How Leaders Created What’s Next: A Look Back at the 2020-21 School Year (Part 1)

How Leaders Created What’s Next: A Look Back at the 2020-21 School Year (Part 1)

This summer, we’re all taking a moment to pause, look back, and reflect upon the past school year.

The 2020-21 school year was truly a testament to the resilience of school leaders, teachers, staff, and students—all who persevered through uncertainty and tremendous ups and downs in a year unlike any other before.

People and process are at the heart of what we do at Accelerate Institute: we develop and support school leaders so that they can drive organizational change, and we do that by teaching them the processes for accelerating growth within their schools.

During the past school year, each of the leaders who we support through our programming was at full capacity balancing the daily demands of meeting student and teacher needs during a pandemic, all while struggling to not burn out themselves.

They tirelessly created and adjusted strategic plans for indefinite remote learning, then paused and revised those plans when in-person schooling returned.

As we look ahead to what school will be like in 2021-2022, we wanted to share three things we took away from our experiences developing school leaders over the past year.

1. School leaders place tremendous value on their own professional development

It goes without saying that school leaders had an overwhelming number of responsibilities during the pandemic.

While they were working to protect the health and safety of students and staff, organize remote learning plans, and transition back into in-person instruction, one might expect that they had to delay any focus on their own professional development.

But that wasn’t the case.

Despite their workloads, school leaders’ engagement in our program stayed extremely high: leaders had an average attendance rate of 93% across our program’s advisory calls, cohort calls, and forums.

Our advisory team of Erica Eichleay, Velia Soto, and Dr. Angel Turner worked side-by-side with leaders all year, observing instruction in virtual classrooms, interviewing teachers, and problem-solving through challenges.

Because our advisors were so embedded in what was happening at each school, they were able to tailor forums, microlearnings, and resources so that they addressed exactly what topics leaders needed, whether it be strategies for supporting teachers in increasing student engagement or examples of how to have courageous conversations around equity.

The feedback that we received indicated that leaders truly valued the coaching and moral support that they received from their advisors and were grateful for the camaraderie and collegiality that they shared with peers in their cohort.




“Thought partner”









As a whole, 100% of advisees agreed that advisors provide them with valuable feedback and effectively support their growth as a leader.

2. The past year truly exemplified the intersection of systems, leadership competencies, and current context

As a part of our program’s school assessment review process, leaders work with their advisors to identify a set of strategic action steps at the beginning, middle, and end of each school year.

The action steps are guided by the Accelerate Framework objectives and Transformational Leadership Building Blocks (TLBB), which are based on our research into the key processes and practices of high-performing schools.

Action steps are selected based on school data, each school’s individual contextual factors, and each leader’s areas of growth. Additionally, they align with the objectives in each leader’s strategic plan, so that they drive continuous improvement within the school.

This year, the realities of the pandemic were at the forefront of the strategic planning and action step identification process to ensure that leaders were implementing systems and practices that addressed the challenges head-on.

  • The bulk of leaders’ individual development came in the Transformational Leadership Building Blocks of Strategic Thinking & Planning and Communication. For Strategic Thinking & Planning, advisors supported leaders in effectively prioritizing so many competing demands in an ever-changing environment. In terms of Communication, the virtual environment (and spring transition to in-person learning) underscored the importance of clear and consistent contact with staff, parents, students, and other stakeholders to ensure that everyone was on the same page.
  • At the beginning of the school year, 76% of leaders leveraged strategic action steps in Change Management as they established and adjusted their systems for monitoring progress, course correcting, and managing staff time in a remote environment. 85% of leaders will leverage strategic action steps in Change Management going into the new school year to reestablish norms during a full return to their buildings.
  • 59% of leaders worked on High-Performing Team strategic action steps at the beginning of the year, ensuring that school staff understood the goals and expectations for supporting students during remote learning. 75% of leaders have identified High-Performing Team strategic action steps for the fall, anticipating that they will need to reestablish relationships and build trust among staff that worked most of the year from home.
  • In the areas of Constructive and Aspirational Environment, leaders problem-solved around creating virtual classrooms that were conducive to learning and on how to meaningfully connect with families during an unconventional school year. Student attendance and engagement was a major focus for all of our school leaders, and their attention resulted in strong numbers (or improvement). 75% of our partner schools had average student attendance rates of at least 85%.
  • 66% of leaders leaned into strategic action steps in Data-Driven Culture at the beginning and middle of the school year, working to meaningfully assess student learning and adequately collect and analyze progress data.
  • Once the school year was underway in the remote setting, leaders focused on supporting teachers as they delivered virtual instruction, ensuring that they received feedback and coaching throughout the year. 97% of leaders identified specific strategic action steps in Black-Belt Teaching at the mid-point of the school year, and 100% of leaders will leverage strategic action steps in these areas in the fall.

3. With the right support in place, educators can continue to accelerate student achievement—even in the face of crisis

We know that the 2020-2021 school year required school leaders to throw their preexisting objectives on the back burner and adapt to the current situation at the drop of a hat.

Virtual schooling forced them to make adjustments to the ways they measured, analyzed, and discussed their data, but they all had systems in place to keep their teams focused on student learning.

Because of our program’s school assessment process, emphasis on strategic planning, and constant progress-monitoring, 100% of our leaders were able to maintain their focus on student outcomes.

My growth and development not just as a leader,
but confidence in myself, has increased exponentially
through the support, structures, and encouragement of
Accelerate Institute, my advisor, and my cohort.

—Amy Hopkins

Throughout the year, we collect a multitude of evidence on each school’s execution of Accelerate Framework objectives and drivers and Transformational Leadership Building Blocks and then tailor our programatic support based on this evidence.

This past school year accentuated just how much school leaders went above and beyond to support the needs of their students and families, build relationships with school staff, and provide engaging instruction to minimize unfinished learning.

Our rally cry was to “Create What’s Next” and our leaders did exactly that. They found creative solutions to ensure that student, teacher, and family needs were met. Our team at Accelerate Institute is so proud to work with such an exceptional and dedicated group of transformational leaders.

Check back later this month, when we’ll be featuring specific examples of how our leaders made progress this past school year.