Our team has emerged from the pandemic smaller, stronger, and more adept at improving experiences and outcomes for all students — particularly those from historically marginalized communities. Explore our highlights and reflections below.
Leading during a time of great uncertainty is never easy, but leading an organization through the hills and valleys of the 2021-2022 school year was the greatest challenge I have ever faced professionally. Traditional leadership tropes fell short as COVID protocols, political polarization, and the Great Resignation threatened every aspect of our educational infrastructure.
The leaders in our partner schools weathered the storm by trusting our team to support their visions and coach their talented educators. We saw several school communities thrive this year because they had adaptive organizational cultures that prioritized instructional equity and social and emotional well-being, especially for their most historically disenfranchised students.
As an organization with expertise at leading school change efforts, we learned a lot this year about the conditions that encourage or discourage change, the bureaucracies and policies that bolster or threaten innovation, and the ways in which our Culturally Responsive School Change model can serve as a foundational roadmap. The pandemic has brought increasing attention to the inequities of our current education system, but questions remain as to whether recovery efforts will solely privilege those who already have resources, power, and access.
When things got challenging for us, we found strength in our mission, vision, and the core values of our Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy framework, which culminates in the development of critical consciousness with students.
Popularized by Paulo Freire, critical consciousness combines deep critical thinking, a social justice focus, and project-based learning with the goal of empowering students to transform their communities and society. This concept is our north star as we train teams of adults to engage students in the work of identifying, disrupting, and improving current systems of inequity.
As you will see in the sections below, our Culturally Responsive School Change efforts have spanned multiple school environments, states, and priorities — allowing us to gather rich evidence from our partners about how our model is building leadership capacity, shifting teacher mindsets and practices, and improving student outcomes even during times of struggle and challenge. My pride in our team is strong and my belief in our work is even stronger, but what drives me above all are the opportunities for renewal and reinvention that are in front of us in the year ahead.
Shawn Rubin, Executive Director
We partner with communities to imagine and create more equitable, relevant, and effective schools. Using research, we convene, coach, and build capacity to improve outcomes and experiences for all students.
Students, educators, and communities partnering as agents of change to design:
Classrooms that empower
Schools that adapt
Systems that liberate
LEARNING SHOULD MAKE THE WORLD BETTER
We believe students will be successful:
- when they learn in environments that leverage their identities and interests as strengths,
- when they develop positive mindsets around learning,
- when their thinking skills are nurtured so they can be self-directed learners, and
- when they are supported to apply their learning in meaningful ways that make the world better.
Our Culturally Responsive School Change model offers school partners three years of intensive coaching across our instructional, data, and change management frameworks. Emerging from the pandemic, we opted to work more deeply with fewer partners to prove the efficacy of our new focus. The three high-impact levers are:
We support education leaders to design, convene, and facilitate school improvement teams (design teams) that elevate family, student, and teacher voice in redesign efforts. We craft a shared vision, set goals, and develop action plans to improve both social-emotional and academic outcomes for all learners, particularly for those who are currently struggling.
We leverage our Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy framework with 19 evidence-based practices to help teachers increase relevance and engagement. Our professional learning opportunities improve persistence, independence, and success within challenging curricula, creating joyful learning experiences that honor and celebrate all student identities.
We center student experiences as a key measure of instructional efficacy. Our innovative data tools quantify student perceptions around belonging, academic confidence, cognitive skills, and engagement. We study and compare data from various student populations, mobilizing stakeholders to take action to close gaps and replicate best practices.
At A Glance
During the 2021-2022 school year, our team had the opportunity to work deeply with a highly aligned, diverse group of partners:
75% Public School Districts
10% Charter Networks
10% Private School Networks
5% Other Partner Organizations
70% Urban Ring Schools
18% Suburban Schools
10% Urban Schools
3% Rural Schools
79% Building Leaders
21% District Administrators
88% with 10+ Years of Experience
8% Early Childhood
22% Middle School
34% High School
44% Students of Color
11% English Learners
47% Receive Free/Reduced Price Lunch
“The content pushed the teachers to try new strategies in their classrooms. It was presented in bite-sized pieces and allowed for some very valuable conversations around some very sensitive topics.”
— Principal, Diocese of Providence
average percentage of participants reporting high levels of satisfaction, engagement, and strategy implementation
Professional Learning Communities
“I have adapted all of the thinking routines and tools presented to use with my students. The work to expose the implicit, hidden, and null curricula is beneficial for our entire student body and staff.”
— Teacher, Norwood Public Schools
average percentage of participants reporting high levels of satisfaction, engagement, and strategy implementation
Teacher & Leader Coaching
rated coaching sessions as
agreed that coaching sessions had a positive impact on their teaching
“Our Highlander Institute coach has helped us refine our data analysis practices and develop more supports to help teachers with instruction. Despite pandemic related challenges there have been so many successes for us this year.”
— Assistant Principal, Newport Public Schools
“I have enjoyed the opportunity to meet and discuss the data with colleagues and the chance to reevaluate our focus moving forward.”
— Design Team Member, Woonsocket Ed. Dept.
of participants found Design Team meetings engaging
SCHOOL SUCCESS SNAPSHOTS
Partner schools and districts featured below received a customized combination of professional development sessions, professional learning communities, teacher and leader coaching, and design team facilitation — as well as administration and reporting for our Student Experience Survey aligned to outcome data. All partners received an average of 150 hours of annual direct service support.
Elevating Student Feedback & Scaling High-Impact Practices
Baychester Middle School, Bronx, NY
This school serves 277 students in grades 6-8. 98% of students identify as BIPOC and 86% qualify to receive free/reduced price lunch. The school’s design team used our Student Experience Survey data to drive improvement efforts, and saw these results:
Baychester Middle School showed the highest growth on ELA MAP scores in the district
100% of teachers participated in professional learning and implementation activities
Year 2 Interim Assessment Data Progress at Baychester (MAP)
Responses to “My teacher is glad that I am their student” increased:
10% for 6th graders
12% for 7th graders
18% for 8th graders
14% across the whole school
42% for English Language Learners
“The Highlander team has impacted the conversations teachers are having, the instruction underway in classrooms — they have shifted our practices and mindsets beyond the scope of the contract. It’s some of the best work I’ve undertaken.”
— Shawn Mangar, Principal, Baychester Middle School
Improving Experiences & Outcomes, Particularly for Students with Special Needs
Whiteknact Elementary School, East Providence, RI
This school serves 252 students in grades K-5. 48% of students identify as BIPOC and 63% qualify to receive free/reduced price lunch. In SY22, the school completed its 3-year partnership with Highlander Institute, with Years 2-3 focusing on special education students.
The work leveraged staff meetings, data meetings, and teacher-requested coaching to refine practices
During the 2021-2022 year, Whiteknact's schoolwide iReady data showed the most growth since 2016
Academic Mindset Scores from Student Experience Survey
Interim Assessment Data (iReady) for Special Ed Students
“You can walk into any classroom in the building and see posters about ‘the learning pit’ and understand the relationship-building methods being used. These are now fully integrated practices.”
— Laurie Marchand, Former Principal, Whiteknact Elementary School
Recruiting & Supporting Community Educators
Learning Pod Initiative, Central Falls High School, RI
Beginning in winter 2021, in partnership with Freedom Dreams, Highlander Institute collaborated with leaders from the Central Falls School District to create a learning pod model led by 7 community members. The first project cohort served 42 students in 9th grade at Central Falls High School who were chronically absent and/or failing multiple courses during COVID. 100% of pod leaders and participating students identify as BIPOC.
100% of families rated learning pods as extremely helpful in supporting their child
Participating students reported an 85% increase in engagement and a 55% increase in sense of belonging
Responses to “I can learn the hardest topics assigned to me” increased:
23% for female students
48% for all students
82% for male students
150% for Black students
Students participating in learning pods saw a 35% decrease in school absences
67% of pod leaders reported wanting to stay in the education field due to their project experiences
Responses to “I feel like an important member of this learning pod” increased:
66% for Latine students
100% for male students
169% for all students
487% for female students
1150% for Black students
“A lot of positive changes have happened from my son joining a pod. He is doing academically better, and he also started getting into sports. He's less combative at home. His grades have improved. Having a male figure to talk to and have conversations that he can't always have with me has been amazing.”
— Parent of Student Learning Pod Participant, Central Falls
Raising the Bar on Student Achievement
Greystone & Centredale Elementary Schools, North Providence, RI
These two PK-5 schools serve a combined student population of 492 learners, with 44% identifying as BIPOC and 41% qualifying to receive free/reduced price lunch. In our multi-year partnerships, both schools:
- Introduced strategies to develop academic mindset
- Focused on routines to support critical thinking
- Increased student access to high-quality instructional materials
- Facilitated inclusive school improvement teams
In a year of unprecedented drops in RICAS results, both Greystone and Centredale Elementary Schools were recognized with Governor’s Citations for improving student achievement despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic
Between 2019 and 2021, Greystone students improved their ELA scores by 5.3 points and outperformed their district and state by over 10 points across both Math and ELA
Between 2019 and 2021, Centredale improved ELA scores by 4.3 points and significantly reduced the percentage of special education students not meeting expectations
Improvement in RICAS Outcomes for All Students at Greystone
Improvement in RICAS Outcomes for Special Education Students at Centredale
“It is a true example of how combining the expertise of our leadership and educators with a talented Highlander Institute facilitator and effective school change model created successful outcomes — especially for our students.”
— Louise Seitsinger, Assistant Superintendent, North Providence School District
Aligning Culturally Responsive School Change with Transformation
Coleman Elementary School, Woonsocket, RI
A K-5 school, Coleman Elementary serves 256 students, with 78% identifying as BIPOC and 84% qualifying to receive free/reduced price lunch. Our partnership began in the fall of 2020 and was initiated after the school was identified by the state as underperforming. Our Instructional Equity Partners coached educators around key priorities:
- Building awareness by reflecting on our materials & teaching practices
- Increasing student persistence
- Establishing empowering formative assessment structures
Interim Assessment Data at Coleman (STAR)
Students at Coleman experienced the highest growth in reading skills in the district (measured by STAR), with over 75% of students showing improvement
In post-session surveys, 89% of teachers reported feeling engaged by professional learning sessions and 100% reported that Highlander Institute coaching improved their teaching skills
In a June 2022 state site visit report, ratings for “focused instruction” grew 30% and “feedback” increased 33%. Site visit leaders reported that the school “showed the most improvement they had seen.”
“We have established so many strong foundational pieces this year and feel ready to dive deeper and keep learning.”
“This feels like a different building — we have structural routines and learning expectations that weren’t there before.”
— Teachers, Coleman Elementary School
Activating Leaders as Learners to Champion Equity Districtwide
Norwood Public Schools, Norwood, MA
A PK-12 district spanning 8 schools, Norwood serves 3,387 students. 33% of students identify as BIPOC, 22% have IEPs, 13% are English Language Learners, and 40% are considered economically disadvantaged. District leaders initiated a partnership with Highlander Institute as the Massachusetts Department of Education declared culturally responsive learning a top priority. Conditions that have increased the impact of our collaboration include completion of a district equity audit and the integration of audit recommendations into the district strategic plan. Highlander Institute’s work directly supports these recommendations.
PD Series with Administrative Council
PD Series with School Committee
Build knowledge, develop a vision, and clarify alignment across the district
Outcomes & Feedback
Administrative Council PD Series
- Satisfaction Rate of 90%
- “I’m committed to creating a safe space this year for all to struggle with this topic.”
School Committee PD Series
- Satisfaction Rate of 85%
- “I found the sessions really informative and enjoyed the discussions about academic mindset and student engagement."
5-Part PD Series for Teachers at All Schools
Elementary & Secondary Teacher PLCs
MOY & EOY Student Experience Survey
Develop broad CRSP understanding with full teaching staff, host PLCs with early adopters, and collect baseline Student Experience Survey data
Outcomes & Feedback
Full District PD Series
- 100% Teacher Participation Across Schools
- Satisfaction Rate of 78%
- "Thank you for opening our minds...Your enthusiasm was infectious and wealth of knowledge admirable."
Teacher PLCs & Leader PLC
- 81% of Participants Implemented Strategies
- “It feels good to acknowledge and celebrate hidden voices and perspectives in our curriculum.”
- “I’ve already seen very productive adjustments being made that truly help our kids.”
3-Part PD Series
Addition of Non-Classroom Teacher Cohort
Teacher PLCs & Monthly Coaching for "CRSP Champions"
Leader PLC & Monthly Principal Coaching
BOY & EOY Student Experience Survey
Support the broad implementation of key strategies linked to Student Experience Survey data, continue to build capacity for district admin & school leaders, and identify individual teacher goals related to CRSP districtwide
Outcomes & Feedback
“We need to create specific opportunities for teachers to share ideas on how to make students’ cultures & lives part of the fabric of our classrooms & schools.”
Implementation this year is underway. We are excited about the introduction of 1-on-1 coaching with both teachers and principals this school year in Norwood.
Additional information coming soon!
"Highlander Institute's professional learning is right in sync with our district's needs. Through their support, each year, more of our staff have been bringing these strategies to their classrooms to benefit our students."
— Alec Wyeth, Assistant Superintendent, Norwood Public Schools
The 2021-2022 school year was a challenging year for schools and communities as pandemic recovery efforts uncovered significant gaps in skill development, rising mental health issues, and diminished engagement and motivation for both students and teachers. Despite these challenges, Highlander Institute was able to continue to support partner schools through multi-year partnerships that have adapted to changing conditions and improved a variety of student outcomes.
With the Institute team at our smallest size in seven years, 2021-2022 was a year of new beginnings in many ways. We formalized our commitment to culturally responsive personalization by grounding all school improvement efforts in the foundation of our Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy framework. We upgraded our approach to data to focus on students and families rather than test scores. We elevated the highest impact aspects of our 2018 Pathways model to support inclusive change management. We doubled down on quality over quantity across the organization and have emerged with strong data points that present us with a new baseline for future accountability.
We are looking forward to the year ahead with renewed energy and hope amid rising uncertainty in the world.