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What is “inside-out” thinking?

By September 27, 2018No Comments

Good test scores are good. You know what’s great? A school where leaders and teachers pull together for professional collaboration and learning that leads to continuous improvement and innovation—not because of mandates and regulations imposed by the district office or the state department of education, but because they genuinely desire excellence and want to grow as professionals.

This is what we’ve been calling “inside-out” thinking. It centers on a degree of autonomy and curiosity that we think all schools—charter or district, Montessori or Core Knowledge, “distinguished” or “turnaround”—should strive for.

Going “inside out” doesn’t mean going rogue. Parents and other stakeholders deserve accountability, and it’s definitely useful to have some common standards you’re trying to help every student achieve. While we dislike the way some external mandates create frustrating conditions for teachers and school leaders, we also have observed that mandates can, indeed, help schools improve—at least for a time.

So we’re definitely not talking about a rebellion against accountability. Rather, we’re actually talking about a new and even deeper form of accountability: teachers and school leaders becoming so invested in one another’s success that there’s nowhere for a non-engaged teammate to hide. Every minute of every school day and professional learning is focused on student achievement.

The difference between one kind of accountability and the other is that, if treated as professionals and allowed to pursue their professional curiosity, educators will respond as professionals—seeking to upgrade their skills and the environment they work in, just like other professionals do. Inside-out thinking means individual schools determining their own goals and the actions to take to get there. It means educators are empowered to engage in professional collaboration and peer coaching to reach these goals, while still ensuring that the school meets foundational expectations that might be in place via district or state-level mandates.

I can hear the skeptics out there saying, that sounds great, but does it actually work? It does. In the next post in this series, we’ll share the results of a district-wide initiative in Australia that took an inside-out approach that yielded dramatic improvements to student achievement and teacher morale.

View McREL’s Curiosity Works videos on our curiosity-driven, inside-out approach to school improvement.

Kristin RouleauKristin Rouleau is a senior director of learning services at McREL International and co-author of Unstuck and Curiosity Works.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.

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