Professional Learning that Transforms: Meet High Tech High Graduate School of Education

EdLeaders, Higher Ed & Post Sec, Learner Experience, Learning, Learning Design

Imagine an amazing high school located in San Diego, known for its hands-on, applied and project-based learning design.

Now imagine that school has designed a graduate school that provides the same type of learning environment for its graduate students as it does for its K-12 students.

Just six years after High Tech High (HTH) opened, the team opened High Tech High Graduate School of Education (HTH GSE). It offers an M.Ed. program in Educational Leadership along with myriad opportunities for professional education–from a hybrid, online program focused on transforming schools to three day residencies on project-based learning. HTH GSE also offers a highly focused approach that is a refreshing GSE approach in contrast to the typical generic collection of survey courses.

We had a chance to talk with several members of the team including Dean Steve Hamilton,  CAO Ben Daley and Directors Kelly Wilson and Laura McBain, about what distinguishes HTH GSE and how their model fosters transformation of professionals.


Opened in 2000, HTH may be among the most commonly recognized school systems in the world. It is among the best examples of applied and project-based learning (PBL), it prepares diverse students for a complex world and is the best example of school-centric community redevelopment.

HTH GSE opened in 2006, offering M.Ed. programs in Teacher Leadership and School Leadership. It was the first school network affiliated graduate school, and embodies the difference between the generic collection of survey courses typical of current graduate schools and a coherent mission-focused and applied preparation for school leadership.

Focused Approach

HTH GSE is distinguished not only by its dynamic team and its connection to HTH, but also in the high focused efforts around equity and deeper-learning. HTH’s practices (such as PBL) are grounded in research and on-trend.

Like the school network, the GSE attacks three standard practices: tracking, isolation from the adult world and separation of thinking and doing. HTH GSE “aspires to serve as a center of inquiry and progressive practice related to teaching, learning, and leading, and an example of transformative graduate education that has a direct impact on K-12 schools.”

Dean Stephen Hamilton reflects, “What makes graduate students’ experience transformational is our GSE’s embeddedness in a set of innovative K-12 schools, along with the modeling in the GSE of the pedagogical principles.” The HTH network sites serve as clinical sites for learning, and provide an opportunity to take risks, reflect on practice and shape their own vision for effective teaching, learning and leadership.

Equity Focus

Education has been called “the civil rights movement of our time.” HTH GSE has a foundational principle of equity as a mission for its work. This was a fundamental commitment of HTH co-founders Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan, and is shared by all the staff at the schools and graduate school. Graduate student projects are expected to align with equity as a mission–professional learning experiences that focus on students and are about equity are priorities for HTH GSE.

Deeper Learning Focus

Deeper Learning is a set of six competencies that lead to deeper learning outcomes. Schools within the deeper learning network of schools have been shown to have higher graduation rates than similar schools not in the deeper learning network. The graduate school design intentionally mirrors the design of schools whose students have deeper learning outcomes. This graduate school intentionally engages  professionals in  learning that mimics how we want students to learn. (We have written about this at Getting Smart as well in Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning and Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning.)

3 Examples of Professional Transformation

We also heard from HTH GSE Alumni about how they’ve been transformed through this program:

1. Practicing PBL and Grounded in Equity

2. Listening and Responding to Student Voice

3. Being Okay with Vulnerability

Plenty of Ways to be Transformed

There are plenty of ways for people to engage with HTH GSE, ranging from day-long tours to degree programs. A glimpse at the professional leadership experiences and resources offered by HTH GSE is included below:

The HTH GSE offers degree and credential-granting programs:

HTH GSE also hosts an annual Deeper Learning conference–you can get a flavor for the 2016 Deeper Learning conference with this video. No matter where people start, transformation of adults and the corresponding impact on students is what HTH GSE does.

This post is a part of a blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Rethinking Professional Learning” Smart Bundle produced in partnership with High Tech High Graduate School of Higher Education (@hthgse). Join the conversation on Twitter using #EdLeaders or #RethinkPD and #SmartBundle.

For more, see:

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Mary Ryerse

Mary Ryerse

Mary is a Getting Smart Director of Strategic Design.

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