Book Review                                              Page 44


Collaborative School




by Trent E. Kaufman, Emily Dolci Grimm and Allison E. Miller, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2012, 202 pp. with index, $49.95 hardcover, $29.95 softcover

The study of effective educational leadership is a growing body of work. However, most efforts have focused on individual leadership characteristics of principals and superintendents, with some being focused on the development of teacher leaders. A more recent body of work has begun to include the role of central-office staff and its role in raising the level of student achievement.

Collaborative School Improvement, co-authored by Trent E. Kaufman, Emily Dolci Grimm and Allison E. Miller, builds on previous work and focuses on elements of collaboration the authors believe are necessary to propel the work of schools. All three are affiliated with Education Direction, a consulting firm in Salt Lake City, Utah. Kaufman is founder and president, Emily Dolci Grimm is director of school transformation, and Allison E. Miller is director of professional development.

The book identifies eight practices regarding which schools and district personnel should collaborate to enhance school improvement. These eight practices are: adopt an inquiry cycle; clarify roles and create teams; team effectively; narrow the focus; lead with purpose; connect teams; leverage expertise; and reflect and refine. Each activity has its own chapter and is introduced and addressed through a real-world school issue.

The authors point out several keys to successful collaboration between the school district and its schools. These include the following: Avoid mandating programs and instead focus on providing autonomy within boundaries. Focus on a deeper context of learning versus looking immediately to school structure as a solution. Involve teachers as drivers of needed change. Narrow the focus of collaboration and realize that every issue can’t be addressed at once, while also avoiding hastily implementing solutions before a root cause is identified.

School districts often use external consultants and do not recognize or use the expertise of existing school personnel. Collaborative School Improvement explains the importance of leveraging both internal and external personnel. Outside consultants can bring a new perspective and provide an unbiased view of the current status. However, it is vital to build internal capacity in order to maximize the prospect for sustainability once the external consultant’s work is complete.

While the primary measure of success for district and school collaboration is student achievement, the authors provide what they call a “litmus test,” that can be used by district personnel as a gauge for effective school collaboration. The litmus test is a set of six questions that includes such things as the depth of knowledge regarding school needs, the time committed to working with schools and the type of assistance being provided. It also includes reducing demands on schools and the school staff’s knowledge of the district role.

Collaborative School Improvement can be an asset for a superintendent new to a district looking to transform the traditional roles of central-office personnel. It also can be a tool used by a superintendent who has been in the district for several years, but wants to create a new level of energy that can come from the synergistic approach promoted by the book.

Reviewed by Lyle C. Ailshie, superintendent, Kingsport City Schools, Kingsport, Tenn.


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