Roger Sampson

Roger Sampson

President, Education Commission of the States


People always make the difference.

The effectiveness and success of any organization is hugely based on the people that work in the organization. Generally speaking, in every group of employees, there are about 20% who will eagerly engage in new ideas, approaches, and programs. 60% will engage if given a clear path, support, and shown that the desired results will improve. Finally, 20% will not engage and will in fact make an effort to block the new approach or changes. Knowing this should help an organization’s leadership in developing a plan for implementation.


The most effective policy has been informed by practice before it is written and implemented.

There are hundreds of policies that are very well written, have admirable intentions, and focus on important issues, but fail to be effective because they create real or perceived problems to practitioners. Engaging practitioners in the rationale and development of the policy early in the process will greatly improve the chances of the policy gaining support from both policy makers and practitioners. Implementation quality and success will increase.


If you expect people to improve or change practice, you must provide a sequential pathway with support along the way.

Change is never easy. To increase the chances of successfully changing practice or improving practice you must provide the support needed to create an environment that fosters success and decreases the opportunity for failure or complacency. That support must include a sequential pathway over reasonable time for the individual to practice and progress. The system must provide examples of what the practice looks like when done correctly. Supervisors/leaders must monitor this pathway for each individual and discuss the progress or lack of progress at a regular interval. There is no substitute for being honest and direct.


The most effective way to expand or scale up effective strategies or programs is by sharing the results.

After decades of attempting to implement education reform in this country, I am convinced that one of the most effective ways to expand successful reform strategies and programs is through sharing the results generated by those programs. Nothing creates the environment for change better than those outside of the education system demanding results that other education systems are getting with their students. This pressure can be intense, long lasting, and generate support from sectors of the community and country that have great credibility and influence.


Leaders must regularly model the actions and values they want others to follow or implement.

It has been said by parents, “Do as I say, not as I do”. That has shown to be not very effective. It is certainly the same for leaders. If you expect different behavior and a change in practice from your employees, you must model that behavior and practice. It must be done often and over an extended period of time. The modeling must be both verbal and seen being applied by the leadership. The best I have ever seen in modeling desired actions and behaviors is the Premier of Ontario, Canada, Dalton McGuinty.

He frequently talks about the importance of the education system and never misses a chance to speak of the increasing performance of the students in Ontario and how critical it is to the Nation and the lives of the people of Ontario.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


Roger Sampson began his tenure as president of the Education Commission of the States in August 2007. ECS is the only national, non-partisan organization that brings together key leaders—governors, legislators, chief state school officers, higher education officials, business leaders and others—to work side by side to improve education. As president, Sampson provides vision, direction and leadership for the ECS organization. In this role, he participates extensively in meetings with the above named constituents as well as experts in the field of education and U.S. federal agencies. Sampson and the ECS staff identify current and emerging national education issues and integrates those issues in development of the ECS education agenda.

Prior to assuming his leadership of ECS, Sampson has had a distinguished education career for more than 20 years in Alaska while earning a reputation for quality, innovation and increased student achievement. The State Board of Education & Early Development appointed Sampson as Alaska Commissioner in May 2003. During his time as commissioner, The Alaska Department of Education & Early Development established a statewide full-release mentoring program for beginning teachers and administrators in partnership with the University of Alaska. The department also established, with the approval of the Alaska Legislature, an innovative public school performance incentive program.

Sampson has served in a variety of roles and positions in public schools, including school administrator in both rural and urban Alaska. He gained a reputation as superintendent of the Chugach School District for his groundbreaking work in building a school system based on student standards and supported by quality student achievement indicators and a continuous improvement process.

As a superintendent, principal, special education director, federal programs director and teacher, Sampson has gained a clear understanding of the public education process and the depth and breadth of the programs and responsibilities of schools. He holds a master’s degree in Education Administration from the University of Montana, Missoula. He has been honored as National Rural Superintendent of the Year, Alaska Principal of the Year and has received a recognition award from the Alaska Legislature.