developing, sharing, and effectively using the knowledge of communities, individuals, and students themselves in order to make education work for everyone.
  11. Problem-Solving—School improvement efforts need you to be able to effectively, consistently, and realistically identify, address, critique, and re-imagine challenges throughout the education system.
  12. Training & Facilitation—When you're working to improve schools, you need to be able to successfully identify and meet the needs of people through group training and individual learning.
  13. Student/Parent/Community/Educator Engagement—Improving schools requires you to be able to engage people through a variety of communication methods, as well as individual and group imagining.
  14. Personal Engagement—You have to be able to foster your own sustained connection to school improvement, maintain that connection, and sustain the relevance of the work you’re doing throughout your own life, as well as help others do the same.
  15. Compassion—Successfully improving schools requires you have the ability to establish and foster empathy with people and places outside of your own sphere, personally and professionally. We live in a democratic society that embodies plurality; compassion and empathy enable us to empower those differences to improve education for all students throughout society.
  16. Systems Thinking—If you want to improve schools, you have to be able to see how small things that seem separate can create big things through complicated interactions; you have to see the opposite, as well. All parts of education are connected to all others parts of education. We can only make a difference through connecting with both of those. 


If you're really interested in these capacities, send me an email for my free self-assessment tool—its I also provide training and coaching in each of these capacities for schools, community groups, and individuals, in person and online. Visit my website to learn more.

Let me know what you think in the comment section below!


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Comment by Hazel Owen on February 7, 2014 at 9:32

Crikey - I'm really sorry, Adam - it's been a mad start to the year. Thank you for sharing the assessment tool you have developed. It looks as though it's a really powerful tool which highlights some really key areas.

I hope you don't mind the following's very much made as a formative suggestion, rather than a critical one :-p One thing that did strike me is that, for a wider audience it feels as though there is quite a lot of edu/business-speak. You have in part mitigated this by including a great glossary. For example, in 2 - "How well can you build and sustain the necessary group and cross-group togetherness and actions needed to build success?". What is meant by actions? What is meant by 'success'? While these two will look different in different contexts to different people, I wonder if they could be phrased slightly differently. For instance, "How well can you build and hold a group together, so that you are able to meet the group's goals?". 

Just a thought :-)

Comment by Adam Fletcher on February 6, 2014 at 14:17

I'd love to hear what you thought of that assessment tool Hazel! 

Comment by Hazel Owen on January 22, 2014 at 9:18

A happy new year.

You've done it again, Adam - great post!! Thank you. Something that struck me with this post is that it seems the first step to help change education (as either a learner or more seasoned educator - who is also a learner), is self-assessment. It may feel a bit counter-intuitive if a person wishes to influence outside factors, to first reflect on themselves and their current practice. From a point of self-reflection and recognition of personal / professional strengths and areas that need work, it would be a relatively simple step to put together some goals and associated plan of action (including requirements, perhaps, for further learning).

I'd be really keen to have a look at your free self-assessment tool, please :-)

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