Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today by Eric Sheninger and Thomas Murray is a great study of school innovation.  It’s all here—great ideas, great research, and great inspiration.  Want to know what’s happening in school innovation?  And want to find out the research which supports it?  Start here.

The introduction is perhaps the best part of the book.  In these 27 pages, the authors explain and describe the American education crisis.  Factors such as absenteeism, lack of engagement, falling test scores, etc. all contribute and the authors offer 8 recommendations (which serve as the framework for the book):

  • Leadership & school culture lay the foundation
  • The learning experience must be redesigned and made personal
  • Decisions must be grounded in evidence and driven by a “Return on Instruction”
  • Learning spaces must become learner-centered
  • Professional learning must be relevant, engaging, ongoing, and made personal
  • Technology must be leveraged and used as an accelerant for student learning
  • Community collaboration and engagement must be woven into the fabric of a school’s culture
  • Schools that transform learning are built to last as financial, political, and pedagogical sustainability ensure long-term success

Chapter 1 focuses on building a culture of innovation on a foundation of trust.  Their description of personal learning (not personalized learning) in Chapter 2 is worth considering and the rigor/relevance framework is thought-provoking.  Chapter 3 supports the notion that data should be used to improve instruction and the authors suggest both types of data as well as practices that instructional leaders can undertake to improve.

Chapter 4 tackles design and their descriptions of new terms were welcome (naturalness, individualization, stimulation, etc).  Chapter 5 describes how professional learning must change—starting with redefining what is needed and what works.  Just as student learning has to become personalized, so does teacher learning.  The authors offer practical suggestions and examples of best practices.

Chapter 6 tackles the issues surrounding deployment and use of technology which, in their view, is a tool and not the focus of instruction.  Chapter 7 points out that involvement of family members and interaction with the community improves teaching and learning.  In Chapter 8, the authors reflect on the process of change and make suggestions for building sustainability.

If each chapter were read independently, they would be worthwhile and interesting.  Taken together, however, they offer remarkable insight into the context of education reform and a road map to improving our schools.

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