You would be hard-pressed to talk to a teacher, secretary, or school administrator who would say we are not experiencing some disruptive times in education.

Since 2008, public perception of educators, in general, has been less than favorable. Expectations have increased exponentially, but funding education initiatives has not grown at the same pace. We face one disruption after another, yet we continue to find ways to meet the needs of our students, engage parents, respond to community desires, and do what is best for all stakeholders.

We recently co-authored a book titled, Leading Schools in Disruptive Times: How to Survive Hyper Change. As the political and social climate in our nation has changed, the release of this book could not have come at a better time.

We explore seven disruptions educators are facing today; we define what we mean by disruption, disruptive event, and hyper-change.

Understanding these working definitions give greater depth to each disruption, described as:

  • Disruption—Any invention or societal shift that gradually changes how schools operate
  • Disruptive Event—An incident based on a disruption that suddenly changes how schools operate
  • Hyper-Change—Changes that, stacked on top of changes in new areas, might not have existed a decade ago


With that in mind, we describe seven disruptions school leaders face today:

  1. The emphasis on student safety, including the fear of school shootings, the laser-like focus on social/emotional development, and efforts to combat high stress levels in today’s students and families.
  2. Accelerating technology advances that change how students learn and how schools operate, including the influx of smartphones, wearable technology, and the impact of social media.
  3. A system of reform efforts such as A Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, Common Core State Standards, and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that has resulted in complex school accountability ratings that drive instruction, learning, hiring practices, and budgeting.
  4. The generational challenges that occur when baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, and millennials work together in the teaching force, and the demands of Generation Z that are leading to new types of teaching methods and spaces.
  5. The explosion of knowledge and getting students global ready, including the challenge of teaching global skills in a rigid, test-driven curriculum and attempting to answer the question, “What does it mean to be educated in the 21st century?”
  6. Dealing with increasingly complex diversity issues, including racial tension, ethnic differences, political polarization, and LGBTQ issues.
  7. The growing demand for transparency by parents who want access to school information, including 24-hour access to student grades; their demand for prompt responses from educators to their questions and requests; and their constant examination of the school’s curriculum, clubs, and overall grades.

This may seem overwhelming, and it is. However, we introduce a framework that school leaderscan use when confronted with a disruption: the CAT Framework: Cope, Adjust, Transform. We share stories from 21stcentury school leaders and educators who have faced one or more of these disruptions, highlight what they learned, and emphasize what they would do differently in the future. Through their stories, the reader can reflect on their daily work using the guided questions and CAT Framework activities at the end of each chapter.

In such a time as this, “It’s often the administrator’s voice that must resonate. In dark times, it must be a ray of light that others may follow. Now more than ever, administrators must be visible and plugged in with their students and staff.”

Dwight Carter is an author, speaker, and effectiveness coach. He was the principal of New Albany High School in New Albany, OH, which is regularly ranked among the top 100 high schools in the nation. In 2013 he was named a national Digital Principal of the Year by NASSP and is an inductee in the Renaissance National Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter @Dwight_Carter and visit his blog, Mr. Carter’s Office.

Mark White is an author, speaker, and consultant. He was the director of education and outreach at Mindset Digital and academic principal in the International Department of the Beijing National Day School in China. Earlier in his career, he served as superintendent, assistant superintendent, principal, assistant principal, department head, and teacher. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWhite55.

Be sure to check out Dwight Carter and Mark White’s books, Leading Schools in Disruptive Timesand What’s in Your Space.

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