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Equity-Seeking Leadership in Two Contexts: Original Innovation in Hawai’i Inspires New Hampshire

The author and researcher Mark Moore asks leaders endeavoring to improve society to consider how clearly and effectively they can articulate the public value of their enterprise, whether they have the legitimacy and support to pursue that value, and how much operational capacity they can muster to create that value. Leaders in the public sphere are left then to wonder:

  • What strategies are likely to create the most substantive public value at the greatest scale?

  • What ways of implementing those strategies mobilize the greatest support and legitimacy?

  • What approaches effectively use existing capacity and unlock additional capacity?


The C!E System Transformation Framework claims that the traditional answer to these questions have often started with leaders establishing policies and implementation plans. These policies and plans would then dictate the system’s habits and behaviors. With a wholesale change in habits and behaviors of everyone related to the strategy, the instructional core would surely shift in alignment to the desired change. The linearity of this approach makes it easy to define the value the public should expect to see from the endeavor. The clarity of policy documents, action plans and benchmarks is meant to build critical legitimacy and support from an important subset of stakeholders, often those who hold the pursestrings and political power. The presumption of a linear cascade of learning through management and professional development channels lays out an elegantly efficient use of capacity. While there are notable successes that have come from this kind of approach, this way of doing business has too often had far less than the desired impact.


The System Transformation Framework grew from observations of what happened when leaders departed from this traditional model for change. The framework defines an alternative approach where policymakers, leaders who oversee prevailing habits and behaviors, and the leaders who enact the instructional core come together in a different kind of partnership and collaboration. The framework claims that when siloed actors come together for planning, decision making, testing, learning, and iterating, the endeavor has greater impact, scale and sustainability. We hypothesize that this way of working changes who gets to decide and communicate the public value, garners deeper legitimacy and support from a broader set of stakeholders and unlocks operational capacity that systems didn’t even know was available.


The journey from a linear and hierarchical model of change to one that encourages and supports radical collaboration to test, learn, and iterate involves many leadership choices. The story of New Hampshire and Hawai’i illustrate some of the decisions leaders make while seeking equity for their communities, and how those decisions can shape the way the system operates. As you read the case study, please consider the following questions:

  • What does the case study illustrate in terms of equity-seeking systems and system transforming leadership?

  • In this case study, where do you see examples of these coalitions creating a different kind of claim of public value?

  • In this case study, where do you see examples of these coalitions building different kinds of legitimacy and support among different stakeholders?

  • Where do you see examples of these coalitions developing new sources of operational capacity?



New Hampshire and the Work-Study Practices



New Hampshire has long been a pioneer in competency-based education and the inclusion of skills and dispositions into a vision for desired student outcomes. An early member of the Innovation Lab Network sponsored by CCSSO, the state has focused on innovative instructional techniques meant to serve traditionally marginalized students. At these convenings, New Hampshire sat with other innovative peers wrestling with questions of how to better align systems with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions students need to succeed after high school.


Initial efforts in New Hampshire to codify skills and dispositions suffered a backlash from legislators, who believed this kind of work deprioritized academic knowledge and skills. Savvy leaders, working with allies in the legislature, reframed skills and dispositions as “Work Study Practices” to make them more politically palatable. In the eyes of state leaders, renewing the effort to establish a framework state-wide and cultivating support among the legislature also required situating the effort within a national research and policy agenda focused on postsecondary alignment. Many local districts had frameworks for skills and dispositions in place, but before this initiative, there had not been a state-wide codification of these competencies. State leaders empowered a task force of educators to decide which centrally codified framework would be adopted. The panel chose a framework for the Work Study Practices largely informed by Dr. David Conley and Sarah Lench of the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC), a leading research organization with deep expertise on College and Career Readiness.


After the adoption of the Work Study Practices, there was tension between the state education agency and the state intermediary, the New Hampshire Learning Initiative, in how to approach implementation. State education agency leaders saw this is as an opportunity to “roll-out” the Work Study Practices, building on the successful implementation of performance assessment through the Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) program. The leaders of the New Hampshire Learning Initiative, however, were hearing from districts that insisted that their local work on skills and dispositions be included in the process. Additionally, Sarah Lench from EPIC, who was advising the implementation process, saw the opportunity to learn from the variations in local implementation across a network of districts. In response to all of this, leaders at the NHLI convinced the leaders at the department to take the approach of nominally adopting the nationally-informed Work Study Practices statewide, but encouraging local districts to adapt and approximate them based on their own work. Because this grew out of a legislative priority, state leaders had to figure out how to talk about this less directive approach with key lawmakers who needed to lend their support. Education leaders had cultivated a critical ally, the Republican chair of the House Education Committee who was a former teacher and administrator. He was able to make the case to Tea Party members within the party who were resisting the inclusion of these skills and dispositions.


The New Hampshire Learning Initiative, and its Director of Innovation Jonathan Vander Els, faced a challenging landscape of building capacity in places that had not previously attended to skills and dispositions or only done so in a shallow manner, while simultaneously iterating and improving upon the deep existing work of some districts to align better with the state framework and its underlying research base. The approaches taken with the Work Study Practices mirrored the performance assessment work done through PACE. They chose to provide entry points into the WSP work that were sensitive to local contexts and existing work. They created lateral networks where schools and districts learned from one another. In support of this locally contextualized, but nationally-informed implementation, the learning network districts included teachers, administrators and district leaders in their implementation teams. The intentionally chosen members of these teams brought different expertise in different aspects of the Work Study Practices, however, the first iterations of these teams did not include community members.


In support of the implementation of the Work Study Practices, the teams went through multiple cycles of iteration, coming back together at convenings to share learning and creating informal connections they would maintain during the periods between meetings. Strong practitioners from the early efforts were developed into exemplars and leaders that encouraged new participants. The leaders of convenings were careful to set “guardrails” to guide learning, but not to set them so tightly as to constrain their ability to authentically and effectively place this work in their distinct local contexts. For example, they asked teams to focus on how the Work-Study Practices played out in the domains of instruction, assessment, professional capacity, and conditions (contexts and policies), very broad buckets that still gave some direction to the teams. They frequently left an “other” option available also, to allow for ideas that wouldn’t fit neatly into the guardrails they established. In the case of the WSP, districts were allowed to explore an “innovation of your choosing” even if it didn’t fit into the stated guardrails.


With these structures in place, state leaders and representatives of the New Hampshire Learning Initiative found that their primary role in supporting districts was often “giving permission”. Through recurring engagements with district leaders, principals and teachers, leaders reminded those in the field that the Work Study Practices legislation provided them with policy cover to explore new ideas related to competency-based learning, performance assessment and the work-study practices.


Through these processes, practitioners at every level built up habits of collaboration, storytelling, and managing ambiguity that resulted in a depth of implementation of the Work Study Practices that felt profound to everyone involved. In the words of one state education official, “Once I saw the degree of local ownership in the emerging local processes, I learned that the more diversified system was going to be both more productive and scalable, and encouraged the state to back off the more traditional implementation of the state-defined Work Study Practices.”


The New Hampshire network of districts was also building muscles that would support new innovations as leaders engaged in learning with other states in the networks sponsored by the Center for Innovation in Education.



Hawai’i and HA



At the same time the New Hampshire was looking to codify a broader definition of student success, Hawaii was engaged in similar efforts. They were part of a ten-state learning community convened by the Lumina Foundation called Core-to-College that was supporting stronger alignment between K-12 and postsecondary education. The foundation charged members of that learning community with creating a state definition of college and career readiness.


The Hawaii P-20 Council adapted David Conley’s Four Keys to College and Career Readiness to include a culturally specific concept of wayfinding. The locally adopted frame for wayfinding used a metaphor of ocean navigation that honored Hawai’ian seafaring traditions, supporting students to understand the skills required to navigate the known versus unknown waters of their post-secondary plans. The adaptation was an initial response to an ongoing tension within Hawai’i education systems, where agendas and frames were imported from the mainland with white dominant cultural underpinnings, with local leaders then attempting to adapt them. “Wayfinding” was a culturally relevant metaphor for college and career readiness, but did not address a bigger issue with the push for “college and career readiness” itself: The dominant frame was all about individual achievement, whereas Hawai’i culture prioritized community well being.


The board initiated a review of the policy that defined the desired student outcomes for the Hawai’i Department of Education. The leaders of the review empowered a committee from across the educational and non-profit sectors, including leaders from the community. Leaders emphasized that instead of trying to retrofit externally created frameworks to fit Hawai’i, they should start with “Hawai’i at the center”. The committee aimed to create something reflective of Hawai’ian context and needs, but also informed by examples from many communities around the world. In seeking to live out this charge, the committee articulated their developing framework first in Hawai’ian and translating to English after.


As they began to crystallize a framework, members of the committee went out to the community to gather feedback and check for resonance and commitment. Through multiple rounds of validation and community engagement, the Hawai’i Department of Education surfaced the six key outcomes captured in the Nā Hopena A‘o, shortened to HĀ. HĀ also translates to BREATH in English, which serendipitously is the acronym that arises from the english translation of the six outcomes. The HĀ framework captured a vision for college, career and community readiness deeply situated in the context of Hawai’ian culture. The leaders of this process began to sense, however, that what began as a locally contextualized way of defining a vision for student college, career and community readiness could be much more.


This process resulted in a seismic shift. The board decided to adopt HĀ not only as a set of outcomes for students, but as a set of system-wide outcomes for all of the Hawai’i Department of Education. In the words of the policy, HĀ provided “a framework for the Department (HIDOE) to develop in its employees and students the skills, behaviors and dispositions that are reminiscent of Hawai‘i’s unique context and to honor the qualities and values of the indigenous language and culture of Hawai‘i”. Leaders across the system called for HĀ to inform how all employees engaged with students and community members and work in concert to develop these skills in students.


Kau’i Sang, who served on the committee to create HĀ, was tapped to lead the implementation as the head of the Office of Hawai’ian Education at the DOE. As the leader of implementation, she oversaw how HĀ was introduced to communities, which was always by invitation, rather than by mandate. Her approach brought together educators, students, families, community members and elders to co-create their community’s vision for the purpose of education, supported by the six elements of HĀ. She set in place an ambitious agenda of organizational learning that gathered insights from “early adopters” in the field. The DOE would identify patterns, introduce practitioners to relevant research and connect innovative implementers. Working with practitioners, community members and the broader education community, Sang was able to put her office in the role of learning alongside practitioners in the field. She encouraged local groups to interrogate the newly codified practices and deviate from them where they felt it was necessary for their context.


Creating this local “why” simultaneously created space for educators to try new behaviors and pivot away from mis-aligned practices. The community-driven purpose for education served as a call to action for new approaches, with the community poised to provide accountability for follow-through on implementation. For many educators, living up to the new aspirations also meant facing the inadequacy of their previous approaches. A new and revolutionary vision rooted so clearly in their local community allowed educators to acknowledge that their previous efforts had been limited by a myopic and constrained vision of student success. Investment in a broader vision allowed teachers embrace new techniques with enthusiasm.



New Hampshire Learns from Hawai’i



Jon Vander Els and other members of the New Hampshire team would learn about the the HĀ work at an Assessment for Learning Project (ALP) convening, where Kau’i Sang and the Hawai’i team were presenting their work. Their work helped Jon realize that the Work Study Practices and HĀ work had a number of similarities in both purpose and process. However, he also realized that while the implementation of the Work Study Practices had mirrored many of the same practices of shared learning through the networking of locally contextualized implementation, the community had rarely been involved and engaged at the level he was seeing from Hawai’i.


The New Hampshire team studied how the Hawai’i team engaged communities and students in co-design of a shared purpose of school. Jon and the team realized that in their implementation of the Work Study Practices, they had not co-created a“why” for their integration of these practices that was contextualized in the communities across the state. Based on their learning about the core features of both the HĀ process and outcomes through the ALP network, they developed the “What is Our Why” project. In the same way that they invited districts into the implementation of the Work Study Practices, the New Hampshire leaders started by inviting a small number of communities and districts to test out early ideas for how co-construct a community-driven “why” of education. Within a community, citizens and educators learned and built shared meaning together. Communities across the state learned and iterated together, studying each others’ approaches to the shared endeavor. Both learning processes were supported by the New Hampshire Learning Initiative and state education agency leaders who provided common language and a blueprint of an approach that could be adapted to meet local needs, much like in Hawai’i.


Operating in equity-seeking ways demands that leaders develop new skills in establishing public value, building legitimacy and support, and uncovering sources of operational capacity. The cases of Hawai’i and New Hampshire demonstrate how these capacities can be developed through a learning agenda that allows leaders to share their endeavors for others to learn from and approximate those innovations in ways that fit their local contexts. This kind of approximation in a learning community works best when it happens within and between communities and when the learning communities include policy makers, managers, practitioners and community members. Close study allowed Jon and Kau’i to better understand the underlying principles and values that enabled their innovations and to approximate approaches that allowed those principles and values to flourish in their respective states. This inter-state learning mirrored the systems Jon and Kau’i put in place between communities in their states, which in turn mirrored what districts did with their communities. A shared learning agenda based on approximation then becomes a critical lever for scaling innovations both within and between states, rather than a luxury that sits beside a traditional implementation “rollout”. Approximation via shared learning validates the tremendous effect of local context on the success of an initiative and the power that can be cultivated when people are respected as learners.





Reflection Questions:


The C!E System Transformation Framework is rooted in a core belief about learners, establishing that “All children are capable and curious people with multi-dimensional identities who belong to local and global communities, who learn in different ways, and who need to be prepared for a wide range of societal, civic and professional possibilities."


We also claim that equity-seeking systems that are more likely to reach this aspiration for children...

  • Recognize the historical origins of the system and seek to help individuals reflect on their personal histories and experiences and move to productive action based on what they see

  • Seek to help all actors build relationships across lines of difference

  • Seek to help each learner build academic and essential skill competencies

  • Seek to help each learner build a healthy identity both as an individual and member of local, connected and global communities

  • Seek to help each learner grow in their agency


We believe that equity-seeking leaders create coalitions across the circles of policy, habits/behaviors and the instructional core for a different kind of collaboration. We also claim that in doing so, leaders of innovation endeavors can unlock new forms of public value, legitimacy and support, and operational capacity.


  • What does the case study illustrate in terms of equity-seeking systems and system transforming leadership?

  • In this case study, where do you see examples of these coalitions creating a different kind of claim of public value?

  • In this case study, where do you see examples of these coalitions building different kinds of legitimacy and support among different stakeholders?

  • Where do you see examples of these coalitions developing new sources of operational capacity?

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