Taylor Harper - 2017 Ted Sizer Leader of the Year

Spend any time with Taylor Harper and it is easy to see that she is an exceptional leader and amazing person.

When I first met her, I was inspired. It was about five years ago when I saw her at a Big Picture Leadership Conference in Los Angeles. She had rallied a team to visit not one or two but three Big Picture Learning conferences before opening the doors of her transformed BPL school, Innovations High School in Reno, Nevada. It wasn’t that she was green or new to our core beliefs about students (placing them at the center of their learning - allowing them to explore in the real world and make meaning of this thing called life), that inspired me. No, she came believing and living that. It was her energy and tenacity; her gall and conviction that caught my attention. It was clear that she came to BPL like she had found home, and she needed her team to be get indoctrinated. She sauntered around the entire conference introducing her team to people, much like a grandma or an auntie might do when she wants to hook you up with someone…”Say what you said about personalization.” And then she would look at her colleague as they took in the awkward exchange. She was building. That was the beginning.

About a year later, I had the pleasure of visiting her school and engaging with her team and students (or Scholars as she demands you call them). Before you get to the front doors you could tell something was different. A teacher stood at the entry door greeting and hugging students. A closet had been transformed into a music studio. Classrooms were being “flipped” using the Apple iBooks application. An early childhood center where parenting students could enroll their children stood adjacent to the school building and primed as both an oasis and prestigious pedagogical institution. But the single most amazing experience I had during my first visits was witnessing the genuine love and joy she had for her students. She knew them, had pet-names for many and relationships that bridged trauma and tragedy.

Taylor leads with love. She listens, hugs, acknowledges, corrects, guides, and loves her scholars. And she ignites the tone so that everyone in her building does the same. Nothing stops her or gets in her way of doing what is best for students. She laughs hard and loves harder, and is unafraid of taking risks.

If you know Taylor, then you know she is a woman of colorful phrases:

  • To the challenges and barriers – “Blessed and release”
  • To the naysayers – “The Answer to how is Yes
  • Life – “Hotter than a fart in a frying pan”


But I found these words from one of her scholars to express her true colors:

“Without Harper NONE OF THIS WOULD BE POSSIBLE!!! Harper believes in every scholar that walks through the doors. It doesn't matter how many time you mess up she will love you!! She believes in every scholar that has ever stepped through those doors. But dont think she is easy!! Believing in you means pushing you to be you and making you live to your full potential. She will light a fire under you hotter than a bunch of college students light a bonfire in Tahoe!!!”

Congratulations, Taylor Harper!