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Some Tools for the School Improvement Kit

reviewed by Robert L. Larson, Fenwick W. English, Gene E. Hall & Shirley M. Hord - 1989

coverTitle: Some Tools for the School Improvement Kit
Author(s): Gene E. Hall, Shirley M. Hord
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: 0887063470, Pages: 393, Year: 1987
Search for book at Amazon.com

School improvement hinges on the will, competence, and commitment of principals and teachers. The instrumental role they play in changing schools continues to be a common theme in current literature1 just as it was a theme that emerged strongly in the early 1960s as the nation and educational establishment responded to the jolt of Sputnik.2 Therefore, principals and teachers are not lacking verbal and written affirmation that their work is critical to the future of education. Nor are they lacking ideas for improving the enterprise of schooling, as their desks are swamped with reports, studies, books, and articles that recommend, prescribe, or exhort change or by mandates that require it. As one of my in-service graduate students put it recently, “My cup is full. I wish that someone would turn off the spigot for awhile so I could think about what I’m doing and how to do it better.”

Given the historical nature of citizen control over schools, they will always be subject to the ups and downs of public opinion and support and the pressures of the political system and the general society. The spigot may not be wide open all the time, but it will seldom be turned off. Within this cultural context waves of reform rhetoric will come and go and educators will struggle to make meaning out of it for their local situations, sort out what can be helpful, and move ahead to provide better education for children and youth. To move ahead successfully, however, principals and teachers will need more than a kit of recommendations, prescriptions, and exhortations; they will also need concrete and usable processes and practices that can help them effect change. Such a technology will enhance their professional power, a stated goal within many current reports and studies.3

Curriculum Management and Change in Schools are books that add important new information, processes, and practices to the technology of school improvement.4 They exemplify the productive distance we have traveled since the early 1960s in our general knowledge about school improvement and in the development of specific tools and techniques for effecting change. Outcomes from research and practice have become increasingly instructive for academics and practitioners interested in and committed to improving the quality of education in American schools. Unfortunately, these outcomes are too seldom in a form, in either language or definition, to be of practical value to professionals in the field5 or to have influence on commissions turning out reports critical of schools and filled with prescriptions for reform. To close this gap, we get publications such as What Works: Research about Teaching and Learning, which distill volumes of data about topics studied into one-page summaries for “one minute” managers and teachers.6 Or we get neatly packaged models of curriculum or instruction, such as the Madeline Hunter approach to teaching, that, combined with an effective presentation, have a considerable impact on people in the field. According to some observers, what makes such models popular is that they describe the content in clear language, can be applied almost immediately to actual problem situations, make sense to busy practitioners, and provide a common vocabulary about common concerns.7

For all these reasons, I predict that the ideas and practices of Fenwick English and Gene Hall and Shirley Hord will have a wide influence on professors and educators in public schools. Their books represent the results of long-term, focused efforts to develop “what works.” However, they do not contain one-page formulas; a reader must set aside time to think in order to understand the implications of the material and how to use it. That reader will also find, however, a rich set of operational concepts that, while connecting to each other holistically as a “model,” can also be valuable singularly.

English, whose career has shuttled between being a school administrator, a professor, an organizational consultant, and a program director for a national association, began, in the mid-1970s, to test his ideas in the field. Since the publication of Quality Control in Curriculum Development,8 he has been refining his material through national workshops and articles. Hall and Hord were program director and co-director of the Research and Development Center for Teacher Education at the University of Texas at Austin from the late 1960s until 1986. There, with the assistance of federal funding and several colleagues, they mounted a large research-and-development project relating to change processes in schools and colleges. That project resulted in the Concerns Based Adoption Model (CBAM), which began to get public notice in 1973 with the first in a series of research reports, American Educational Research Association (AERA) papers, journal articles, and implementation manuals.9

Although the roots of each book are dissimilar, as is the basic content, they are conceptually in tandem and complementary; they should be read as a pair. Hall and Hord show us how to effect change more successfully; English deals with the realities of why schooling is the way it is, whether schooling is the way we want it to be, and what may be needed to improve or change it. What one text omits or treats lightly, the other often addresses (for example, an excellent chapter in Hall and Hord on leadership and an important theme in English about the nature of schools as organizations and teaching as a profession).

The author of Curriculum Management has crafted a book unique to the broad field of curriculum, a book whose subtitle could be the old Vermont proverb, “Do not whistle until you’re out of the woods.“10 Its overall theme is the need for schools to get a better fix on what they do now, and to establish more coordination and control over programs. Schools must focus more on how to deliver successfully their existing programs and to do so by getting more congruence or alignment between the written (the work standard established by the organization or teacher), the taught (the actual work done), and the tested curricula—a thought-provoking and functional macro concept. The text does not stop at exhorting us to do better. It provides several tools for moving ahead, such as curriculum mapping (the best-known tool that can be used apart from the total model), the commonplace curriculum guide, and auditing. These tools and other helpful curricular concepts—such as design, delivery, standards, alignment, and quality control—emerge from English’s extensive use of business literature melded creatively with education resources. Although some critics may see this step as a return to the “cult of efficiency,“11 I see it as a valuable one in providing us with overdue means for curriculum improvement. As a veteran principal said to me recently, “In comparison to all my other tasks, this area is my most important, challenging, perplexing, and frustrating one.”

English is not, however, simply pushing for more organizational control over curriculum, as is demonstrated by provocative chapters on what a valid curriculum is and the proper balance of the “right things” in it. However, Curriculum Management is primarily that and not another text about curriculum development. Control is a central thesis of the book because the author contends that it is central to the future success of schools due to resource limitations, countless competing demands on resources that cannot all be satisfied, and the possibility that the nature of elementary and secondary education, as we know it, is not guaranteed for even our lifetimes.

One of the reasons any human organization has a curriculum is to limit the focus and energy of the organization. Organizations require a boundary. This boundary separates them from their environment. Organizations have limited resources. Survival requires them to focus their resources on certain activities to the exclusion of others.12

Given the present social, economic, and political forces pressing schools today, I find it difficult to argue with this thesis. In this context, I find it highly disturbing to hear such comments from educators—expressed in workshops, courses, or in the field—as

We have no curriculum here. It’s whatever a teacher decides to do.

Our written curriculum would get an award for detail, but no one uses it.

Staff perform their assignments without a written curriculum guide, textbook sequence, department organization, grade level coordination, or planned communication among themselves.

Such situations erode rather than increase the efficacy of principals and teachers. With better organization and management emerges more professional power. Teachers, especially, must be willing to give up some of their traditional classroom autonomy and professional independence in order to gain more influence as a group. Their failure to do so will present a threat to the status of the occupation.13

English thus challenges us to change the organization of schools. In my opinion, to do so will require that administrators and teachers obtain knowledge about curriculum management and become committed to it; that administrators become more involved with and adept at program supervision and leadership; that teachers break down separatist norms that block collegial cooperation; and that the public allocate the dollars to permit schools to shift time, energy, and personnel resources to effect change. At the broadest level, English raises the issues of freedom and control and centralization and decentralization, which permeate not only the individual organization but its relationship to its parent system, that system and the state, and the state and the federal government. These kinds of issues and their ramifications, too seldom discussed by educators, should be considered before attempting to implement English’s system.14

I do have some recommendations for a second edition of the book. The first is to realign some chapters. For example, Chapter 4, “Curriculum Validation,” and Chapter 8, “Curriculum Balance,” could come after Chapter 1 in order to reinforce the importance of grappling with these topics very early in any examination of curriculum. The second is to strengthen Chapter 10, “Curriculum Evaluation,” with a more extensive treatment of topics like standardized, criterion-referenced, and teacher-made tests. The third is to add a chapter focused on other management factors such as time, scheduling, scope, sequence, and repetition. The fourth is that readers would benefit from more discussion about views contrary to the assertion by English that ‘there must be a total congruence between teaching, the curriculum, and the nature of assessment."15 At what point does striving to improve school management back fire by stifling the creativity and motivation of teachers? The text also needs editing to remove many spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors.

Hall and Hord’s Change in Schools: Facilitating the Process demonstrates what can result from a steadily funded and carefully researched project led by a core staff that remained with the enterprise for over a decade. In this instance, the outcome was the Concerns Based Adoption Model. To many readers the term model may connote a somewhat fixed, linear scheme of steps while skirting “all that messy human stuff" so attended to in the current business literature.16 Such a scheme attempts to make action more rational, that is, to remove immeasurable elements from a situation and to make it conform to reason by use of prescribed operations. This approach to educational change has been dominant since the 1960s.17

Now, however, we are at an important juncture in the history of the organizational literature, where new ideas such as “loose coupling,“18 “the organized anarchy,” and “garbage can” decision processes19 challenge the conventional wisdom of the rationalistic template. Recent research contends that rather than change occurring through a series of fairly predictable stages (e.g., goal setting, needs assessment, development, implementation, and evaluation or awareness, interest, trial, and adoption), it consists instead of three complex, interrelated “subprocesses” of mobilization, implementation, and institutionalization.20

Change in Schools melds nicely with this literature because it focuses on what actually happens to people who are experiencing change as they implement an innovation (defined simply as a product, practice, process, or idea new to the person using it) in terms of their attitudes, feelings, and behaviors. Many examples are given of attitudes, feelings, and behaviors relevant to the concerns-based approach, thus taking Hall and Hord’s model out of the rationalistic camp. The innovation could be some element of English’s approach to curriculum management. For example, for many teachers, being asked to “map” dimensions of the curriculum they teach is an innovative task. In turn, I have found that this seemingly innocuous request generates, in many teachers, strong negative feelings when they reach the point of allocating instructional time to various parts of their program. Here traditions of teacher autonomy collide with organization accountability.

The book targets two sets of people who are key to improvement efforts, those in a position (e.g., a principal or department chair) to facilitate others in changing and those benefiting from such assistance as they use an innovation. Repeatedly Hall and Hord remind us that “how teachers feel about the perceived change will, in large part, determine whether or not change actually occurs in classrooms.“21 This conclusion parallels English’s statement that “the teacher represents the pivotal role in enabling schools to be more effective.“22 Then the volume moves to portray three tools for diagnosing what happens to people who are in the process of changing. Each tool can be used alone but is more valuable as part of the total model. The first (and the one that has caught on most in the broader literature) is seven “Stages of Concern" about the innovation from the user's point of view, stages ranging from just needing more information, to how to manage it better in the classroom, to how to refocus it so it will have more impact. The second is eight “Levels of Use” analyzing the degree to which the innovation has been put into practice. The levels range from getting oriented to the product, practice, process, or idea, to routine use, to searching for ways to add to or even replace the innovation. The third is “Innovation Configurations” that analyze the degree to which the innovation is modified in practice from its original intent and shape.

In other chapters, Hall and Hord develop the notion of interventions, “an action or event or a set of actions or events that influences use of an innovation.“23 As they point out consistently, it is the effective use of all kinds of actions by facilitators—whether broad ranging like a “game plan” or specific like a “tactic”—that often makes a difference in a user’s success with an innovation. Hall and Hord also make it clear that effective leadership is central to their concerns-based model and begin the book with a line chapter on that subject. A valuable part of the text is a chapter built around four case studies of the CBAM being used across a district and in three schools. The cases reinforce the root assumptions undergirding the model, several of which are often cited in other literature: “Understanding the point of view of the participants in the change process is critical”; “Change is a process, not an event”; “To change something, someone has to change first."24

I have three suggestions for another edition of the book. The first is to add an initial chapter on the evolution of the change literature and how it influenced the development of the CBAM. For example, although I do not find a reference to the classic publication on planned change by Lippitt, Watson, and Westley, a rereading of it caused me to think that it could have played such a role.25 The second is to then rearrange the chapters so that Chapters 8 and 9 on the role of facilitators follow Chapter 2 on leadership. The third is to update many references to their current editions (e.g., Hersey and Blanchard, Sarason, and Schumuck, Runkel, and Arends).

In sum, Curriculum Management for Schools—Colleges—Businesses and Change in Schools: Facilitating the Process are important and welcome additions to the professional literature. They add respected new content that demonstrates once again that there are no quick formulas for excellence to substitute for hard, detailed, time-consuming effort. The authors portray ideas, concepts, tools, techniques, and approaches that professors can teach and educators can apply in the field, and the material can be connected to the school’s “existing regularities” (e.g., schedules, curricular patterns)26 rather than requiring herculean efforts to restructure the organization; these regularities can become levers for a more “inside out" change strategy. Although such a strategy will not lead soon to the reformed, restructured, or redesigned sys tern critics and friends of the schools would like to see, it can promote incremental improvement now because administrators and teachers make dozens of decisions daily that can nudge their organization toward or away from increased effectiveness. As Ralph Tyler put it recently, “Education leaders can gain the public’s attention and cooperation by using calls for reform as the basis for local and carefully focused school improvement programs."27 This is not glamorous, splashy change but it is the reality of how schools work.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 91 Number 1, 1989, p. 107-114
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 440, Date Accessed: 1/23/2022 4:01:07 PM

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