Partnering for School Change

How do we strive to lead schools in a good direction, from whatever starting point?  That is the central question of school change, and it’s a complicated one!  


School change is cultural change.  It is challenging work; work, which includes the following elements (Tompkins, 2014):

  • Compelling, shared, positive vision

  • Supportive and distributed leadership

  • Goals focused on teaching and learning

  • Involvement of learners (teachers)

  • Cultivating professional community

  • Formal and informal training

  • Practice, coaching, and feedback

  • Models and exemplars

  • Aligned incentives

  • Sustained over time

  • Evaluation

Although there is no one right way to go about fostering school change, district partnerships can be a vehicle for this work.

Our approach to school-based partnerships combines the identified needs of a school with coaching and collaborative inquiry with UVEI faculty. This year, we partnered with four schools: Holland and Troy Elementary Schools (part of the North Country Supervisory Union project-based learning initiative), Kurn Hattin Homes for Children and Thetford Academy (the latter two with a focus on differentiated instruction).

The partnership with Holland focused on implementing project-based learning units over the course of the year, with individualized coaching with teachers on identified needs. Principal Kelli Dean shares, “Our partnership with UVEI supports what we know from research as one of the best forms of professional learning for teachers – embedded coaching with immediate feedback on teaching practices. Focused feedback provides teachers with insight into their practice and PBL’s impact on student learning.”  

As a participating K-1 teacher, Kate Underwood describes her experience this way: “Meeting with a coach weekly keeps us on track. We have a constant reminder of what PBL is all about. Having a weekly check-up has made it so our work doesn't get stale. After-school coaching sessions have helped us share units we create together so we can feel excited about co-workers' units and inspired to try new things on our own.”

Fostering school change is a daunting challenge, and not one that can be surmounted in a year. One of our goals with working with schools is to build the professional capacity within the building so that, eventually, faculties work independently of UVEI and continue to engage in continuous improvement. It’s a bittersweet goodbye for us, but we leave knowing that teachers and leaders will welcome challenge and change in their journey towards improvement.   

Commentary by Becky Wipfler

Becky Wipfler is UVEI’s Elementary Education Coordinator and a member of our Program Faculty.  

Other commentaries by Becky, can be found at:

You can follow her on Twitter @UVEIwipfler