The Aerodynamics of Exceptional Schools: Making Our Schools Extraordinary with Jennifer Gonzalez

Teachers posing before school

Our April Learn with the Expert session featured Jennifer Gonzalez, National Board Certified Teacher, author, and Editor-in-Chief at Cult of Pedagogy.

Great ideas and innovative processes aren’t implemented overnight. Not only must administrators and school leaders have the creativity to form these new workflows, they must also have the dedication, problem-solving abilities, and toolbelt necessary to make these goals a reality.

In this Learn with the Expert webinar, National Board Certified Teacher, author, and Editor-in-Chief at Cult of Pedagogy Jennifer Gonzalez explores nine ways to move towards building exceptional schools. These lessons from change management theory and advice from teachers who have been there will give school leaders the tools needed to encourage colleagues, get buy-in from students and parents, and make schools truly exceptional.

The Landscape

Gonzalez begins by explaining that in any school, just as in air travel, four forces work to affect our progress:

  1.  Gonzalez, aerodynamics graphicLift, the tools we select to meet student needs

  2. Thrust, the energy and enthusiasm we put into improving our practice

  3. Weight, the raw materials we have to work with—socioeconomics, budget constraints, student readiness

  4. Drag, the resistance to change from colleagues, students, and parents

We come together at events and conferences to improve our lift by discovering new technologies and practices. But our excitement can be dampened when we meet the forces of weight and drag that await us in our schools—Gonzalez refers to some of these forces as ever-frowning ‘groupers.’ What’s missing is thrust: we know what it’s going to take to improve our schools, but we have to get better at convincing other stakeholders to get on board. The following nine steps explore exactly how to do this creatively and effectively.


So you’re excited about a new idea? The energy you bring to the table is wonderful, so let’s use it to your advantage. Gonzalez shares that rushing into something sometimes ends up lacking clarity and vision. Instead, take a beat and look at the big picture as you ask yourself questions like:

  • What will this solve?

  • Do I have proof this will work? Have other schools done something similar in the past and seen success?

  • What are the obstacles I should look out for?

  • Can I find a guide or mentor? What advice can I get from someone else who has already mastered this obstacle?

  • What is my long-term vision? When will I know I have achieved success? Is there a bigger “why” that is at play here?


Administrators and teachers talking in the hallway of a schoolThere is only so much we can conquer alone. If you have a small team by your side—not at your back, but by your side—you’ll have a much greater chance of success. There is strength in numbers, even a team of two. These allies shouldn’t feel as though they’re followers; when it comes to hierarchy, position the mission above yourself. Sharing the load with others can multiply your enthusiasm, clarify your vision, unlock new solutions, and help you cope with negativity and self-doubt. The first follower is often the game-changer.


There’s a reason ‘dream’ is the term we use to refer to the ideas we have while we are sleeping—they lack direction and are not achievable without precise goals. The SMART model is a great way to make these big dreams more manageable and ultimately ensure that they become reality.

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Timely

Once you’ve set a clear long-term goal, use backward design to set smaller, incremental goals so you can achieve and celebrate progress along the way.


Think of a time in your life when everything went perfectly according to plan. Can’t think of anything? Neither can we. Often, we have an idea in mind of how a plan is going to go, but things never end up that way. By expecting issues, adding in designated buffer time into your planning, and aiming to predict possible issues, you’ll be more prepared when they do happen. Or, maybe you’ll find that you’re able to avoid them altogether by being proactive. And remember, it’s always a good idea to celebrate small successes along the way.


Humans are naturally more open to change when they feel as though they’re involved in the decision-making process. Gonzalez has learned that by asking questions instead of blindly stating your points, you’re able to not only gain additional insight, you also make those working alongside you feel included and heard. Try asking “what do you need to make this thing happen?” Consider offering choices or suggesting voluntary piloting instead of insisting on a full-scale implementation of a new tool, curriculum, or professional development program.


You don’t have to agree with someone in order to provide them with validation. This skill is the mastery of recognizing and affirming the feelings or perspective of another person. By acknowledging that another person’s thoughts and feelings are true for that person, you’re able to make them feel heard which may help them open up—even the tiniest bit—to new ideas and projects that you believe are worthy of their time.


Seesaw students working on the rugWe all know the harm that can be caused by a lack of information. Gonzalez argues that when you’re transparent about your goals, it makes you and your work more approachable. This allows others to be curious about your work, as opposed to feeling threatened or excluded, potentially leading to new minds signing on to the project. Transparency also keeps you accountable as others will follow up in regards to your progress.


If we could all perfectly identify our strengths and focus only on work that applied these talents, exceptional missions might be completed daily. Identify people’s strong suits and find ways to pull them onto the project in these capacities—everyone has something to bring to the table. This allows you to praise colleagues in the most genuine capacity, validating their skills and building their confidence.


There will probably be a time you’re convinced nothing is working and you want to give up. Gonzalez notes that “those times are tests to see if you can go beyond average and become extraordinary.” This is the time to dig deep, to remember why you started and what you’re working towards. If you truly believe in what you’re doing, you’ll know it’s worth the fight.

It’s Time to Be Exceptional

Gonzalez shares a quote by Amy Fast, Ed.D. as she notes “find me someone who settles for average in teaching and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t understand the magnitude of the mission.” All it takes is an individual who firmly believes in an idea to begin to move towards a better future. By using these nine tips, you’re on your way to becoming successful on this journey of building exceptional schools. What you do today does make a difference.



Learn with the Expert: The Aerodynamics of Exceptional Schools with Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy

Jennifer Gonzalez shares her thoughts on how we as educators can make our school systems truly exceptional

Watch The Recording

Share This Post
Check Out Our Latest Posts
Type keyword to search