Academic Rigor for All: Leveraging a Playbook to Move Every Student to Mastery

December 5, 2022
Instructional Leadership
Observation & Feedback
Equity-Centered Practices
Dr. Ben Klompus, Katie Yezzi, and Jesse Corburn

In schools across the country, many leaders are asking themselves the same question:  What else can I do to accelerate student learning now?

This has been a perennial question, though the COVID-19 pandemic has taken an extra toll on student wellness and achievement. Yet there is little agreement about what to do. High dosage tutoring, increased time on social emotional learning, or more small-group instruction are but a few of the strategies leaders may be considering to meet student needs. 

Each of these have value. And yet, in our observations of the most effective school leaders – especially those who saw student achievement increase over the last two years – we see a similarity: leaders and teacher teams focused on constantly renewing their strong instructional foundation, built on high-quality learning materials, research-based instructional strategies, and effective use of time. Habits, systems, and practices sustain this focus.

To create this culture, we have worked with thousands of leaders to create “Playbooks,” - which are not only strategic planning tools, but an approach to school leadership that enables a team to clarify their vision, identify the highest-leverage areas of focus, and align their time to their priorities.  In just a few pages, a Playbook captures what, when, and how a leader and her instructional leadership team will address their instructional and school culture priorities at each point in the year. The power of a Playbook is that it sharpens each team’s focus.

We have already shared how a Playbook can guide a strong start to the school year, focused on school culture. In this next guide: Academic Rigor for All: Leveraging a Playbook to Move Every Student to Mastery, we explore how one principal, Jamila Hammett, creates and uses a Playbook focused on academic rigor. Through the Playbook process, she can identify the exact skills her teachers need to master to create high-quality lesson plans, engage students, help them through "productive struggle" with key concepts, and respond to student error.

Through examples, self-assessment questions, and usable tools, this guide will give you actionable steps to create your own Playbook and elevate the academic rigor in every classroom.

Want to support, practice, and peer feedback to create your own Playbook? Or want to introduce an entire team to Playbooks? Learn more about Relay's Leadership Programs. And find more inspiring stories of leaders making progress on student achievement, wellness, and equity in our Follow the Leaders series.

Dr. Ben Klompus, Katie Yezzi, and Jesse Corburn

Dr. Ben Klompus and Katie Yezzi are former teachers and school system leaders, currently serving as senior leaders of Professional Education Programs at Relay Graduate School of Education. Jesse Corburn is Assistant Superintendent at Uncommon Schools.