Equity and Systems Transformation

Equity and Systems Transformation

 “There is promising evidence that leaders … can have tremendous impact on their organization’s and community’s capacity to produce successful outcomes for all students.” – Christina Dixon and Simone Palmer, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advance of Teaching 


This 35-page Reflection Guide for K–12 Executive Leaders highlights challenges as well as promising practices. And provides an outline of key dispositions, core practices, and levers of transformation needed for continuous improvement.

Summarized here are some of the highlights.  Download entire report here.


  • First they note that most school systems are “not designed to support every child” and in fact have built-in “systemic denial of opportunity.”
  • Second, they acknowledge that piece-meal approaches and compliance are inadequate.
  • BUT, they offer encouraging perspectives from leaders “driven by a moral imperative to eliminate disparities.”
  • AND, they report on “pioneering” efforts to “transform districts” through “continuous improvement.”

The Promise

What do those pioneering efforts look like?

  • Becoming “relentless learning organizations.” Giving up on top-down approaches. Developing the capacity of everyone. Eliminating barriers.
  • Deep engagement. Working with parents. “Listening deeply to diverse voices.” Involving everyone in problem-solving. Supporting teachers. Making it okay to stumble in support of improvement.
  • Building on strengths, thinking outside the box and working on continuous improvement – all focused on a shared vision.
  • And collaboration – getting everyone working together.

The authors report on the early learning of pioneering leaders. Transformational change and system-wide improvement they say comes from three factors:  key dispositions, core practices, and transformational levers.

Key Dispositions

  • GROWTH MINDSET – continuous improvement requires a growth mindset – one that says, “Yes, we can do this with persistence and hard work.”
  • CURIOSITY, HUMILITY, AND VULNERABILITY – leading with a humble learning stance that takes risks in confronting problems.
  • WELCOMING UNCERTAINTY – leading, and learning, through the rough spots; being willing to “learn by doing” as we move through uncertainty.
  • SCIENTIFIC REASONING – digging deeply into the data; thinking through problems; doing the detective work.
  • SYSTEMS THINKING – seeing the entire system, the parts, and how each connects to and influences the whole.

Core Practices … come from changes in behavior based on continuous improvement.

  • LIVE THE IMPROVEMENT PRINCIPLES – Making Carnegie’s six core principles of improvement science part of the daily work at every level of the organization. Link to core principles.
  • GET PROXIMATE TO THE WORK – Being a partner in the work; getting close enough to understand, appreciate, and support the needed changes.
  • DEMONSTRATE COMPASSION – Learning from staff, learning from mistakes, letting staff know you appreciate both the successes and the learnings from good attempts.
  • BE A LEAD LEARNER – Being vulnerable in sharing your own learning; admitting what you don’t know and how you are learning to learn as well.

Levers of Transformation – Getting better requires change … transformation. 

  • PROMOTE RADICAL ALIGNMENT – Being relentless about getting everyone to work toward the shared vision; growing capacity and collaboration across departments, divisions, schools.
  • BUILD AN IMPROVEMENT CULTURE – Valuing the people, the risk-taking, the transparency. Listening and removing barriers. 
  • DEVELOP EVERYONE’S IMPROVEMENT CAPABILITIES – Leading leaders to lead leaders; everyone working together to develop human capital and improved capacity.
  • INVEST IN IMPROVEMENT INFRASTRUCTURE – Improving collaboration, data systems, decision-making, and the systems that are foundational to the district.

It’s Not Easy.

This reflective guide notes that the work is difficult and takes years of relentless effort. It also points the way – showing how leaders can be powerful catalysts for systemic change. 


  • Reviewed by Larry Nyland
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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

To talk about growing extraordinary "high capacity" leadership for your team …
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