Publication Type: Web Article
Year of Publication: 2008
In clear language, the authors describe the broad concepts of school improvement, the processes and action steps that are needed to achieve specific goals, and the specific methods required to help facilitate the work. The 200-page book is laid out in a practical way to support the work of busy teams as they develop their own blueprint for school reform. Each chapter is built around a common, user-friendly format that provides essential questions, truly practical solutions and tools, roles and responsibilities for administration to consider, critical texts and resources, and the authors’ own valuable, experience-based professional reflections.
Align the Design: A Blueprint for School Improvement
By Nancy Mooney and Ann T. Mausbach
2008 (204 pp./paperback – also available as an e-book)
$27.95 ($21.95 to members)
Reviewed by Ellen Holmes, NBCT
Maine Department of Education
In my role at the State Department of Education I primarily work with district and school administration teams, helping them think through approaches and plans for school improvement. Typically these teams are made up of well-intentioned and well-informed people who have come together to develop a systemwide plan. They have limited time to find ways to deal with the often overwhelming state and national policies requiring significant system-wide changes in practices and outcomes.
Often, these teams remind me of the parable about a group of sightless people describing an elephant. You know -- one person describes the elephant as a snake, one person describes the elephant as a group of four trees, and so on. Each person only knows the piece of the elephant they are most closely associated with. Further, I find that school leaders may very knowledgeable about one aspect of school improvement but may have never considered any other aspect. That is why we often see the up-and-down cycles of program implementation, the lack of commitment, and the frustration with slow results, followed by program abandonment.
In my own experiences as a classroom teacher, these roller coaster cycles often felt professionally frustrating and rarely provided any results that improved my teaching and my students' learning.
When I first read Align the Design, I knew it was an immediate resource that I could share with district teams. From the very first pages, it was clear that here was a book written by school professionals who had successfully planned for and implemented school improvement, using a true systemic approach.
The tools and methods presented in the book allow all the people in the room to look at and realize the elephant of school reform as a complete entity. In clear language, the authors describe the broad concepts of school improvement, the processes and action steps that are needed to achieve specific goals, and the specific methods required to help facilitate the work. They call them "Power Tools."
The 200-page book is laid out in a very practical way to support the work of busy teams as they develop their own blueprint for school reform. Each chapter is built around a common, user-friendly format that provides essential questions, truly practical solutions and tools, roles and responsibilities for administration to consider, critical texts and resources, and the authors’ own valuable, experience-based professional reflections.
I have suggested this book to each of the school district administrative teams I am working with. Without fail, each has commented how practical and helpful the book is. For the practitioner, Align the Design provides a planning and conceptual framework that links all of the essential understandings and research related to school reform together. The teams appreciate that the authors have provided realistic timelines designed to help them appropriately plan for school improvement. Another very practical component of the book is the "Do and Don't" section found in each chapter. The teams appreciate the chance to avoid blind alleys by learning from the mistakes of others they recognize as fellow professionals.
For me, the most important aspect of the book lies in the basic premises it asks readers to assume as they begin to plan for and implement school improvement.
1. Schooling is about student learning.
2. Processes required to improve schools are not new, but they need to be appropriately aligned and used.
3. Building trusting and respectful relationships greatly influences the chance for success in all aspects of school improvement.
4. A clearly defined focus and commitment from district leaders allows school-based leaders to make genuine plans, follow through until goals are reached, actively seek data to inform their process, and justify spending a significant amount of time in classrooms monitoring teaching and learning.
In my experience, school districts that adopt these premises as foundations for their school improvement efforts are most successful. They are successful designing, implementing and fully realizing important initiatives leading to the one true measure of school improvement: increased learning outcomes for all students. For any system considering how to approach the difficult task of meaningful school improvement, I highly recommend Align the Design as an essential purchase.