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Date Author Title
2011-02-14 Steve Gardiner Successful Practices Network Leadership Academy (Part II)

The information from the Successful Practices Network is not prescriptive. It does not tell a school what needs to be fixed and hand out a checklist to get there. The staff at SPN, however, have visited many successful, high-performing schools across the nation and have found general traits or trends in those schools which can be adapted to fit the needs of other schools interested in improvement.

The data from these successful schools can be used in other contexts to answer three very important questions: 1) why change? 2) what should we change? and 3) how do we change? SPN provides general answers to these questions which will help our professional conversations.


Dr. Daggett explained that most schools need to change now because “the world outside school is changing faster than the world inside school.” To keep up with this and prepare our students for life in a changing world, schools must evolve. The changes outside school are large, and he added, “American society is undergoing fundamental structural changes at the family, workplace, and community levels.” Schools should respond.


The second question is easier and the answer is summed up in Daggett's Rigor/Relevance Framework. Rigor is the level of difficulty of the work is based on the Knowledge Taxonomy and is placed on the vertical axis of the framework. It begins with awareness and increases through comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Relevance is aligned on the horizontal axis and increases from knowledge in one subject to knowledge across the curriculum to knowledge used in the real world. The most successful schools use practices which regularly take students into the highest levels of knowledge applied in real world situations. These are known as Quadrant D lessons or experiences.


The question of how to change brings up a non-sequential list of eight Components of School Excellence that successful schools have found necessary to promote rigor, relevance, and relationships in their classrooms.


  1. Embrace a Common Vision and Goals—Rigor, Relevance and Relationships for ALL Students. If all members of a school community share a common belief system about what the school should do, the chances of success increase dramatically.

  2. Inform Decisions Through Data Systems. Daggett wrote, “Highly successful schools/districts use quality data to make laser-like decisions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment.”

  3. Empower Leadership Teams to Take Action and Innovate. One theme of the SPN conference in San Diego was that leadership is not a function of position, but more a function of disposition. The collaboration of team members to provide leadership will be stronger than other forms of leadership.

  4. Clarify Student Learning Expectations. When students and teachers are clear on what learning needs to take place, student achievement will increase. Daggett emphasized that this is more difficult than ever with the rapidly changing nature of the world today.

  5. Adopt Effective Instructional Practices. Ray McNulty, in his book It's Not Us Against Them, explained that “highly effective instruction combines high rigor and relevance, personalization for special interests, accommodation of special needs, knowledge of relevant brain research, and strong relationships that encourage student success.”

  6. Address Organizational Structures. Items such as bell schedules, school calendars, and physical structures should be based on instructional needs of the students and teachers.

  7. Monitor Progress/Improve Support Systems. Student progress should be continuously monitored and the results should be used to improve instruction.

  8. Refine Process on an Ongoing Basis. Success is not a destination but a process and high-performing schools are on a constant search for new ideas that will make their schools better. This is one of the key benefits from the network of schools who are members of SPN.

To bring these components into a school, Daggett recommends taking a look at the end result first. What is the goal ahead, then design backwards from there to discover the path to that goal.

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