Agency. Creativity. Critical Thinking. Collaborative Problem-Solving. Caring. We want kids to develop these traits. We needed them ourselves, as educators during COVID. Some schools and districts chose to live those traits years ago, and it showed in their innovative, adaptive response. Here’s how you can do the same—building on strengths you already have.


What can we learn from public schools and districts whose learning models and cultures made them genuinely prepared for the challenges of COVID? The answer should shape public education for decades to come.

What’s This About? Schools & Districts Making Their Agentic Learning Model Their Operating Model, as Well

Throughout 2021, NGLC and eight prominent partner organizations explored an important set of questions with 70 hand-picked schools and districts. The participating schools and districts had chosen, long before COVID, to adopt or create genuinely different learning models for their students: learning models that emphasize student agency, self-direction, resilient adaptiveness, real-world problem-solving, creative and critical thinking, and effective collaboration. They were leaning into those attributes in their adult professional cultures and systems as well. We asked:

  • How did you apply those attributes to meet the daunting tests of COVID—itself a kind of crucible of the kind of challenges that today’s students will likely face throughout their lifetimes? How did those attributes serve you and your community?
  • How did you develop those attributes in the first place? What made you so prepared?

Their stories paint a picture of organizational “humaneness” that is a compelling version of the future. It is a picture of pervasive coherence.


student success equals district values

Public education can look ahead to a future that is grounded in the striking amount of coherence found among research and vision statements of student success, district value statements, and what employers want. (Courtesy of NGLC)

How This Project Can Help You Build Resilient, Inclusive, and Responsive Schools & Districts

Every school and district already has elements of these attributes even if they aren't the norm (yet) as they are in many of the schools and districts we studied.

For all of the disruption, isolation, and disarray experienced during COVID, this period also saw an unprecedented level and velocity of invention. Public education in the U.S. was not able to serve many children well during this pandemic; but millions of educators turned on a dime to reimagine their entire practice in the face of crisis—and they are still doing so today.

The Prepared project tools and narratives can help your school community answer these questions:

  • What elements in your school or district’s response to COVID went well, all things considered?
  • Where did good ideas pop up that were quickly embraced by colleagues?
  • What aspects of traditional schooling became suddenly unworkable—and now seem like bad practice to return to?
  • Where did you find new, unexpected levels of partnership with other agencies in your community?
  • How can you build on these strengths and bright spots and help them become your operating and cultural norms?

Many of the schools and districts we studied spent a decade or more doing exactly this: 1) Co-creating a shared vision; 2) Identifying existing innovations and saying “Yes” to new ideas to solve high-priority problems; and then 3) Connecting and building on these practices until they become understood as “the way we do things here.”

Take the Next Step to Rebuild Your School or District

  • Educators: Learn from these resilient schools and districts. Use the “Five Hows” framework to apply those lessons to your context. Then assemble a team in the project Makerspace to identify your school or district’s most adaptive, creative response to COVID. Tell that story effectively so that it is known in your community, and build on that success to become a more thoroughly resilient, more systemically flexible, more inclusive and responsive organization. (If you're looking for more support, consider joining NGLC's new Bravely network.)
  • Education Providers: Discover the approaches used by participating schools and districts. Adapt and integrate these approaches with the services you currently provide.
  • Researchers, Policymakers, Funders: Examine how this research might shape work you’re already doing—or suggest new streams of work or investments.
  • Students: Ask yourself and your peers: How did you adjust during COVID? Ask teachers in your school to explore the questions raised by this project with you. Gather students, teachers, and staff to brainstorm ways your school can become a healthier, more inclusive and responsive culture.

Get Started: Why This Matters

Explore why this research is so important especially in this moment of exhaustion and overwhelming need.

Learn More

Remember: This project offers valuable lessons to learn, tools to use, and pitfalls to avoid, but the right path forward is the one that is developed by the people who lead, work within, and benefit from your school or district.

Project Partners

What Made Them So Prepared is made possible by a generous grant from the Leon Lowenstein Foundation and was produced by these nine organizations. Learn more.

Prepared Research Project Partners

Photo at top by Allison Shelley for EDUimages, CC BY-NC-4.0