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Change Agents

Change Agents
Transforming Schools From the Ground Up

October 2022 | 272 pages | Corwin

Educators, you are the hope you’ve been looking for.

Have you ever wondered what it would look like for you and your colleagues to really change how things are done in your school? For over twenty-five years, Partners in School Innovation has empowered educators in doing just that, across twenty-two school districts and eight states, dramatically improving underperforming schools in the process. Their secrets? Specialized adult learning tools, a results-oriented cycle of inquiry, professional development systems focused on coaching and collaboration, implementing improvement science, understanding the roles of race, class, culture, and power in schools, and more.

This book presents those time-tested, research-based practices through narratives chronicling the efforts of real-life educators. It presents thoughtful checklists and discussion questions to help educators strengthen the skill sets and mindsets needed to implement sustainable school improvement.

A lot has changed in recent years, but the solution to turning schools into lively, loving, learning communities remains the same: you. This book provides a blueprint for you to become the change agent your students need.

Introduction by Derek Mitchell
Chapter 1: Are You a Change Agent?
Chapter 2: Assembling Your Crew
Chapter 3: Finding Bright Spots & Building Momentum
Chapter 4: Focus, Follow Through, See: The Art & Science of Implementation
Chapter 5: Who Said Change Was Gonna Be Easy?
Chapter 6: Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch
Chapter 7: School Transformation Requires Personal Transformation
Chapter 8: Leading With Love
Chapter 9: Hi, I’m From the Central Office. And I’m Here to Help.
Chapter 10: The Practice of Freedom
Chapter 11: Thriving Schools, Thriving Communities

"We are reminded that making incremental improvements at the margins of a system originally designed to sort children by race, class, and language will only make inequitable sorting more efficient. This book shows us how to disrupt that cycle through the art and science of a school improvement methodology that is people-centered, asset-based, and equity-focused."

Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain

"In this important new book, Justin Cohen describes how educators can guide their schools on a path of continuous improvement drawing on core ideas from the learning sciences. Written in a clear, straightforward manner, educators will appreciate how guidance is provided and the ability of the author to anticipate where problems are likely to occur. For those who are tired of pursuing reforms that are little more than fads, this book will be a resource you can turn to when the work is hard and the problems you encounter seem daunting. For those who have not given up on the possibility that creating equitable schools is attainable, this book will be an invaluable resource."

Pedro Noguera, Dean
USC Rossier School of Education

"This fabulous book comes as an inspiration at a time when our schools are in need of honesty, healing, and hope. By telling the stories of real teachers and leaders struggling to teach and lead across differences, Cohen brilliantly fuses modern reform efforts and local context with the civil rights struggles to unearth the very real and still present truth of our shared history: teachers in the US are part of a proud tradition of liberators, and this book challenges them to own that mantle and face the challenge of making our country better as only teachers can."

Ellen Moir, Founder
New Teacher Center

“We are in a season where the most essential work for us all is to present the truth about the flaws in our education system and offer solutions to transforming it. This book does exactly that. A solid contribution to the literature and a powerful take on school improvement.”

Christopher Emdin
Author of Ratchetdemic: Reimagining Academic Success, Robert Naslund Endowed Chair, University of Southern California

"There is only one way to generate change... together. This volume helps us do just that."

Gloria Ladson Billings, Professor Emerita
University of Wisconsin–Madison

"Many people can point to what's wrong with public education, but few can identify both the problems and concrete solutions to address them. Cohen has done that and more in Change Agents. He presents an incisive indictment on how institutionalized racism has produced pervasive inequality in our public schools. He explores the history of social movements to change public education to help us better understand the obstacles change agents face today. Transforming public education is complicated, but Cohen delivers a clear vision for how to begin. An education activist, non-profit leader, and community organizer, Cohen brings those experiences to bear in this text. Teachers, parents, policymakers–really anyone concerned with the future of public schools–this is the book for you."

Alexis Hoag, Law Professor and Former Civil Rights Lawyer
Brooklyn Law School

"Change Agents: Transforming Schools from the Ground Up is written by and for educators about the gritty work of learning to improve. It offers powerful stories about educators making the principles, tools and methods of improvement science come alive in their classrooms and schools, the human challenges that can arise along the way, and also the sense of exhilaration that accompanies this work as educators experience transformation — how through their efforts they are making a real difference in their students’ lives. It is supportive and encouraging while also 'in your face' about what genuine improvements entail. In making this visible, practical and accessible to educators out in schools, it is a real contribution to the field and should be on every teacher's 'must read' list."

Anthony Bryk, author of Learning to Improve and President Emeritus
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

"Educators are the beating heart of our communities, striving to make a difference in their schools, and in their country. In this book, Justin Cohen has woven together stories, tools, and actionable advice to help teachers and leaders do just that. It is a must-read for any school or district that wants to become an even more vibrant place to teach and learn."

John B. King, former United States Secretary of Education

"This very practical and powerful work by Cohen and Partners in School Innovation demystifies what it means to do equity work in schools that primarily serve Black and Latinx students. The book features in-the-trenches story-telling, deep relationship-building, and an intense focus on how schools can effectively meet the needs of these historically underserved students. This is the work all urban school teachers and leaders must master if our students are going to reach their full potential. Yet, this work is not a idyllic victory narrative that ignores the social context in which schools exist. Cohen rightly reminds us that our shared history of systemic racism is the very context in which teachers teach and leaders lead today, and that education, when done right, can be a tool for advancing freedom, justice and, ultimately, democracy."

Marvin Lynn, Dean & Professor, Lead Editor
School of Education & Human Development, University of Colorado–Denver, The Handbook of Critical Race Theory in Education, 2nd Edition

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