Transformational Learning and Leadership
Chapter: Teacher Actions

Vision-Aligned Classrooms

Across cultures and contexts, we see transformational classrooms in which teachers are approaching their practice in similar ways. We see these patterns in teacher actions:


Specifically, we see teachers who are…



Specifically, we see teachers who are…



Specifically, we see teachers who are…


In this section, we hope to help you discover actionable implications of teacher actions by illustrating the confusing landscape of teacher actions, by engaging in the patterns we see in strong classrooms, and by virtually visiting with transformational teachers. 

Mixed Signals

If you’re running a program, you need to have a framework. We need to guide and support teachers before they teach children. But, there’s a lot of confusion out there around which framework works best for you. Again, many teachers in our network work in systems that value process over transformational student outcomes. The lack of clarity around WHAT we’re aiming for has generated lots of lists, rubrics, and models about what teachers should be doing in the classroom from lots of different teacher training and research entities.

They all have different purposes. Sometimes a rubric’s purpose is to meet TAL timelineacademic goals (e.g. ace the test). Sometimes the aim is to avoid teacher truancy. Sometimes it’s to seek broader student outcomes as a career teacher. There is a wide variety in aims when it comes to what a teacher should do in classrooms.

But the purpose is almost never to cultivate student leadership and systemic transformation in pursuit of a local vision. Most teacher action models are NOT derived from growing leadership in low-income, marginalized students toward their self-determined range of opportunities. Instead, they’re often derived from studies of privileged children — or from goals of short-term academic achievement. We should learn from them and the experts studying them, but we must also acknowledge that our purpose is often different.

Once again, our strongest classrooms provide a source of insight and guidance here. Learning from the students and teachers in these classrooms, and applying the insights through the lens of our respective local, contextualized visions is our best bet.

Teacher Actions that Align to Vision-Aligned Student Outcomes

What’s here is not another list of new teachers actions to go implement. Well… OK, it is another list. But it’s not intended to be one you take and implement (“cut and paste”). Instead, what’s here represents patterns of what teachers are doing in transformational classrooms. And, they’re intended to be investigated, critically considered, evolved, and adapted to align to a local contextual vision. Specifically, there are three families of strategies that strong teachers in our network are broadly employing:


Specifically, we see teachers who are…

  • GROWING RELATIONSHIPS — e.g. connect and get to know students and their families; seek to continuously understand the assets, values, aspirations, cultures, challenges, and histories of the community; examine and share your own beliefs, strengths, values; critically examine and uncover your own biases; engage in dialogue
  • DEVELOPING & EVOLVING VISION & BIG GOALS – e.g. internalize the community’s goals and vision for itself and its future; engage with communities, families, and students — and their histories — to evolve your organization’s & classroom vision; investigate local pathways to students’ future opportunities and connect them to classroom goals; examine and share your own values and aspiration to share vision; use the evolving vision to develop standards-aligned, measurable end of year academic and non-academic goals that are aligned to that vision of student success


Specifically, we see teachers who are…

  • CULTIVATING A CLASSROOM CULTURE OF STUDENT LEADERSHIP — e.g. use student voice and investment to foster classroom culture; develop classroom values with students (and institute expectations, systems and rituals to reinforce them); foster shared ownership of student growth; nurture students’ academic identity as critical thinking problem-solvers; cultivate a sense of team among students; maximize meaningful learning time; track, make transparent and celebrate growth
  • PLANNING FROM PEDAGOGICAL PURPOSE — e.g. design/search out standards-aligned tools and assessments that generate diagnostic, formative and summative insights into student progress against vision-aligned outcomes; design/search out year-long curricula that breaks down goals and objectives; backwards plan to objectives for each lesson; design and execute culturally responsive lessons with all learners in mind; design/adopt classroom efficiency procedures that model responsible, loving behaviors
  • EMPLOYING STUDENT-EMPOWERING INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES — e.g. Utilize content-specific, culturally responsive instructional practices that position students as competent sense-makers, teach toward goals, and orient students to one another; elicit and respond to student ideas; design classrooms and lessons in light of learner variability; check for understanding; adjust course in light of checks and data


Specifically, we see teachers who are…

  • MONITORING PROGRESS — e.g. Capture and reflect on student data towards progress; employ student-managed systems for students to see and track progress; help students identify as learners and leaders who can grow and evolve; look out for, ask about and reflect on your own progress as a learner and leader
  • REFLECTING & LEARNING — e.g. Reflect on evolving contextual vision and your orientation to daily actions toward that vision; examine implicit bias; seek actionable lessons and insights from progress and gaps towards outcomes; examine and clarify irreducible values while connecting to the “why” of the work, often in diverse groups
  • RENEWING SELF & OTHERS — e.g. Find relationships, activities, and experiences that re-energize and sustain you; make time to manage energy and self-care; recognize and celebrate growth of self and others; ask for help

Let’s take a look at some examples of transformational teachers animating some of these actions: 

Outcomes examples

Case Studies in Teacher Actions

Below are three “virtual visits” with the same three teachers. In each case, you can engage in some of the teachers’ and his/her students’ descriptions of what actions they take in class and why. Compare and contrast what you see and hear in the case studies with the syntheses of patterns you explored above. (You may wish to refer to their visions in chapter 2).


“I think the most important thing we can do as teachers is dare to truly knows their students and their community. A lot of the time we are new to the community. The main thing we need to do is to go and get to know the community, its values, its history, its strengths, its opportunities. Help make real, concrete pathways for kids and communities. If there are opportunities in sales or production/labor management, support their growth to pursue those opportunities in classrooms. The community should guide our actions.” – Saul

Visit Saul’s classroom to see the culturally responsive and economically relevant projects his students pursued and mastered that position them to be current and future leaders in their community.


Students: “This class has helped me realize who I am.” “This class makes me feel more connected to myself. More conscious.” ““Mr. A told us to be powerful. I came out from shadow.” 

Wisdom: “I’m giving my students the opportunity to seek and develop an authentic self. One that isn’t pre-determined for them.” It’s been reciprocal. I also needed to go through this process. That’s where the bond comes from. Students are seeing me go through that process with them. A true student-teacher relationship.” 


Pooja understands the powerful roles students’ parents play in their kids’ lives. She built trusting relationships with them through community visits. She learnt that most of her students’ mothers had big dreams for their daughters, but felt powerless to do anything about it. Many had themselves been denied an education as children. Through close, trusting relationships with their mothers, Pooja helped forge an empowered network of support for students.

classroom learning loops

Reflection Questions
  • What does this chapter make you think about your own student outcomes? What do you want to keep and why? Are there any you want to evolve? If so, how? Each of the teachers in the above co-constructed his/her visions with students and those visions derive in part from the organization’s local contextualized vision. What does that make you think about the role vision and the process it currently takes in your program?
  • How are teachers and organizations specifically pursuing and monitoring broadened outcomes? How does it align to their contextualized visions? If you’re having trouble coming up with examples, consider Pooja’s classroom and Sanaya’s reflection? What’s concretely happening  to make meaningful progress on their contextualized vision for student success?

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