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Celebrating Both Authentic Learning and Authentic Leadership

Updated: May 18

In 2021, we rebranded our organization from Partnerships Make a Difference to Partnerships for Authentic Learning and Leadership because, while we have always been and still remain a teacher-facing organization, it became very clear that systemic, long-term change must be fully supported by school administrators. We are launching a mission to reimagine education by:


  1. Encouraging administrators to lead with vision.

  2. Inspiring teachers to engage hearts and minds.

  3. Empowering students to become experts and changemakers.

As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Month, we also want to celebrate administrators who lead authentically – administrators who understand and can navigate the internal systems that make authentic learning possible. A great example of an authentic leader is Carla (Wilson) Quick of Barrington Elementary in the Upper Arlington School District (OH).

To create systemic change, leaders lead their colleagues and community through eight steps of organizational change (Dr. John Kotter, business entrepreneur and Harvard professor):


  1. Create a sense of urgency

  2. Build a guiding coalition

  3. Form a strategic vision

  4. Enlist a volunteer army

  5. Enable action by removing barriers

  6. Generate short-term wins

  7. Sustain acceleration


Institute change


Carla collaborated with her 5th grade team and Partnerships to respond to a sense of urgency. The teachers understood the needs students were encountering in the 5th grade and were ready to do what it took to meet those needs. For example, the teachers recognized that students could benefit from additional opportunities to demonstrate critical thinking, collaboration, empathy, and leadership. As a result, the teachers and Carla developed a strategic vision for the 5th grade experience, reframing it to “build leaders” by utilizing student voice and authentic learning as intentional components. The teachers and students became the army while Carla cleared the way for their success.


This year-long integration of authentic learning focused on developing leadership skills through important work while considering the power of “creating a legacy.” Early in the school year, the teachers introduced the books, A Long Walk to Water and The Journey of Hope (Lost Boys of Sudan,) and brought in guest speaker and author Bol Aweng. As a survivor of the civil war in South Sudan, Bol was considered a “Lost Boy of Sudan.” He shared his story with students, including his emergence as a leader among the boys he helped in South Sudan. The Barrington 5th graders were inspired by Bol’s story and decided they wanted to support his nonprofit clinic in Sudan.


Bol Aweng Shares His “Lost Boy” Story with Students

The 5th graders’ next adventure with the project was to partner with residents of First Community Village. Their older friends also read A Long Walk to Water. Some of the Village residents took a field trip to Barrington to visit with the students, discuss the book, tell their personal stories, have lunch, play games, and listen to the 5th graders sing.


Resident of First Community Village discusses A Long Walk to Water with 5th-graders.

One of the powerful steps often overlooked by administrators is removing barriers. We expect change, but we expect change to happen in the same conditions that created the problem we are trying to overcome. Carla addressed barriers and changed the conditions for learning by providing the 5th grade team with additional planning time to design this authentic work, as well as coaching support by Partnerships staff members.

Today, the 5th grade experience at Barrington Elementary School looks and feels different than it did a year ago: increased academic and emotional engagement; daily examples of leadership, empathy, and responsibility; fewer discipline issues; increased positive interaction with parents; and obvious student pride in this year’s shared accomplishments. These gains are a result of Barrington’s emphasis on both authentic learning and authentic leadership. Way to go Carla and the 5th grade teaching team!

5th Grade Barrington Teaching Team includes Clay Bogart, Andrea Garvey, Sarah Imes, Kelsey Longwell, Christy Murdock, Sally Sugar with additional support from Jennifer Dodge, Gwen Davis, Gordon Gavin, Angi Brooks, and Katie Widing.

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