By: K12 Lab Network

School leaders know that preparing their students for success in college, career, and civic life is vital to our democracy. This has been the mission of the Deeper Learning movement, which supports development of essential skills in the context of mastering core academic content through meaningful, relevant work, so that students will ultimately be able to solve the novel, complex problems they will encounter in the world. Deeper Learning schools are successfully preparing students for graduation and beyond. This has been found on measures of academics, inter- and intra-personal skills, and high school graduation and college enrollment. But the instructional practices used at Deeper Learning schools are not simple to implement. They require a responsive school culture and system of support at the school level, and many of these schools were built from the ground up for this purpose.

Spreading Deeper Learning to All Schools

So we asked: What about the other schools? How might we help school leaders make progress toward deeper learning in their schools today? What support would school leaders need to design a culture and systems that support deeper learning? In short, how can we speed up the spread of deeper learning practices? Ultimately we created School Retool, a principal professional development program, to help school leaders ignite deeper learning practices at their schools.

Casey Roberts of Smithfield High School shares an artifact of his learning expo hack with the Virginia School Retool cohort

Casey Roberts of Smithfield High School shares an artifact of his learning expo hack with the Virginia School Retool cohort

Process, Mindsets and Inspiration

We visited schools, talked to teachers and leaders, plunged into the research, and pulled out 19 big ideas--some innovative, some classic--from cutting-edge schools. At the same time we noticed a dearth of professional learning opportunities for principals. We put these insights together to create School Retool, a 3-month fellowship that combines the inspiration of key practices from deeper learning schools and an organizational change framework used by IDEO. Finally, to help leaders not get bogged down in long-term planning without action, we grounded the fellowship in a set of “hacking mindsets” to encourage a bias toward action and willingness to fail forward and learn. Through small, scrappy, experiments, we thought, leaders could begin making small steps to learn.

School leaders simplify the value of hacking

School leaders simplify the value of hacking

Hacking towards Deeper Learning

Now principals are hacking! They are taking small steps toward big change and are seeing the power of the hack mindset and trying to spread it in their schools. We’ve had principals bring these practices to their teams, to their districts, and expand and scale their hacks in the months following the fellowship. What started as a quick win of bringing a student to a teacher interview became an established practice. What started as a series of experiments became a school-wide advisory program. When a principal and her teacher hacked their schedule to include a writing block, the charter network saw the results and made that schedule change network-wide. And when students felt threatened, a small hack helped reaffirm their school as a safe place.


A Story from the Field


Tim Carlin wanted to start an advisory “crew” at his school, but knew that rolling out a full program would be met with resistance, and he wanted to get it right. Tim used his Spring “hacking season” to build interest and experiment. He asked for volunteers and put together a small team of teachers who shared his vision. Together, they ran small hack experiments on different aspects of advisory: How could it fit into the schedule? What supports would teachers need to teach advisory period? This Spring learning season prepared Tim’s school to roll out their Crew in the fall. With Crew now firmly in place, Tim is building on the new sense of student-centeredness among the staff to lay the groundwork for project-based learning.     

To learn more about School Retool, visit our website. We are actively expanding cohorts throughout the United States and welcome your application. 

Up next

How Might We Reimagine High School?

Ariel Raz

Read Article