The 2017 TrustED 20

TrustED 20 2017

It’s been quite a year for America’s K-12 schools.

A new administration and new policies emphasizing school choice have placed an increased focus on how schools can stay competitive, especially in the face of enrollment declines and budget cuts.

Add to that the disruptive nature of technology and how schools—and even entire industries—function, and it’s clear that educators have a lot on their plate heading into the New Year.

There’s no shortage of “experts” who claim to have all the answers. A quick scroll through Twitter or Google reveals hundreds—if not, thousands—of online personalities with opinions on everything from project-based learning to school communication to STEM.

The truth: Only a small number of education thinkers are worth your time. The challenge is finding them.

Not to worry.

For the second year in a row, our editors have compiled a list of some of the top education thought leaders to consider following.

Our second annual TrustED 20 isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but it highlights 20 of the education experts who we think contribute to the national dialogue. This year, we’ve divided our list into four categories:

  1. The veterans—While we couldn’t repeat last year’s list, there were a few we thought worthy of another mention.
  2. The advocates—In a time of political uncertainty, these leaders are working to preserve the integrity and vitality of America’s public schools.
  3. The educators—You can’t have a list of education thought leaders without educators. These are some of the school leaders and educators we think stand out.
  4. The voices—The authors, writers, speakers, and experts who are keeping K-12 issues in the national dialogue. (You might not always agree with their opinions, but they have a voice.)

We hope this list of thinkers helps you navigate the shifting landscape of education in 2018.

Without further ado, here’s the 2017 TrustED 20 (appearing in no particular order).

The Veterans

Angela MaiersAngela Maiers @AngelaMaiers
We could’ve easily put Angela Maiers in any of our four categories for this year’s list. Her experience as a teacher, an advocate through her “Choose2Matter” campaign, and as a leading voice on education issues, have earned her a strong following among educators looking to boost students’ sense of self-worth. Her tireless work on behalf of students earns her a second year on the list.

sheninger-250Eric Sheninger @E_Sheninger
2017 was a big year for this award-winning former principal and education thought leader. The two books he released this year—BrandED and Learning Transformed—confront a pair of central questions Sheninger explored for years: How can districts boost their brands and effectively engage their communities, and how can technology help schools transform learning? If these are questions you’re struggling with, Sheninger’s blog and Twitter feed are must-reads.

Diane RavitchDiane Ravitch @DianeRavitch
One of the most overtly political voices on our list, Diane Ravitch is one of the most vocal supporters of America’s public schools. Her experience as a federal education leader, academic, and education historian means she knows what she’s talking about. Whether you agree with her opinions or not, if Diane’s writing about it, you know it’s important.

Valerie StraussValerie Strauss @valeriestrauss
With so much going on in the news, it can be tough to stay on top of everything that’s happening. Luckily, we have the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss. Her “Answer Sheet” blog is a staple for major policy wonks and K-12 educators and leaders alike. In a time of rapid change, Strauss is a steady voice covering the important issues.
Matthew LynchMatthew Lynch @Lynch39083
Another former educator, Matthew Lynch writes about key issues faced by school leadership on his blog, The Edvocate. We were lucky enough to speak with Matthew this time last year as part of our What’s Next for Education series. A year later, that post—covering the technology trends schools would face in 2017—remains one of our most-viewed stories.

The Advocates

Tom GentzelTom Gentzel @Tom_NSBA
While superintendents are the most visible leaders in their districts, every educator knows that the buck stops—literally and figuratively—with local school boards. As school choice breeds competition, the National School Boards Association and Executive Director and CEO Tom Gentzel have become vocal defenders of public schools. Through a mix of social media, public appearances, and blog posts, Tom’s message is that public schools already provide students and their families with a host of viable school choice options.

michael-casserly-150Michael Casserly @GreatCitySchls
As America’s major urban school districts search for new ways to innovate and to reverse long-held misperceptions, the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) is helping to lead the charge. At the forefront of this effort is Executive Director Michael Casserly. As head of CGCS for the past 25 years, Casserly has been a vocal proponent for America’s city schools. Casserly’s ongoing work, along with the opinions, passion, and expertise of America’s urban superintendents, are captured in the content featured here.

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John B. KingJohn B. King @JohnBKing
Of all the challenges facing America’s K-12 schools, shrinking the achievement gap is one that education experts continue to struggle with mightily. Former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King is working to change that in his new role as president and CEO of The Education Trust. If you’re looking for fresh thinking on how to boost equity and equality in your schools, King is a leading voice on the subject.

Julie ThannumJulie Thannum @JulieThannum
Yet another member of our list who could fall in multiple categories, Julie Thannum is a leading voice on the importance of school communications and public relations. A former president of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and an active school PR professional, Thannum says schools must do more to have authentic conversations with their local communities. She’s also an active member of the #k12prchat community, a group of school communications professionals who use Twitter to talk through the many issues and challenges they face in their work.

Deborah DelisleDeborah Delisle @DebDelisle
Deb Delisle is executive director and CEO of ASCD, one of America’s oldest and largest education membership organizations. Delisle is also a leading voice on how schools can develop better teachers and stronger leaders. A core tenet of ASCD’s work is a whole-child approach to education. Delisle and ASCD promote the creation of schools that develop well-rounded, life-long learners.

The Educators

Hamish BrewerHamish Brewer @brewerhm
When you first encounter Hamish Brewer—principal at Fred Lynn Middle School in Woodbridge, Va.—it’s hard not to be struck by his unorthodox style. A recent video depicts Brewer as a t-shirt wearing, skateboard-riding, New Zealand-born educator. But it’s his innovative approach to school leadership, and not his edgy appearance, that’s got the education world buzzing. Adhering to a one-word credo, “relentless,” Brewer attempts to demonstrate how thinking outside the box can help turn around struggling schools.

Dr. Wendy RobinsonDr. Wendy Robinson @FtWayneCommSkls
As competition for students heats up, public school leaders are constantly on the lookout for ways to keep students and families engaged with their schools. Dr. Wendy Robinson, superintendent at Ft. Wayne Community Schools in Indiana, takes a customer-centric approach to education. She says the philosophy has helped the district excel in the classroom and beyond it. She must be doing something right—in September, Robinson was named the 2018 Indiana Superintendent of the Year. And, she was just named a finalist for AASA’s National Superintendent of the Year as well.

Dr. Luvelle BrownDr. Luvelle Brown @luvelleb
An active Twitter user, Dr. Luvelle Brown understands the importance of digital and personal communication to his job as superintendent at Ithaca City Schools in New York. Earlier in 2017, Brown was named New York state superintendent of the year. Brown attributes much of his success to his work developing a ‘culture of love’ in his district. The foundation for that culture? A deep mutual sense of trust between students, parents, and community members.

Pernille RippPernille Ripp @pernilleripp
“Teacher” may be what’s listed at the top of her resume, but Wisconsin-based Pernille Ripp is also an author and literacy advocate. While her blog focuses largely on her classroom experience, Ripp has earned an international reputation as an education thinker and writer. She writes about instilling passion for reading and learning in students. And she is creator of Global Read Aloud, a six-week event in which teachers read a book to their students and connect with other classrooms across the world. If you’re looking for new ways to inspire your students, be sure to read up on Ripp’s work.

Alex CorbittAlex Corbitt @Alex_Corbitt
SEL. Gamification. Education technology. These may sound like the latest education buzzwords, but Alex Corbitt knows they’re important keys to engaging students. And he should know: Corbitt faces these issues daily as a middle school teacher in the Bronx, N.Y. He’s also an author, speaker, and education thinker. His Twitter stream, with its daily dose of infographics and diagrams, is worth following.

The Voices

Dr. Philip D. LanoueDr. Philip Lanoue @pdlconsultants
As the 2015 AASA National Superintendent of the Year, Dr. Philip Lanoue’s work was recognized as a model for how school leaders should embrace change to drive student success. Now, as a blogger and education consultant, Lanoue continues to explore the shifting forces of K-12 education—and how school district leaders can stay ahead of impending change. His monthly column, Course Correction appears right here on TrustED.

Sir Kenneth RobinsonSir Kenneth Robinson @SirKenRobinson
Even if you didn’t know much about Sir Kenneth Robinson, you’d probably still recognize him from his famous TedTalks. Robinson’s research and writing on the need for more creativity in schools has been a source of inspiration—and, in some cases, consternation—for school leaders the world over. Whatever you think of Robinson’s philosophies, there’s no doubt he remains a leading voice on the state of education in the modern world.

Lily Eskelsen GarciaLily Eskelsen Garcia @Lily_NEA
You may not agree with her politics. Still, it’s hard to deny that National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García has a prominent voice in the national education debate. The NEA is not only the largest teacher’s union in the country, it’s the largest labor union-period. If you want to take the pulse of America’s teaching force, García’s Twitter feed is a good place to start.

MalalaMalala Yousafzai @Malala
With all of the debates swirling around K-12 education, it’s important to take a step back and remember how lucky we are to even have a public school system. Malala’s story and her message about the importance of free, open access to education for all students, especially girls, is a great reminder of the importance of the tireless and selfless work of K-12 educators.
Linda Darling-HamiltonDr. Linda Darling-Hammond @LDH_ed
Once in the running to be named President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Linda Darling-Hammond remains a major player in the world of education research and policy. As CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, Darling-Hammond advocates for an evidence-based approach to education policy. While her Twitter stream often gets political, this discussion of the importance of research in education decisions is an important one.

What do you think of this year’s list? Who’d we miss? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email:

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