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Leading Edge Blog

Resilience in Ohio: How Leaders and Teachers Take on the Greatest Challenges in Education

Guest blog by: Dr. Douglas Reeves

“Thank goodness that’s over!”

While this sentiment is tempting, I’ve learned that the best school leaders in Ohio never say that. Rather, they are seizing the opportunities of the last 18 months to make changes in curriculum, schedules, and effective use of time for teacher, building, and district teams. How do schools in Ohio and around the nation demonstrate resilience and self-care for students and staff members? That is the subject of my keynote for the 2021 OLAC & PBIS Showcase on December 9.

The powerful new evidence I will share is based on the book, Fearless Schools: Building Trust and Resilience for Learning, Teaching, and Leadership (2021), which explores practical hands-on strategies to bring the ideals of social and emotional learning into practice.

What Distinguishes the Best School and District Plans?

In reviewing hundreds of school and district plans, my colleagues and I have found that there are clear, distinguishing characteristics that separate effective and ineffective plans. While every leader in Ohio has completed the detailed self-assessment required by the state, the best leaders regard those findings as the top of the funnel, where every possible need and remedy resides. At the bottom of the funnel, by contrast, are the few priorities on which these districts and schools will focus. Our research on the value of focus is clear—the leaders who have six or fewer priorities have dramatically better gains in student achievement compared to schools and districts that have dozens of priorities. Moreover, the best plans don’t just focus on test scores and other “effect” data. Rather, they focus on causes—the specific actions teacher and leader teams are doing that lead to better student results. This leaves them with a “Plan on a Page” in which every stakeholder in the system can understand clearly the relationship between the values and vision of the school and the five or six specific decisions and actions by administrators and teachers that will propel the school from theory to action.

Short-Term Wins

Schools often have three- to five-year strategic plans, and Ohio requires three-year planning cycles. While these documents offer perspective and deliberation over time, teachers, leaders, students, and community members need the reassurance and confidence that come from short-term wins. For example, a long-term strategy might be to improve the quality of feedback and grading from all teachers. But, a short-term win would stem from something as uncomplicated as allowing teachers to determine the final grade based on Ohio standards, rather than on the average of performance throughout the year. This one simple action—disabling the automatic calculation of the final grade based on the average—results in an immediate reduction in the D/F rate, along with an improvement in climate and culture, faculty morale, and the provision of more elective and advanced courses—all because there are fewer failures and fewer sections of repeaters.

Ohio Evidence for Ohio Schools

We have all seen the usual merry-go-round of outside experts who speak at school gatherings, pleading with the audience to accept their claims about how to improve teaching and leadership. These outsider claims, however, often fall on deaf ears because, however statistically significant those results may be, they just don’t apply to Ohio schools. That is why, with the support of the Ohio Department of Education, State Support Teams, and school leaders around the state, we are developing the “science fair” approach. In every school, we are seeking to have volunteer teachers who will produce a simple three-panel science fair display. The first panel displays their challenge—achievement, attendance, parent engagement—let the teachers choose the greatest challenge they face in their own school. The second panel displays a specific practice. This is where teachers experiment with specific strategies to improve academic performance, behavior, and attendance. The third panel shows the results. Ohio schools who are early adopters of this format—challenge, practice, results—are finding not only gains in achievement, but also gains in acceptance of the research. This is “inside-out’ change, demonstrating what can be done with our schedule, budget, culture, and bargaining agreements.

2021 OLAC & PBIS Showcase

My keynote presentation on December 9 will be interactive, so I hope that participants will come ready to hear the latest 2021 evidence on leadership and student results. I also hope that they will come with challenges and questions. I’ve seen superintendents and board members around the nation have their attention diverted with local controversies on issues ranging from masks to Critical Race Theory. While we don’t shy away from those challenges, we also have an obligation to keep the main thing the main thing—and that is a commitment to equity and excellence for every Ohio student.

About the Author

Dr. Reeves is the author of more than 40 books and 100 articles on educational leadership. Twice named to the Harvard University Distinguished Authors Series, Doug received the Contribution to the Field Award and the Brock International Prize for his contributions to education. Doug blogs at and Tweets @Douglas Reeves.