Leadership and Culture are key levers in the development of transformational learning environments. Changes to teaching and professional learning, assessment and accountability, and infrastructure cannot happen, nor happen as easily, without leadership and a supportive culture. Transformation goes beyond the one-shot “reform” or “improvement,” instead becoming a process of continuous evolution as organizations mature. Learn more about shaping a supportive culture and the leadership necessary for making schools into 21st century learning environments.


  • As you explore this topic you will notice that leadership and culture are, not just connected to everything else but, in fact, essential to making the kinds of changes envisioned in the roadmap. Changes to teaching practices and learning outcomes, assessments and accountability, infrastructure and professional learning cannot happen in a thoughtful, systemic process without strong and consistent leadership. And, as everything else is, in part, dependent on leadership, so is leadership influenced by what happens in each of the other topics.

  • As you build your own roadmap, you will encounter many of these connections, some unique to your own circumstances and goals. Incorporating these connections creates a web of interconnected supports that can strengthen all aspects of your plan.



There is awareness that leadership is a shared responsibility requiring commitment among staff, from top to bottom, to the vision and mission. Teachers and education leaders play important roles in developing the vision, mission and planned implementation.


There is a developing consensus of shared responsibility for and commitment among staff, from top to bottom, for a 21st century vision and mission that can be embedded into planning and implementation documents and actions.


There is shared responsibility for and commitment among staff, from top to bottom, to the vision and mission, widely visible in strategic planning documents and improvement plans as well as in school activities, signage, slogans and other artifacts.



Leadership is distributed—It reflects the idea that everyone in a school shares the responsibility of leadership and establishing culture, and seeks to give voice to all constituencies, including teachers, students, parents and the community.


Leadership and culture are open and tolerant—They embrace all stakeholders, give attention to differing perspectives, and benefit from the diversity that is present.


Leadership is visionary—It focuses on the future, the world in which students will live and work, and seeks to continuously improve the learning experience in an effort to better prepare students for their future.


Leadership advocates—It involves leaders serving as advocates for both teachers and students to ensure that they have what they need to successfully in prepare today’s students for tomorrow.


  • Is there a shared vision for the school or district among stakeholders?

  • How are the business, the higher education, and parent communities involved with the school or district?

  • What are the ways the school or district focuses on the students?

  • How does the school or district create an environment that supports risk taking and innovation while remaining accountable?

  • In what ways, are Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity (the 4C’s) embedded into learning?

  • What is the collective vision and plan for implementation of the initiative for the school or district?

  • What are the key policies and practices that need changing to transform the school or district?

  • What tools and resources are needed to transform learning?

  • What are the plans for building educator capacity to implement 21st century learning pedagogy and practices?

  • How can the district employ a cycle of transformation to ensure continued improvement?


Build a plan to manage the transformation

Create a consensus with internal and external communities

Seek advice from experts and respected leaders (internal and external at all levels)

Progress steadily and deliberately—not too fast

Listen, communicate, listen communicate, REPEAT

Manage expectations—Allow for risk taking and mistakes, and move forward

Keep students and learning at the center


  • Structure of the day/school year/requirements for classes

  • Educator/administrator evaluation

  • Accountability system requirements

  • Graduation requirements (or any other curricular requirements)

  • Educator/administrator licensure

  • Professional development or learning structure/policies

  • Assessment policies/requirements

  • Textbook/technology policies

  • Purchasing policies


  • Katherine Smith Elementary School, San Jose, CA
    The first elementary school in the PBL-driven New Tech Network, Katherine Smith School is a neighborhood school with a majority Hispanic population, generational poverty, and numerous challenges. However dedicated leadership and a committed staff have transformed the school into a vibrant and sought after exemplar for 21st century learning.
    School Website

  • A.L. Stanback Middle School, Hillsborough, NC
    A.L Stanback Middle School prides itself in providing students intentional instruction on 21st century skills. The success of developing college and career ready students is largely attributed to a thriving professional learning community within AL Stanback. Teachers are treated as professionals and given the freedom to guide their own professional development. Through team work and peer collaboration, educators, with the help of parents and community members, have created a culture of 21st century learning centered on literacies, including global, health, and tech literacy.
    Case Study
    School Website

  • Spirit Lake High School, Spirit Lake, IA
    Students at Spirit Lake High School develop critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving skills in a highly interdisciplinary environment. The administrators and instructors at Spirit Lake have instituted approaches such as the CORE Academy, where multiple core subjects such as science and English are taught and assessed simultaneously, and J term, a Project Based Learning opportunity for all students to explore an area they are passionate about, or complete an internship.
    Case Study
    School Website

  • Manor New Tech High School, Manor Texas
    A New Tech Network school with a strong commitment to project based learning, engaged learning approaches, and effective use of technology. With 8 years of PBL experience, Manor New Tech has developed its own professional development institute Think Forward and has consistently shown great student outcomes and achievement. The school has received national recognition with over 1000 visitors a year, including President Obama.
    Case Study (in development)
    School Website

  • Ben Franklin Elementary School, Glen Ellyn School District 41, Illinois
    At the realization of a need for a new approach for 21st century learning, a committee made up of District 41 school leaders and administrators, dubbed “The Think Tank,” created new structures for project-based-learning, student-centered learning and multiage student grouping. In addition, new opportunities for professional growth and collaboration were adopted. The implementation of the new learning structures allowed and called for new formal and informal structures for professional collaboration. Professional Learning Communities, PLC’s, enable different groupings of teachers to collaborate and share across schools on best practices.
    Case Study
    School Website

  • Minnetonka Public Schools, Minnetonka, MN
    The leadership team in the Minnetonka Public Schools (MN) have institutionalized processes that support an inclusive culture of innovation among its education community. As a long-time leader in the use of technology, the district’s embrace of new processes have truly transformed the culture by increasing the focus on the desired learning outcomes, while appropriately addressing the essential conditions needed for a quality professional development, a robust infrastructure, and selection of the right tools.

  • Anaheim Union High School District, Anaheim, CA
    Anaheim Union High School District students demonstrated their knowledge and mastery of the 21st century skills by successfully petitioning their mayor, Tom Tait, to officially declare Anaheim the first “P21 City.” As part of an innovative and civic project, the high school students created an online petition, and spoke at city hall to advocate for Anaheim to endorse the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning. Now, local businesses and community organizations are better equipped to collaborate with schools in internships and other partnerships aligned to the Framework.
    “Our Future Now” website
    Case Study (Savannah High School)
    District Website