Last week I reconnected with two of the principals I met when I first started writing about high-performing and rapidly improving schools for Ed Trust back in 2004. Sharon Brittingham and Gary Brittingham were leading Frankford Elementary and East Millsboro Elementary schools, respectively, which were down the road from each other in rural Delaware. Large and diverse, with significant numbers of children living in poverty, each school was at the top of the state in terms of achievement.

Both of the Brittinghams (by the way, they say they’re not related to each other) taught me a lot about the kinds of things schools can do to ensure that all of their students are learning at high levels.

Their schools exemplified what it looked like to replace the old system of autonomous professionals working in isolation with a comprehensive system of professionals learning from and supporting each other. I could see how energizing shared learning and collaborative planning could be for teachers – and the powerful effects it had for students.

Since then, each has gone on to other jobs — Gary was assistant superintendent for several years before retiring and is now temporarily back in a school as assistant principal; Sharon works with the University of Delaware coaching principals around the state. But in the past decade, their former district, Indian River, has moved forward, building on the successes that they had achieved in their schools and replacing the system of autonomous schools working in isolation with a comprehensive district system of professionals learning from and supporting each other.

To explore what that looks like, I went to Indian River to conduct a webinar on district improvement in which Sharon participated.

Beforehand, I caught up with Gary, and he repeated something he told me years ago.

A videographer was capturing the conversation and I wasn’t taking notes, so I am going to paraphrase, but he observed that educators have gotten really good at predicting which students will have trouble in school. He then said that once we know which students are likely to have trouble, it is the job of professional educators to figure out how to help them.

This acknowledgement of the profound responsibility professional educators have to their students has struck me as an important way to think about schools and education, and I thought I would pass it on.