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Intensive Transformation Cohort (ITC)

Summer 2020

During this unprecedented public health crisis, there also may exist a singular opportunity: to profoundly reshape how we conceptualize, structure, and deliver instruction and support to students in public schools. Therefore, in addition to offering the Principal Professional Learning Series to all public school principals across the state of Tennessee, the Center for Educational Leadership will also offer the opportunity for a limited number of innovative school leaders to explore school re-structuring and transformation more deeply and intensively.

The University of Tennessee will engage a small, select group of school principals with a track record of innovation and success and a penchant for creative solutions to thoughtfully reimagine what school could look like in a post-pandemic world. This Intensive Transformation Cohort (ITC) will meet multiple times in June to explore promising practices in educational technology, self-paced learning, adaptive curriculum, formative assessment, targeted intervention, non-traditional scheduling, personalized instruction, teacher collaboration, and hyper-flexible grouping.

Having begun to deeply understand these educational dynamics, the principals in the Intensive Transformation Cohort will be invited to consider how to fundamentally restructure and reorganize their schools to best meet the learning and support needs of students who will have been away from the traditional learning environment for some six months. Participating principals will be encouraged to bring a small cadre of educators and leaders from their schools into the conversation early on, so as to discern the best possible solutions, as well as to develop a group of champions to support this important change effort.

This intensive design initiative will be supported by technical assistance partners and experienced educational leaders, and will include careful planning around communication and implementation of potential changes.



The ITC will take advantage of the Principal Professional Learning Series (PPLS) as an organizing structure and foundational knowledge development strategy.  The ITC will operate concurrently with the PPLS, and each of the ITC principals and their teams will engage in the PPLS learning sessions. A special 90-minute PPLS session for ITC school teams will be offered each Wednesday. Particular emphasis will be focused on the critical module around differentiation, personalization, and intervention, since these will be key strategies to mitigating and addressing learning gaps and inequities exacerbated by the current public health crisis.

One day a week (typically Mondays) ITC principals will spend two hours with their school leader colleagues considering how to structure schooling to best support student success, and how each of the themes of the PPLS sessions (Assessment, Differentiation, Resources, and Culture) are inter-related and how they apply to their individual school contexts.  These Monday sessions will allow for creativity and coherence around the work of school transformation, and will enable principals to learn with and from their peers.

Finally, on Friday of each week, principals will meet with their school teams (up to 4 additional members) for two hours to internalize the lessons learned from the PPLS module, and dig in to the work of reorganizing their school to address achievement gaps and to maximize learning for all students. Five-member school teams will include the principal, at least one teacher leader, plus other educators, staff, parents and/or community stakeholders. Directors of Schools will be encouraged to check in with the school teams from their districts at this time.

The time commitment for ITC principals will be 5.5 hours per week (including the PPLS module), and the time commitment for ITC school team members will be 3.5 hours per week from June 8th through July 2nd.

This structure and schedule will enable and support two types of deep collaborative work: 1) learning with and from colleague principals (horizontal), and 2) learning and planning together as a school team with support from district leaders (vertical). The unique opportunity to combine horizontal and vertical conversation, ideation, strategizing, and plan formation will make the ITC a robust and powerful experience. While it is believed this format will catalyze creative thinking and innovative strategies, a premium will also be put on coherent and comprehensive solutions. Principals will be encouraged to carefully think through how transformational changes will be enabled and reinforced by reorganization of resources, building of instructional capacity, a focus on professional collaboration, clarity of communication, and reinvigoration of school culture.


A cohort of about 25 innovation-minded principals will be selected for the Intensive Transformation Cohort. The selection process will be cooperatively conducted by the University of Tennessee’s Center for Educational Leadership and Tennessee SCORE, in partnership with Directors of Schools. Participating principals will be nominated and selected from the pool of school leaders in districts participating in Tennessee SCORE’s COVID-19 Innovative Recovery Network (CIRN) initiative.  This will leverage support from district leaders, allow for bolder and more creative solutions, and ensure alignment with district priorities. Principals at all levels of experience may be nominated based on their commitment to student growth, achievement, and well-being, their track-record of success, their ability to manage adaptive change, and their creative mindset. Successful candidates will be recommended and nominated by their Director of Schools, and possess a willingness to think innovatively about restructuring schooling in order to maximize student learning.

Transformation Coach

Principals and school teams from each school district will be assigned a transformation coach who will help facilitate team planning, support the ideation process, identify potentially useful tools and resources, and encourage strong alignment and coherence. The transformation coach will communicate ideas and learning across school teams within the same school district, and share their expertise around school transformation and redesign. Ultimately, the transformation coach will assist principals and school team in balancing the need for urgent and radical solutions for the future of instruction, with the practical realities of our current crisis.

Expert Support

As the Intensive Transformation Cohort principals navigate the planning process for potentially restructuring and redesigning instruction in their schools, they will be supported by several organizations with deep content expertise. These will include Instruction Partners (instructional design), Education Resource Strategies (strategic resource management), and Education First (school culture and collaboration). These expert organizations will be presenting important content through the Principal Professional Learning Series that ITC principals and their school teams will have access to, but they will also craft deeper learning experiences around these critical topics for the ITC participants.

District Alignment

The work of the ITC principals will be aligned to their district plans and priorities in a variety of ways. Perhaps most notably, as mentioned above, selection of ITC principals will be exclusively from districts that are participating in Tennessee SCORE’s COVID-19 Innovative Recovery Network (CIRN) initiative. Aligning with the CIRN effort will support communication between school and district leaders, and give principals license to think innovatively and boldly about potential school redesign solutions. Further, coordinating with CIRN will leverage the intellectual assets of both programs for a richer and more robust learning and planning experience for all.

Knowledge Management

Given the enormity of the challenges our principals face in the coming school year, and the extremely short timeframe for planning, the Intensive Transformation Cohort will prioritize knowledge management.  Being able to discern and document key learnings from the ITC sessions, and then organizing that information into actionable insights will be critical to the success of the endeavor. The Center for Educational Leadership has engaged Education First to undertake this crucial knowledge management role.


With the current public health crisis on-going the Intensive Transformation Cohort will be a virtual learning and planning experience. The ITC will utilize the Zoom video conferencing platform, which will allow for whole group discussions, small group break-outs, and expert presentations.  This medium will enable multiple individuals playing professional support roles to be able to seamlessly move between groups and engage deeply in the school planning process.


The current public health crisis has catalyzed the need for creative strategies to meet both the academic and support needs of our students in the coming academic year. With support from the Tennessee Department of Education and Tennessee SCORE, the Tennessee Intensive Transformation Cohort will provide a unique collaborative professional learning opportunity for a small group of innovative school principals to lead the Volunteer State in redesigning traditional public education around the urgent, unprecedented, and growing needs of our schoolchildren.