An XQ Toolkit That Makes High School Transformation Possible in Every Community

We believe high school transformation is necessary and possible. And, we know, there’s no one way to do it.

By Anne Mackinnon

We believe high school transformation is necessary and possible. And, we know, there’s no one way to do it. 

The work of high school redesign requires collaboration and a commitment to a multitude of perspectives. With the right tools and information, communities can come together as changemakers. That’s why we are putting XQ in a Box—our suite of interactive tools for educators, innovators, and communities—online, making it accessible to school builders everywhere. 

Rich and engaging, XQ in a Box is a self-directed, digital resource that enables communities to embark on high school transformation. This collection of more than 260 resources, 28 videos, and 13 Knowledge Modules invites a curious educator, parent, student, community member, or civic leader to explore and learn about what it takes to redesign high school at the local level. 

XQ in a Box builds upon the widely used and highly regarded XQ Knowledge Modules that led more than 10,000 people in all 50 states through a rigorous, collaborative high school design process during the original XQ Super School competition in 2015. 

What started as a small group of school winners has now grown into a thriving collection of innovative public high schools across the country—18 schools in 12 states, each articulating a unique vision for high school that puts student experience at the center. Together, these XQ schools and partners are realizing a collective vision for the future of high school. 

Classroom at New Harmony High

And XQ in a Box invites every community in the country to join them. This new online toolkit updates the original Knowledge Modules with an extensive collection of new resources, an expanded set of team research and reflection activities, relevant examples from the XQ schools, and, most important, advice from school builders who are implementing new schools or redesigning existing ones. 

Resources for High School Transformation

As the education system at large continues to grapple with the long-term implications of the pandemic, high school transformation through best-in-class design thinking remains at the center of our work.

We partner with communities throughout the country, working with individual schools and entire school systems, to help them dream big about what high school could be. From there, we help turn their innovative ideas into action. We share what’s working with other schools and districts, so they can tailor new models to the needs of their own students and communities. Our open-source tools, based on research and design thinking, empower people to take up the challenge of transforming their high schools with a unifying goal: unlocking the American promise of high-quality education for everyone.

The first iteration of XQ in a Box was born into this context as a tool to democratize the complex work of educational transformation—to vet and uplift siloed resources, make expert knowledge readily available, and provide communities with the opportunity to discover, design, and develop a forward-looking high school.

When we first sent XQ in a Box into the world back in 2015, we discovered learning outcomes and design principles that are now essential to our work. Through a collaborative effort, we tapped into the creativity and insights of people on the frontlines of education and created a set of learner goals and crucial design principles to help school communities build schools for the future. 

The XQ learner goals focus on what students will gain during their high school years and who they’ll become once they graduate. They help school design teams articulate the ultimate goal—the type of graduate they aim to produce. XQ’s six design principles help communities define the fundamental elements of their new or redesigned school—and how the pieces fit together. The point is to achieve a school design, along with the beginnings of an implementation plan, that is holistic, inspiring, intentionally equitable, and bold. 

Inside the Toolkit for High School Transformation

XQ in a Box empowers school builders to engage their communities in thoughtful and creative conversation regarding the big challenges of high school design—challenges like addressing inequities, incorporating new approaches to teaching and learning, listening to students, getting the community involved, and looking beyond the day-to-day constraints that often stifle innovative thinking.

This new version of XQ in a Box is entirely digital, with new multimedia resources and an extensive collection of videos featuring educators and students from XQ schools, who tell the story of what it means to transform the high school experience. Through their powerful voices, users get a clear picture of what it’s like to do this difficult but essential work, in new schools and redesigned ones, in district schools and charter schools, in all parts of the country.

Prompts and exercises foster exploration and discussion about the needs and aspirations of young people, the status of existing schools, and local assets that can enrich the high school experience. In fact, XQ in a Box is more than just a tool. It is a framework that helps school builders approach school building through a design process, rather than a bureaucratic or logistical one. Rooted in design thinking, from understanding the needs of your school community and generating creative ideas to transforming the way school builders approach the toughest problems, it’s more of a wireframe or blueprint rather than a prescription.

“The XQ design process leads you toward creating a school that is needed, versus a regular program leads you to design a school that already exists,” explains Erin Whalen, principal at Da Vinci RISE—an XQ school located in Los Angeles, California—who went through the design process as part of XQ’s original Super School competition. 

Student and teacher from Da Vinci RISE

As an organization committed to lifelong learning, we compiled the most relevant, insightful, and forward-thinking research into our tool and built out a comprehensive resource gallery that is informed and guided by the latest resources on adolescent brain development, social-emotional learning, and culturally responsive teaching. The resource gallery offers an in-depth look for educators who are interested in or are already investing in high school design. 

Change High Schools to Change the Country

We’re in a moment of change. The coronavirus pandemic and fight for racial justice have shown that the nation needs to act boldly and with urgency to transform our high schools. But we’re also in a moment of opportunity, with a new federal administration that can put this work at the top of the agenda at the national level, state level, and all the way down to local school boards. 

As states and districts consider how to make the most impact with their allocation of the $122 billion in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), we hope high school transformation will sit at the top of the list. 

This historic moment is an invitation. We are excited to inspire, motivate, and guide school builders to both envision the future of high school and learn how to take action that leads to long-lasting, sustainable change.

Are you ready to join us? Raise your hand to #RethinkHighSchool for students everywhere.

  • Get started with XQ in a Box now and create a Rethink Together profile to hear from us as we release new sections this spring and summer. 
  • Explore Rethink Together for resources—articles, videos, badges, discussion forums, and more—on all things high school
  • Subscribe to Give Me 5 to get five actionable tips on high school transformation  
  • Text XQ to 724665 to join our growing community of high school