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Administrators Planning Innovation for Rural Education (AsPIRE) is a collaborative and innovative effort to enhance rural school leadership in Tennessee.

In 2017, supported by philanthropic investment, the Center for Educational Leadership convened 23 highly successful rural school principals and principal supervisors to research and better understand what attributes and strategies enable exceptional leadership in rural schools in the Volunteer State.  Based on their findings, this group of excellent leaders utilized a design thinking protocol to develop and pilot several collaborative professional learning experiences to support principal effectiveness in the rural setting. The AsPIRE principals proposed four specific interventions, at varying levels of intensivity and time commitment:

  1. Mastermind Groups – A facilitated group of school leaders who convene regularly in person or virtually to discuss pre-determined issues or readings on rural education as well as their own “problems of practice.”
  2. Learning Networks – A facilitated group of school leaders who convene regularly for a set period of time on a specific topic(s) that are taught more informally through readings, discussion, walkthroughs or speakers. Could result in a certificate of participation or micro-credential.
  3. Cohort Experiences – A group of school leaders selected for a formal learning experience (e.g., a course or intensive multi-week experience) during which they learn about a specific topic(s) together and from each other, with an expectation of an ongoing relationship. Could result in course or TASL credit.
  4. A Rural Residency Program – A formal, structured professional learning experience in which aspiring rural school leaders learn through coursework, are placed full-time with a successful school leader for a set period of time, complete a specific work product, and earn a credential (degree and/or license).

These four proposed collaborative learning experiences would bring small groups of rural principals and/or aspiring school leaders together to address shared problems of practice, enhance knowledge in critical areas, cooperatively problem solve, and develop strong professional networks. Each of the collaborative learning experiences proposed by the AsPIRE principals group (formally known as the Expert Design Team or EDT) will include facilitation and leadership coaching.

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