Making the Exception the Norm
by Jim Heal and Ben Klompus
Despite decades of reform efforts, there remains a stark and troubling association between family income, race, and achievement in schools. Relay Graduate School of Education was established in 2011 to tackle this problem head on by providing high-quality, practice-based training to teachers and leaders who could develop in all students the academic and social-emotional skills necessary to create fulfilling lives.
Relay’s flagship leadership programs, the National Principal Academy Fellowship (NPAF) and the National Principal Supervisors Academy (NPSA), are grounded in research showing that school leaders matter and that effective school leadership has a significant positive effect on outcomes, particularly in schools serving those students with the highest need.
Central to Relay’s approach is the study and codification of “positive deviants” - school leaders whose results positively deviate from the norm - to help define exemplary practices and share them at scale. After visiting, interviewing, and observing these leaders in practice, four themes emerged. This study lifts up the voices of these leaders to bring these themes to life and to demonstrate what this work looks and feels like in real schools. It makes connections to the relevant research underpinning these leadership moves throughout and concludes with a set of recommendations for leaders moving forward who wish to learn from and apply the lessons learned within their own environments.