The Holdsworth Difference

When teachers explain a topic to their students, they’ll often use a “compare and contrast” approach. There’s a lot of research around the power of “compare and contrast” as an educational strategy. It helps people learn using analogies, giving students a richer understanding of the material.

I often think of the value of a “compare and contrast” approach when people ask me: “What makes the Holdsworth Center different?” I get a version of this question a lot. After all, the field of education already has a lot of professional programs that promise to mold inspiring, dynamic leaders.

But not all professional development programs are the same, and we believe the Holdsworth approach is different. So I want to do a little compare and contrast and describe four things that set Holdsworth apart from many other educational development programs around the country: 

The Holdsworth Center

Dynamic leadership support for school leaders. We know that training for school leaders can be very effective. Principals who receive professional development are far more likely to stay in their positions than those who do not. We also know that both district and school leaders have important and positive effects on student achievement.

Despite glaring and pressing issues around school leadership—half of principals leave by the end of their third year and school leaders rarely receive ongoing professional development.

Holdsworth aims to address this issue by providing school leaders with the support that they need to succeed. We start at the head of a school system—with district superintendents and their teams—and we offer bi-weekly executive coaching and feedback as well as overall leadership training.

We take a dynamic approach and bring in examples from both inside and outside of education so that school leaders can learn from high-quality, cutting-edge practice. We have also flown our partner districts to visit school systems in other nations in order to see what’s possible. In Singapore, for example, it was clear that the concept of educators as “nation builders” helps to draw great people into the profession.

In Toronto, the group explored the importance of effective coaching and feedback loops.

In the end, our goal is to give school leaders the tools and processes needed to lead innovative change, and early indicators are that our district superintendents understand and appreciate the value of the experience. “We must institute the idea of lifelong learning in all aspects of our system,” notes Lloyd Verstuyft, Superintendent of Southwest ISD. “Leadership is a journey, not a destination.

The Holdsworth Center


A lasting, five-year commitment. We know that developing leaders isn’t a quick or easy job, and The Holdsworth Center rejects “one-and-done” approaches to school reform.

To make sure that school leaders have the time to grow, the Center asks its district participants to invest in a five-year commitment. During the first two years of the partnership, district leaders dedicate approximately 60 days of their time to work with The Holdsworth Center. On those days, they receive training in distributed leadership, shared decision-making, and change management.

During the second half of the partnership, each district will send successive cohorts of principals to Holdsworth, and the Center aims to serve around 50 to 60 percent of a district’s principals over the course of the five-year partnership. These principals will focus on teacher development, campus transformation, and their own individual growth plans.

The Holdsworth Center

Tailored, in-school support. The Holdsworth Center does more than provide professional development. We also place our staff directly into districts so that we can support the day-to-day work of school leaders and offer job-embedded training.

This ground-level collaboration ensures that districts receive individualized support, tailored to their unique contexts. The Support Team offers feedback collected from surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews, helps each district to determine their talent management goals and priorities, creates achievement goals, and develops processes to address any gaps or issues. The Support Team works alongside the districts to design a talent management strategy that can be used long after the partnership with the Holdsworth Center is over.

This tailored approach is vital. Our districts vary widely in terms of their student populations. Some are more urban. Others have more dual-language learners. The school systems also have different struggles and pain points—we have partner districts, like Klein ISD for example, that still have schools shut down from Hurricane Harvey. 

The Holdsworth Center

Systems Approach. While professional development opportunities abound in education, sometimes the approaches are not systemic in nature and don’t create lasting change. To cite one example, fewer than 25 percent of teachers say that they have changed their instruction due to professional learning programs.

To address this fact, Holdsworth doesn’t limit its focus to superintendents. We train leaders at just about every level within our partner districts including mentors, instructional coaches, assistant principals, and other teacher leaders, along with the chief learning officers, area superintendents, and other principal supervisors.

In the end, we believe that education leadership does not occur in isolation, and our approach ensures that there is a shared understanding and alignment of mission and goals throughout the system. What’s more, this collaborative approach creates trust, an essential component of powerful teams that are willing to take risks and innovate. When leaders can work together to solve problems, they develop a strong organizational culture that contributes to student success.

The Holdsworth Center isn’t the first program dedicated to school district leadership, and it certainly won’t be the last. But we hope our model will help inspire school districts in Texas and beyond to invest seriously in their leadership capacity, at both the district and school levels. Again, leaders aren’t made in a day and personal leadership growth takes place over the course of a career. For this reason, we look forward to working with our district and school leaders for many years to come.