Equitable Practices as a Blueprint for Disruptive Change in K-12 Education

By Kellie Lauth & Melissa Risteff, originally published in the Decemer, 2021 issue of Equity & Access

Since inception, MindSpark Learning (MSL) has been modeling disruptive practices to maximize human potential and unleash impact. Recently MSL launched the Disruption Certification (D-Cert), a human-centric architecture and taxonomy — to upskill, recognize, and reward the highest possible standards in school leadership. MSL prepares clients to lean into disruption, cultivate it, and learn from it.

At the heart of this new certification are four evidence-based dimensions born from leading industry practices: Wellbeing, Innovation, Workforce, and Inclusion. School leaders work with MSL to develop a baseline reference point called their ed/quotient – then work together to build a blueprint for durable change that is tailored to the leader’s unique system.

Micro-certification or micro-credentials can be achieved in each of the dimensions, culminating in a consummate Disruption Certification across all dimensions. As each credential is earned, school leaders unlock relevant system-wide rewards to guide and galvanize them on their journey. D-Cert uses a capability model fueled by insights and incentives that improve transparency and outcomes – where school leaders positively impact their staff members, students, families, and community.

Equitable practices are game changers for driving sustained transformation within a humanistic educational ecosystem.

In K-12 education, data is often associated with performance assessments and standardized test scores that feed the existing school accountability system. With this system, schools use data to identify gaps and mitigate issues that are often reoccurring and could have been prevented. These mandates and district-enforced initiatives lead to a deficit mindset – whereby school leaders focus on problems over potential. The current system does not encourage equitable practices, does not enable school leaders to acknowledge and promote others, and often results in mediocrity.

D-Cert recognizes and rewards high performing schools and creates opportunities for educators to improve and innovate in ethical, productive ways. Within the D-Cert ideology, Wellbeing, Innovation, Workforce, and Inclusion are the ways work gets done – not extra projects or programs. They are part of teaching and leading, the curriculum, academic supports, nonacademic supports, school climate, classroom environments, the technology stack, and more. And cross cutting these four dimensions is the largest lever – an ardent focus on foundational equitable practices.

With D-Cert, school leaders develop attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors to achieve equitable and sustainable transformation in Wellbeing, Innovation, Workforce, and Inclusion. D-Cert transforms school leaders into equity-centered virtuosos in service of a vital, humanistic educational ecosystem designed for continuous improvement. School leaders redefine how to measure future student success and use rich data and outcomes to diagnose and optimize for student needs.

Equitable practices make access and opportunity possible for everyone in a hyper-localized community and school environment – to ensure the entire ecosystem gets what it needs. Next, we will explore how D-Cert’s breakthrough leadership practices are exemplified through an equity lens in the following three ways – Listen & Reflect, Empower Others, and A Bias for Action.

Listen & Reflect

Exemplar school leaders consistently incorporate the voices of students, educators, and families in data-driven decision making. Data is used both as a listening tool and a tool for reflection. Their organizations seek out and value all types of diversity including race, sexual orientation, gender, age, perceived social or economic status, lived experiences, and ways of thinking. These leaders cultivate ideas from diverse groups and integrate empathy into their problem solving. They are resilient and relentless in their pursuit to champion their students and their families.

Empower Others

Exemplar school leaders invest in setting quantitative and qualitative DEI benchmarks and goals. It is not just a numbers game where boxes are checked, and quotas are met. Accountability for meeting and exceeding targets is spread amongst all staff and educators. Local control is not held at the top – they practice distributive leadership. Results are acknowledged, celebrated, and communicated broadly. Failure to meet commitments is embraced as a learning experience. They embrace the MSL mantra of “fail fast and pivot”.

A Bias for Action

Exemplar school leaders err on a bias for action that is driven by data. They dismantle systems that no longer serve them to proactively address DEI barriers. Their organizations employ data as an equity tool that captures and identifies patterns in how well they are serving all students and solves for the challenges their school system faces. These leaders are skilled at collecting and deciphering data, discussing how the data impacts a students’ learning trajectory and adjusting based on that data. They integrate equitable and accessible methods – building empathetic bridges, not just safety nets.

Equitable exemplars are self-sustaining and observable throughout the system.

One MSL client on their journey to a Disruption Certification leads a Title 1 school with 80% identifying as students of color and 75% qualifying for free and reduced lunch. The school is in a food, recreation, and medical desert. Against all odds, this school has flipped the achievement gap. Through exemplar leadership, the following are observable exemplars achieved by this school system across each of the D-Cert’s four dimensions.


The kindergarten class launched a mobile wellness unit with bilingual resources for the community in collaboration with healthcare partners and volunteers. It still exists five years later. Fifth graders recently spoke at a national gathering on a university campus about the reintroduction of wolves to their natural habitat and shared their ideas for a viable co-existence.


Numerous K-12 students have founded start-ups or launched nonprofits. 7- and 8-year-olds are receiving investments from industry partners for their ideas. There is no barrier to access, and programs and collaborations have been developed to support homeless students, students in foster care, and undocumented students.


Eighth graders participate in industry-sponsored internships. The school has developed enduring relationships with hundreds of industry, higher education, and community partners. Dual enrollment programs, like PTECH exist, where students can obtain a livable wage job in a high-tech career upon graduation from high school.


The school hosts welcoming family nights focused on community and family needs, including language classes, access to job opportunities, and immigration support. Often the students lead the courses co-designed with their teachers. The school maker space is a community asset where all types of entrepreneurs can access technology and equipment.

When equitable practices are implemented well, equitable outcomes are observable throughout the system. D-Cert is intended to seed future systems change and create best practices for others to emulate.

School leaders should pursue the Disruption Certification for myriad results.

D-Cert transforms classrooms, schools, districts, and the broader education-to-workplace ecosystem. In addition to the impressive outcomes above, D-Cert will empower school leaders to achieve the following results:

1. Attract and Engage Talent – Enable leaders to attract, re-energize, and retain talent through transformational professional learning experiences.

2. Drive Economic Value – Empower the education system to solve problems in their community through equitable, authentic learning experiences for students.

3. Protect Mission and Purpose – Generate positive press and community recognition that increases student pride, renews family commitment, and improves future enrollment.

4. Shift Capital Investments – Attract potential impact investors and industry partners for fundraising, mentorship, work-based learning initiatives, and volunteerism benefitting adults and youth within the system as well as the greater community.

5. Boost Competitive Differentiation – Elevate their brand and social capital as disruptors, garnering well-deserved respect and distinction.

6. Steer A Global Movement for Change – Connect school leaders with other disruptors and become part of a peer-to-peer network that they can learn from and be inspired by.

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The American Consortium for Equity in Education, publisher of the "Equity & Access" journal, celebrates and connects the educators, associations, community partners and industry leaders who are working to solve problems and create a more equitable environment for historically underserved pre K-12 students throughout the United States.

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