Our Vision

Students, educators, and communities partnering as agents of change to design:

Classrooms that empower
Schools that adapt
Systems that liberate

Our Mission

Highlander Institute partners with communities to imagine and create more equitable, relevant, and effective schools. Using research, we convene, coach, and build capacity to improve outcomes and experiences for all students.

Our Approach

At Highlander Institute, we are committed to building student-centered, empowering schools that are anchored to components of anti-racist personalized learning. Within that effort, we believe that school partners in this effort benefit from a clear theory of change around both pedagogy and change management. Our approach addresses three universal educational challenges facing schools in the 21st century:

  • The inequities of school systems are magnifying. Student experiences, opportunities, and outcomes vary greatly between urban and suburban schools, as the “pedagogy of poverty” is pervasive in urban classrooms. 
  • There is a growing disconnect between the traditional school model and the demands and opportunities of the evolving workplace. 
  • School reform attempts typically produce a few model classrooms but an overwhelming lack of sustained, scalable positive change.

Our Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy (CRSP) instructional framework is supported by our Pathways model for school change and our liberatory data approach. Pathways offers a model for integrating student, parent, and teacher voice into change initiatives, and provides intentional leadership coaching to support buy-in, momentum, and sustainability of CRSP practices at the core of school change.

Our developing liberatory data approach includes  includes a suite of data tools that center improvement priorities around teacher mindset and practice shifts, student learning experiences and outcomes, and how those perceptions differ for students and teachers across various demographics. Too often language around instructional equity is rooted in deficit thinking about students whose communities have been historically oppressed so our data framework takes humanizing and liberatory approaches to continuous improvement.

While Highlander Institute offers multiple entry points for schools and districts interested in our change management process or instructional approach, our partnership with over 100 schools has demonstrated that the impact of our support increases when these two models are implemented together, when early adopter teachers are coached and supported with new classroom strategies, and when the work is adapted to meet the needs and local context of school partners. Throughout the unprecedented circumstances schools have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been excited by the ways that teachers and leaders have leveraged our frameworks and tools to significantly disrupt the status quo in buildings and classrooms. 

Our History

Highlander Institute is named after the Highlander Folk School, a social justice leadership training school and cultural center located in New Market, Tennessee known for its role during the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others were trained as activists at the center, returning with new skills to create change within their own communities. From this lineage, we believe that innovative educational practices are a catalyst for social change.

Since our earliest iteration in 1990, our team has worked with thousands of teachers across hundreds of schools, exploring how to leverage blended and personalized learning to design rigorous, meaningful, and collaborative learning opportunities that increase student engagement and achievement.

In 2019, we paused to interrogate the ways in which our school redesign efforts might perpetuate inequities. By deepening our expertise around asset-based pedagogies, learning science, and critical consciousness development, along with our analysis of the ways in which systemic inequity shows up for kids, we redefined personalization around a framework for Culturally Responsive & Sustaining Pedagogy (CRSP) that is now the foundation of all of our school and project partnerships. Through this framework, our educators are leveraging student identities, values, and assets to engage students, support deeper learning, and make learning more relevant and effective.