Leading Schools in Disruptive Times: How To Survive Hyper-Change


Dwight L. Carter & Mark White

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  • Copyright


    For our families and staff, without whom this work would not have happened


    From A Nation at Risk to Columbine to Twitter

    In 1983, I sat in my car and listened to a story on National Public Radio about the newly released education report sending tremors through American public education. Though I was a young, beginning teacher, I knew this was a seminal moment in education. “Our nation is at risk . . .” the report stated. I sensed I was about to be swept up in a wave of change that would transform American education.

    I was right, but I could not have imagined the full impact of that report or the other disruptions, from Columbine to Twitter, that would rattle the education world over the next 35 years. I saw changes that led to more changes. Like other school administrators, I noticed that the changes seemed to be arriving more frequently. We moved from A Nation at Risk to No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top to the Every Student Succeeds Act. The computers sped up, became cheaper, and appeared in more classrooms. Smartphones created a world of opportunity—and apps, and challenges—for school leaders.

    Schools have become more complex, and leadership job descriptions are becoming longer and more detailed. Many of the 20th century responsibilities are still present: School leaders must still lead orderly schools, take care of the students and staff, and be accountable to parents. But in the 21st century I’ve seen the challenges of managing social media, maintaining student safety, promoting diversity, leading multiple generations, providing transparency, implementing constant school reforms, and getting students global-ready.

    The Rate of Change Is Growing Exponentially

    In the 20th century I could cope with an issue and quickly move on to the next one; it was a simpler time. But I noticed in the 21st century I had to cope with more difficult issues, rapidly adjust my operations to prepare for the next disruption, and then work with my staff to transform mindsets to understand what was happening. On too many occasions, today’s school leaders cope with disruptions without taking the time to analyze or reflect on the changes rattling their schools. Thus, they’re not prepared for the next viral video or social media storm.

    It’s not because of a lack of effort on their part. On the contrary, school administrators are some of the most capable and hardest working leaders in the world. They have worked in an environment with constantly shifting expectations and shrinking budgets while dealing with the greatest disruptions in global history. The economy and society have been shifting rapidly in the past three decades, and school leaders have been charged with keeping up with them. But the world has changed so rapidly it’s hard to comprehend it all.

    The Goals of This Book

    This book will help you

    • see the history of American school disruptions as a lens through which to understand what is happening in schools today,
    • recognize the major disruptions that are reshaping our schools and use them to transform your thinking and that of your staff,
    • use a new model for charting school progress, one built around 21st century disruptions and not just a 20th century assessment system, and
    • look to the future to see the radical changes coming so you will be prepared to meet them.

    After reading this book, you will have a deeper understanding of

    • why disruptions are affecting our schools,
    • how to more effectively identify and manage disruptions,
    • a new evaluation system that more effectively measures what schools accomplish, and
    • ideas for transitioning your schools into hyper-change.
    Special Features

    The book is unique in several ways.

    • Scope: It provides a broad look at the disruptions of American school history to help the reader understand the scope of what is happening today.
    • Practical Ideas: The book then helps leaders narrow the focus to identify the disruptions affecting their own schools through practical ideas at the end of each chapter.
    • Stories From Exceptional Educational Leaders: Some of the finest educators have contributed their ideas and stories to this book; they are all award-winning, highly respected, experienced educators. They provide real-life, authentic tips to which all school leaders can relate.
    • Decision-Making Framework: A new decision-making framework designed around coping, adjusting, and transforming is offered that specifically targets 21st century disruptions.
    • A New Model of Leadership: Most leadership books espouse honing leadership skills within the current education model; this book promotes the idea that school leadership must be improved to prepare for the next model that will be brought about by hyper-change.
    • A Glimpse Into the Future: The book offers ideas of what education might look like within the next 15 years as artificial intelligence makes education a differentiated, interactive experience for all students—and what leaders can do now to shift their own thinking and that of their staff.
    • End-of-Chapter Tips: Chapters end with practical actions school leaders can take to implement the suggestions discussed in the chapters.
    • Scenarios for Applying the CAT Strategy: Each chapter offers scenarios for school leaders to help them apply the CAT strategy (coping, adjusting, and transforming) introduced in Chapter 2.
    • Activities: Each chapter contains useful activities school leaders can engage in with their staff to practice leading in disruption.

    This shift in thinking is not optional; our schools will cease to exist within the next two decades if we don’t take these steps. The disruptions entering our schools will continue to accelerate; school leaders must rapidly pivot to a new problem-solving model designed around coping, adjusting, and transforming.

    I have the highest respect for school leaders and the challenges they face on a daily basis and through the span of their careers. I hope this book can help them.

      Mark White



      Dwight Carter



    We’d like to thank the many people who made this book possible and worked with us through the years as we sought new paths through education. First is Superintendent Gregg Morris, who hired us both to be administrators in the Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools in Gahanna, Ohio, and contributed his ideas to this book. Gregg gave us the freedom to grow and implement new ideas as principals, and he has left a lasting legacy in the community and in our careers. Another great administrator featured in this book is Charles Rouse, the long-time principal of Leander High School in Leander, Texas. Today the district has Charles Rouse High School, named in his honor, and when it comes to having a positive impact on teachers and young people, no one’s ever been better.

    We’ve truly been honored to have an incredible group of educators offer their anecdotes and insights in the chapters about the various disruptions. They are award-winning superintendents, principals, and teachers who are at the top of their profession and took hours of their time to answer our questions and come along on this journey with us. Each day they shape the world for their students, and through this book they are helping positively impact thousands of other educators and students. Thanks to Aleta (Ebrett) Adams; Angie Adrean; Keith Bell; Meegan Bennett; Paul C. Dols; Dr. Jay R. Dostal; Patrick Gallaway; Dr. Kevin Grawer; Carrie Jackson; Jack M. Jose; Chris Lehmann; Brandi Lust; David Manning; Jason Markey; Derek McCoy; Dr. Jennifer Regelski; Michael John Roe, EdD; Gary Sebach, AIA; Ira Sharfin; Krista L. Taylor; Kate Thoma; Todd A. Walker, PhD; Rae L. White, PhD; William L. Wittman; and Steve Woolf, PhD.

    We are grateful to Arnis Burvikovs and Desirée Bartlett at Corwin Press for their ideas and patience. They’ve understood that we, too, are still practicing administrators and our time and energy are carefully parceled out to myriad projects. They helped us stay on path through this one, and it was all done with professionalism and, most important, kindness.

    We’d like to thank our families for their patience as we spent countless hours at school events, were on the road consulting, or were locked away in our studies writing for hours at a time. While they might not have their names on the cover, this book would not have been written without their understanding.

    Finally, we give our thanks to the thousands of teachers and students with whom we have interacted in the past three decades. Their actions, ideas, and support have shaped us as leaders and educators. They showed us there’s no finer place to spend a career than in a school. We hope this book helps them as they transition into the next stage of school development.

    Publisher’s Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    • David G. Daniels, High School Principal
    • Susquehanna Valley High School
    • Conklin, NY
    • Virginia E. Kelsen, Executive Director, Career Readiness
    • Chaffey Joint Union High School District
    • Ontario, CA
    • Delsia Malone, Principal
    • W. E. Striplin Elementary School
    • Gadsden, AL
    • Nancy M. Moga, K–5 Principal
    • Callaghan Elementary School
    • Covington, VA
    • Sandie Morgan, 6–8 Math and 8 Religion Classroom Teacher
    • Nativity of Mary School
    • Independence, MO

    About the Authors

    Dwight L. Carter and Mark White have worked together for over 15 years, first in the Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools in Gahanna, Ohio, where they were both administrators, and now as authors, speakers, and consultants. Together they led a team of teachers, students, and community members in the design of Clark Hall, a high school building that was named the Best in Tech 2012 by Scholastic because of its innovative use of global skills, technology, and learning space to teach Generation Z. They coauthored (with Clark Hall architect Gary Sebach) What’s in Your Space? 5 Steps for Better School and Classroom Design (Corwin Press). They have a passion for working with other educators to help unlock the secrets of teaching today’s young people, and they continue to write and explore new topics, especially those concerning 21st century school leadership. They both live in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

    Dwight L. Carter Dwight is the principal of New Albany High School in New Albany, Ohio. Prior to accepting this position, he was the principal of Gahanna Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio. In 2013 he was named a national Digital Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). He is also an inductee in the Renaissance National Hall of Fame because of his incredible work in developing positive student culture. Dwight has frequently been a guest speaker in schools, universities, and at local, state, and national conferences that deal with Generation Z, technology use, staff development, school culture, and other 21st century education topics. He has authored numerous blogs and has written on behalf of NASSP. During his 22-year career, he has also been a high school social studies teacher, a high school assistant principal, and a middle school principal.

    Mark White Mark is a school leader, author, and consultant. He was previously the director of education and outreach at Mindset Digital in Columbus, Ohio, the academic principal at the Beijing National Day School in Beijing, China, and the superintendent of the Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools in Gahanna, Ohio. During his tenure as superintendent, the district earned the state’s highest academic rating and implemented a wide variety of global skills and technology into its curriculum, and he was a member of the Dell Platinum Advisory Council. During his 35-year career, Mark has been a consultant to both the College Board and ACT and has served on two national education reform committees. He has frequently been a guest speaker in universities and at local, state, and national conferences. Prior to being a superintendent, Mark was a high school English teacher and department head, high school assistant principal, principal, and assistant superintendent.

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