Transforming Schools: Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement
reviewed by Lois Favre - 2005
Title: Transforming Schools: Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement
Author(s): Allison Zmuda, Robert Kuklis and Everett Kline
Publisher: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA
ISBN: 0871208458, Pages: 195, Year: 2004
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Systems-change thinking has long been the hallmark of change theorists regaling the way to overcome the insurmountable obstacles to creating lasting change in todays schools so embedded in bureaucracy. While understanding change theory is tantamount to success in managing reform efforts, understanding that individuals can make a difference is also imperative if we are to survive and continue to do the wonderful work that schools do. We must continue to search for ways to achieve real reform, despite accountability legislation that seems to continue to tie the hands of educators who want to focus on teaching and learning rather than on testing and more testing these authors have done just that.
In Transforming Schools: Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement, Zmuda, Kuklis, and Kline present for the reader, a look at reform efforts from the inside out. They accomplish this through a look at a fictional school grappling with real-life problems. McTighe, in his foreword says it nicely when he states Their voices harmonize like an accomplished choral group, integrating the idealism of a visionary, the practicality of a veteran, the analytic perspective of the scholar, and the imagery of a storyteller (p.vii).
Chapters are arranged with essential questions and operating principles that guide the reader through the fictional story of one school of dedicated teachers and administrators, competent in their abilities, who have become what the authors describe as isolated and disconnected from the system, with minimal investment in staff development efforts (p. 5). In Chapter One the authors begin with ideas to make staff development efforts worthwhile by introducing the reader to Six Steps of Continuous Improvement, which are presented as the heart of this work to encourage continuous improvement an unwavering commitment to progress (p.17). These steps of continuous improvement are presented as follows: Step 1. Identify and clarify core beliefs that define the schools culture; Step 2. Create a shared vision by explicitly defining what these core beliefs will look like; Step 3. Collect accurate, detailed data and use analysis of the data to define where the school is now and to determine the gaps between the current reality and the shared vision; Step 4. Identify the innovation(s) that will most likely close the gaps between the current reality and the shared vision; Step 5. Develop and implement an action plan that supports teachers through the change process and integrates the innovation within each classroom and throughout the school; Step 6. Embrace collective autonomy as the only way to close the gaps between the current reality and the shared vision, and embrace collective accountability in establishing responsibility for closing gaps (pp.18-19).
Chapter Two considers the school as a competent system, another interesting theme of the book. In this chapter the authors maintain that To see the school as a purposeful system, educators must articulate and affirm the deeply held, defining beliefs, that give purpose to their work (p. 19). The authors further assert that to assure that staff development efforts succeed, three elements must be considered. These include: the school as a system of interlocking and interacting elements: the behavioral norms that define the culture and their role in promoting or blocking change; and the need for collegiality (p. 31). The importance of productive conversations toward this goal is not understated in this chapter. Through staff conversations and reflections presented, the reader gains an understanding of the importance of time, patience, tolerance, and resources (needed) to make these conversations productive (p. 45).
In Chapter Three, Zmuda, Kuklis, and Kline ask What beliefs define our purpose? How do we know them when we see them? (p. 57). In addressing the beliefs that define the purpose of the school, the authors discuss the importance of building collective autonomy toward the end of becoming a competent system. Further, the authors suggest that the move from individual autonomy to collective autonomy is only made through productive, collegial conversations about the collective beliefs of the staff and where those beliefs fit in with theory and research. Chapter Three provides insight into establishing a vision and Chapter Four then leads to the use of data to determine gaps between reality and the vision. The next chapter assists in designing staff development that matters based on the vision and the gaps defined. This includes developing an action plan which in turn, magically brings you around to more change, as change breeds change thus, creating the culture of continuous improvement.
What is most appealing about this work is the way that the authors have bridged theory with practice through the dialogues of the fictional teachers and administrators in this school. Any school teacher or administrator can easily relate to the teacher who consistently attends staff development with the newspaper or papers to grade in hand. Leaders can relate to the strategies presented for creating communities of learners focused around real issues as determined by moving through the steps outlined by the authors. The district administrator to principal dialogue rings true to those of us grappling with improving test scores and meeting standards decided for us. The teacher to teacher discussions are real, and show the ways in which competent, hard-working teachers get caught up in the incompetent system and how, through managing leadership and collegiality, incompetent systems can become competent systems. Questions at the end of each chapter will help to guide real school personalities through the change process. Throughout the work, the authors acknowledge the complexities of the system that we work in, while never allowing the reader to settle for what is. Through their step-by-step process, they lead the reader through the change process by providing a framework for professionals to model as they work through their own reform efforts. Zmuda, Kuklis, and Everett invite the reader to ask the essential questions and build the operating systems for their own program classroom, school, or district. In so doing, each school or district can create their own Transforming Schools story.
Transforming Schools: Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement is a must read for educators interested in continually improving their teaching craft and in improving their working environment. The focus groups concept presented is a wonderful way to build collegiality in the workplace. I would recommend that schools begin any change effort with a book study of Transforming Schools: Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement.