School Improvement Succeeds only with Shared Leadership: A Field-Tested Blueprint

Matching the Essential Components of School Improvement with a School-level Committee Structure that Facilitates Shared Leadership and Staff/Student Success

All schools need to improve. . . to look at their current status and outcomes, and move to the next level of excellence. Some schools have been mired in “failure”. . . or at least failure as defined only by the fact that their students are not achieving academic proficiency based on a single annual high-stakes test (a definition of “success” that we disagree with).

Regardless. . .with all of the discussion about school improvement— especially at the federal level— a critical missing element is shared leadership. Below, we discuss one element of shared leadership by describing a practical blueprint for school-level committees. Implemented by us in thousands of schools nationwide, this blueprint is adapted to the size and complexity of the school (elementary through secondary), but it is accompanied by the following basic principles:

  • All instructional staffareon at least one school-level committee.
  • Every committee is co-chaired by instructional staff members (administrators are ex officio to all committees), and the co-chairs form the core of the School Leadership Team.
  • Every committee (except the early intervention Student Assistance Team) has at least one representative from each grade-level or instructional team, along with representatives from other support personnel groups.
  • Every committee has an annually-written “Mission, Roles, Goals, and Function” document— that is shared with other committees to ensure coordination and collaboration, and whose goals are reflected in the school’s School Improvement Plan.
  • Every committee meets at least monthly, meetings are posted in the school’s Master Calendar, meetings have explicit agendas and outcomes, meeting minutes are taken and publicly posted, and committees evaluate their progress on a quarterly basis with data.

How are School-level Committees Conceptualized?

At least within the blueprint, the school-level committee structure should mirror the components that help schools to be organizationally successful. This is simply good business. Critically, if you look at any of the national school improvement groups, you will see the following components almost consistently reflected:

  • Strategic Planning and Organizational Development
  • Staff Cohesion, Consultation, Shared Leadership, Teaming, and Effective Group Process
  • Professional Development, Supervision, Coaching, Accountability, and Staff Evaluation
  • Positive Academic Instruction, Supports, Services, and Interventions
  • Positive Behavioral/Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Instruction, Supports, Services, and Interventions
  • Multi-tiered Response-to-Instruction and Intervention Supports and Pupil Services
  • Community and Family Involvement and Outreach
  • Progress Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation, and Data-based Decision-Making

These school improvement components, then, are reflected in the School-level Committee Structure blueprint as follows:

  • The School Leadership Team (SLT)
  • The Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) Committee
  • The School Discipline/Climate (or PBIS) Committee
  • The Professional Development/Staff Support and Mentoring Committee
  • The Community and Family Outreach Committee
  • The Multi-tiered Early Intervention School Assistance Team (SAT)

A Brief Description of the School-level Committees

Briefly, each committee has the following basic responsibilities:

  • The School Leadership Team (SLT) coordinates and guides all of the shared leadership planning and implementation processes in a school, overseeing the activities of the five other committees and the grade-level and/or instructional teams.
  • The Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) Committee facilitates the development and integration of the school’s academic curricula with (a) effective classroom instruction, (b) progress monitoring, (c) formative and summative evaluation, and (d) the use of student-centered remediation, accommodation, modification, assistive supports, and curriculum-based intervention.
  • The School Discipline/Climate (or PBIS) Committee oversees the activities and instruction that result in (a) positive and safe school and classroom climates and interactions; (b) effective positive discipline and classroom/behavior management approaches; (c) students’ learning and demonstrating interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills; (d) effective school safety and crisis preparation practices; and (e) strategic or intensive services, supports, and strategies (including those involving school-based mental health) for students with critical social, emotional, or behavioral needs.
  • The Professional Development/Staff Support and Mentoring Committee oversees, facilitates, and evaluates the school’s professional development (PD), and formal and informal collegial supervision and support activities. These activities help all staff feel professionally and personally connected to the school and its continuous improvement processes, as well as help instructional staff to be successful relative to the district’s teacher evaluation system.
  • The Community and Family Outreach Committee focuses on establishing and sustaining the collaborative approaches needed to address students’ academic and social, emotional, or behavioral needs in home or community settings, and to increase the support, involvement, and leadership of parents, community agencies, and other organizations in accomplishing the school’s mission and goals.
  • The Multi-tiered Early Intervention School Assistance Team (SAT) is the school-level committee that facilitates the use of the functional assessment, data-based problem-solving processes that identify the strategic or intensive instructional or intervention services, supports, strategies, or programs needed, academically and/or behaviorally, by students who are not responding to effective classroom instruction or behavior management. Meeting on a weekly basis to process new and track existing cases, the SAT team consists of the strongest academic and behavioral assessment and intervention specialists in or available to the school, who work with the teacher (or teaching team) that needs to discuss specific students of concern.

Summary and Free Follow-Up Resources

Critically, some schools have too many committees or too few committees. When there are too many committees, there is a risk that some committees are working independently, redundantly, or at cross-purposes. When there are too few committees, there is a risk that some staff have too many responsibilities and are at-risk for burn-out, or that other staff are unhappy that their viewpoints are not requested or reflected. In either case, the success of the business (that is, the school) is dependent on people working collaboratively— with both effectiveness and efficiency.

Clearly, shared leadership is essential for ongoing and continuously effective school improvement processes— whether you have an exceptional school or a school identified as needing improvement by your state through the ESEA process.

In addition, feel free to watch the webinar below that was delivered to a national audience interested in school improvement and strategic planning.

Fast Tracking the School Improvement Process

As always, I hope that some of the ideas above resonate with you. Please accept my best wishes as you continue to provide the services and supports that all of your students need. Have a GREAT week !!!