Our Vision: Redefining and Raising Student Achievement

When students have completed their academic career and entered adult life, they’ll be judged not by performance on basic skills tests—but rather, by the quality of their work and the quality of their character. This premise serves as the foundation for EL Education’s overarching vision of increasing student engagement and elevating and expanding student achievement. To realize that vision, we focus on student excellence in three core areas:

Mastery of Knowledge and Skills

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Demonstrate proficiency and deeper understanding: show mastery in a body of knowledge and skills within each discipline

Apply their learning: transfer knowledge and skills to novel, meaningful tasks

Think critically: analyze, evaluate, and synthesize complex ideas and consider multiple perspectives

Communicate clearly: write, speak, and present ideas effectively in a variety of media within and across disciplines

Ensure that curriculum, instruction, and assessments are rigorous, meaningful, and aligned with standards

Use assessment practices that position students as leaders of their own learning

Use meaningful data for both teachers and students to track progress toward learning goals

Engage all students in daily lessons that require critical thinking about complex, worthy ideas, texts, and problems


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Work to become effective learners: develop the mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration)

Work to become ethical people: treat others well and stand up for what is right (e.g., empathy, integrity, respect, compassion)

Contribute to a better world: put their learning to use to improve communities (e.g., citizenship, service)

Elevate student voice and leadership in classrooms and across the school

Make habits of scholarship visible across the school and in daily instruction

Model a school-wide culture of respect and compassion

Prioritize social and emotional learning, along with academic learning, across the school

High-Quality Student Work

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Create complex work: demonstrate higher-order thinking, multiple perspectives and transfer of understanding

Demonstrate craftsmanship: create work that is accurate and beautiful in conception and execution

Create authentic work: demonstrate original thinking and voice, connect to real-world issues and formats, and when possible, create work that is meaningful to the community beyond the school

Design tasks that ask students to apply, analyze, evaluate and create as part of their work

Use models of excellence, critique, and multiple drafts to support all students to produce work of exceptional quality

Connect students to the world beyond school through meaningful fieldwork, expert collaborators, research, and service learning

Our Model: Powerful Partnerships, Remarkable Results

To deliver on our vision of student engagement and achievement, we’re proud to partner with schools both within and beyond the EL Education network, and to provide educational resources for teachers nationwide. Districts, schools, and teachers that have implemented all or part of our comprehensive model have shown impressive growth and remarkable results across all key dimensions of student achievement.

Real-World Curriculum


Our approach to curriculum makes standards come alive for students by connecting learning to real-world issues and needs. Academically rigorous, project-based learning expeditions, case studies, projects, fieldwork, and service learning inspire students to think and work as professionals, contributing high-quality work to authentic audiences beyond the classroom. Our schools ensure that all students have access to a rigorous college preparatory curriculum, and regularly analyze that curriculum to align with those standards.

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Invigorating Instruction


Our classrooms are alive with discovery, inquiry, critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. Teachers talk less. Students talk (and think) more. Lessons have explicit purpose, guided by learning targets for which students take ownership and responsibility. Student engagement strategies and activities serve to differentiate instruction and maintain high expectations to bring out the best in all students, cultivating a culture of high achievement.

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Assessing Student Learning


Our leaders, teachers, and students embrace the concept of student-engaged assessment in education. Why? Because it builds student ownership of learning, drives achievement, and focuses students on reaching standards-based learning targets. Students continually conduct learning assessments and improve the quality of their work through models, reflection, critique, rubrics, and expert assistance. And staff members conduct ongoing data inquiry and analysis, examining factors including student work and results of formal educational assessments. Using this approach, we promote educational equity across all schools.

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Respectful Culture


Our schools build cultures of respect, responsibility, courage, and kindness, where students and adults are committed to quality work and citizenship. School structures and traditions—such as crew, community meetings, exhibitions of student work, and service learning—ensure that every student is known and cared for, student leadership is nurtured, and contributions to the school and world are celebrated. Students and staff are supported to do better work and be better people than they thought possible.

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Our school leaders build a cohesive school vision focused on student achievement and continuous improvement. And they align all school activities with that vision. Leaders use data wisely, boldly shape school structures to best meet student needs, celebrate joy in learning, and build a school-wide culture of trust and collaboration. Leadership in our schools goes beyond a single person or team; it’s a role and expectation for all.

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Our Principles: 10 Building Blocks

In 1991, EL Education was born from a partnership between Harvard Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound, USA. We joined the character-infused philosophy of Outward Bound founder Kurt Hahn, which focuses on teamwork, courage, and compassion with an active approach to learning crafted by leading Harvard scholars and created 10 founding principles for the EL Education model.

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Illustration by students at the Odyssey School of Denver
  1. 1. The Primacy of Self-Discovery

    Learning happens best with emotion, challenge, and the requisite support. People discover their abilities, values, passions, and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected. In EL Education schools, students undertake tasks that require perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline, and significant achievement. A teacher’s primary task is to help students overcome their fears and discover they can do more than they think they can.

  2. 2. The Having of Wonderful Ideas

    Teaching in EL Education schools fosters curiosity about the world by creating learning situations that provide something important to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed.

  3. 3. The Responsibility for Learning

    Learning is both a personal process of discovery and a social activity. Everyone learns both individually and as part of a group. Every aspect of an EL Educaiton school encourages both children and adults to become increasingly responsible for directing their own personal and collective learning.

  4. 4. Empathy and Caring

    Learning is fostered best in communities where students’ and teachers’ ideas are respected and where there is mutual trust. Learning groups are small in EL Education schools, with a caring adult looking after the progress and acting as an advocate for each child. Older students mentor younger ones, and students feel physically and emotionally safe.

  5. 5. Success and Failure

    All students need to be successful if they are to build the confidence and capacity to take risks and meet increasingly difficult challenges. But it is also important for students to learn from their failures, to persevere when things are hard, and to learn to turn disabilities into opportunities.

  1. 6. Collaboration and Competition

    Individual development and group development are integrated so that the value of friendship, trust, and group action is clear. Students are encouraged to compete, not against each other, but with their own personal best and with rigorous standards of excellence.

  2. 7. Diversity and Inclusion

    Both diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative power, problem-solving ability, and respect for others. In EL Education schools, students investigate and value their different histories and talents as well as those of other communities and cultures. Schools and learning groups are heterogeneous.

  3. 8. The Natural World

    A direct and respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the human spirit and teaches the important ideas of recurring cycles and cause and effect. Students learn to become stewards of the earth and of future generations.

  4. 9. Solitude and Reflection

    Students and teachers need time alone to explore their own thoughts, make their own connections, and create their own ideas. They also need to exchange their reflections with other students and with adults.

  5. 10. Service and Compassion

    We are crew, not passengers. Students and teachers are strengthened by acts of consequential service to others, and one of an EL Education school’s primary functions is to prepare students with the attitudes and skills to learn from and be of service.

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