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Momentum – what does it mean to school improvement efforts?

What does it mean to move learning forward as a school? Momentum is movement with some force or power behind it, in my opinion. How do you define momentum in your school setting?

A 2016 UK report (2016) from the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) reports on a project known as The High Performing Schools project and a subsequent Gaining and Sustaining Momentum project. The following variations are important to note:

“The researchers identified three different circumstances in relation to gaining sustainable momentum:

  • gathering momentum – schools that have recently been able to achieve a sustainable trajectory of improvement which is beginning to be reflected in results;

  • approaching momentum – schools that are on the cusp of achieving a sustainable trajectory of improvement, having just begun to make high impact changes to the areas of practice in need of development;

  • seeking momentum – schools that have identified many (though not necessarily all) of the building blocks they need to put in place, and have begun to do so, but who still face obstacles in achieving a sustain trajectory of improvement” (p. 4).

In working towards a level of momentum where improvement was likely several drivers of improvement were identified as key and are paraphrased from the report as follows:

(a) Depth of subject knowledge – in high performing schools strong curricular and pedagogical skills are evident

(b) Drive to improve – high performing schools were routinely relentless in seeking improvement and addressed small declines with effort and purpose

(c) Consistency and coherence – high performing schools sought consistency in practice and focused on removing barriers to learning

(d) Creating a strong learning environment – leaders building an environment where professional and student learning was focused an prioritized was an important underpinning to sustainable momentum

Other practices which were vital to improvement in this study included:

  • rigourous recruitment and induction processes

  • targeted professional learning

  • dedicated mentoring and coaching

  • peer and team teaching

  • sharing and celebrating strong practice and teacher leadership – teachers taking responsibility for their own development and performance (adapted p. 10)

What is important for the Ontario context? What are the distractions that become a barrier to moving forward? Are we supporting and nurturing the ability of schools and school boards to sustain improvement efforts? Ontario’s education system is at a cross-road and it will be acts of leadership within and across classrooms, schools and systems that are vital to keeping the wheels of change moving forward. Keeping the conversation about sustaining momentum will be crucial, particularly during uncertain times.

(June, 2016) Gaining and sustaining momentum: Accelerating progress in schools project. Centre for the use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE). Retrieved from:

April 30th, 2019, a networking dinner and conversation hosted by Learning Forward Ontario about sustaining momentum will take place in Toronto. We hope that many will join us and share their voice and ideas. Please see for registration details and location information.

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