Thursday, October 29, 2009


I recently posted the 80/20 Rule Applied to School Improvement in the post I urge district and building leaders to put more effort into implementation than writing a school improvement plan. One of my very astute colleagues, Lori Stollar from IU 12, asked me how would we help districts focus on implementation?

“Resting not on my own understanding,” I put it back to you my esteemed school improvement gurus..

  • What would a focus on implementation look like?
  • What specific behaviors, tools, and actions should we bring to the attention of school improvement teams?

Friday, October 16, 2009

The 80/20 Rule

I recently posted the Five Reasons School Improvement Plans Fail, a cautionary tale featuring the dark side of school improvement. While I think the post offers a good analysis on the common pitfalls of school reform – thanks to DuFour and Eaker, I am not entirely comfortable with the post. It highlighted pitfalls without shaping strategies for avoiding them. The first strategy that came to mind is the 80/20 Rule also known as Pareto’s Principle. 80-20-rule-4-main_Full

The 80/20 Rule - “20 percent of something is always responsible for 80 percent of the results.”

Think about how school teams spend their time.

  • How many hours do they spend writing the plan?
  • How many school improvement team meetings do they have after the plan is completed?

In my experience teams spend about 80% of their time writing school improvement plans and 20% of their time implementing them.

Reframing School Improvement

Pareto’s Principle would suggest the inverse. Teams should be focusing 20% of their effort on identifying the “right” activities and 80% on actually implementing them in meaningful, focused ways.

“Pareto's Principle, the 80/20 Rule, should serve as a daily reminder to focus 80 percent of your time and energy on the 20 percent of you work that is really important. Don't just "work smart", work smart on the right things.”

Click here to see original source from quotes as well as more information on Pareto’s Principle.

Image from eHow: How to Do Just About Anything.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reasons School Improvement Plans Fail

Rick DuFour & Robert Eaker list five reasons why school reform has failed in their book Professional Learning Communities at Work.

  1. Complexity of the task
  2. Misplaced focus
  3. Lack of clarity of intended results
  4. Lack of perseverance
  5. Failure to appreciate and attend to the change process.

Here’s how I see these five areas playing out:

Schools are complex organizations. Educators are great at identifying problems. We catalog and sort every wart and blemish. In fact, we are so good at it that we are become consumed with finding problems. We do not take the time to find the most strategic item we could tackle to get results… otherwise termed root cause.

Complexity of the plan then leads to ambiguous results or expectations. For example, what does co-teaching mean to the Administrators? Special education teachers? Content area teachers?  Does co-teaching mean implementation of one model of co-teaching…. generally one teach and one assist or does it mean an effective use of all six models? It really doesn’t matter what the initiative is …. rarely in our professional development work do we see teams of educators who share a common understanding in an initiative area without considerable effort to develop a shared vision.

The development of these complex and over-whelming plans leads to exhaustion. Teams focus so much of their energy of the development of the plan they have conserved little for the actual implementation, which is not hard considering we are not really clear on what actual implementation looks like.

For reform to work, research shows you need a critical mass of support to maintain momentum during the implementation process. If we are not sure of our intentions, have no clear focus and we are exhausted with the whole process… how much support, clarity, ownership can we bring?


The above post is not a commentary on how ineffective school improvement is, rather it is a response to a cycle of thinking that seems to permeate school improvement teams. By examining how it happens, we can avoid the seemingly inevitable result. Stay tuned for more strategies to support effective school improvement planning.


DuFour, R. & Eaker, R. (1998). Professional learning communities at work: Best practices for enhancing student achievement. Bloomington, Indiana: Solution Tree Press.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Purpose of Education

Below is an excerpt I wrote for a college class. As a follow up, I need feedback from all of YOU to demonstrate the power of blogging! Please react to my post and comment on the purpose of education from your point of view.


Martin Luther King (1947) once said that education has two functions: utility and culture. He goes on to say that “It is intelligence plus character” that is the true purpose of education.

I believe that dual purpose is still relevant today. We live in an increasingly complex, global society. Education must prepare students with the skills to live, work and thrive in this environment. This includes subject matter knowledge, but equally important will be skills such as communication, problem-solving, collaboration, information literacy, and character.

Education must prepare students to be life-long learners in the truest sense of the term. Fewer and fewer unskilled labor jobs will exist. The future will depend on the ability of all individuals to learn and relearn as technology changes the world of work. High skilled jobs will require literacy skills; the ability to read and write, but also to evaluate the information and synthesize it to solve complex problems.

Depth of character and social responsibility are also essential in a rapidly changing society. Just because we can, does not mean we ethically should. Students need to be equipped to make moral and ethical decisions.

King, M.L. (1948). Purpose of education. Morehouse College Student Paper, The Maroon Tiger.

Photo courtesy of Life Magazine at