A new analysis drawn from CRPE’s two-year study on personalized learning explores the behaviors that principals and district leaders use to help teachers create and implement new ways of teaching. 

School Leaders and the Problems of Change and Innovation

CRPE researchers observed how school leaders in the study used “opening” behaviors, which encouraged experimentation, and “closing” behaviors, which supported consistent implementation of innovative practice. The paper profiles two schools and describes how their leaders leveraged opening and closing behaviors, examines the pitfalls that other school leaders experienced, and gives recommendations for principals and district leaders.

Common Practices

In the two schools profiled, both principals:

  • Set baseline expectations before encouraging experimentation and codifying.
  • Strategically used personnel management to support opening and closing behaviors.
Common Pitfalls

In other schools, leaders gave teachers leeway to experiment, but failed to close in ways that identified good practice or helped it spread. Leaders encountered two common pitfalls:

  • Being too open
  • Post-hoc closing
Recommendations for Principals and School District Leaders

Leading innovation is complex and demands leadership skills that extend beyond change management. 

  • Principals should understand opening and closing behaviors as a complement to change management; use a common vision, mission, and guardrails; and engage leadership teams and use human capital management levers to “close” on what’s expected in classrooms and schoolwide.
  • District leaders should think about mixed signals and competing initiatives from the district and recognize that some schools should invent approaches and others should adopt preexisting innovative models.


See our full, interactive report for detailed findings and recommendations, video interviews, and student projects.


Related Research: