10 Traits of Innovative Schools

For three years, I have visited K-12 schools that were/are receiving significant attention for being “innovative.” The schools varied significantly: urban to rural, large to small, elementary to secondary, private to public, start-ups to well-established, varying levels of diversity, etc. Some of these schools have a track record of strong student gains and achievement. Others have not been around long enough to provide such data.

What do I mean by innovative? For the sake of my explorations, I’ve kept the definition broad, leaning more on schools that consider themselves to be “innovative” and have a variety of external stakeholders who agree. Generally, they were schools that saw themselves as “ahead of the times” and/or “breaking the mold” of traditional schooling. I continue to visit more schools each year, and I’ve yet to decide what I will do with the findings. However, I am beginning to develop a list of traits that are consistent among most to all the schools. Here is what I have so far. There is a story and explanation behind each statement, but I’ll just provide the list for now.

1. Visionary leadership, but not necessarily earth-shattering inventions.
2. One or two clear, unavoidable, school-shaping concepts
3. “Tough” mindset from principals and teachers.
4. Extensive research before implementation.
5. Once the vision was clear, strong alliance with like-minded organizations
6. Near addiction to effectiveness and impact data – and obvious use of that data (especially related to student learning)
7. Unusually high turnover
8. Highly protective of what (or who) they put in the water
9. Significant time and money put into ongoing professional development, especially investing in new people.
10. Committed to sharing their “secret” with others.