collaborative school improvementBook Author: Trent Kaufman,  Emily Grimm, and Allison Miller

Data-based decision making is standard practice in districts and schools across the globe. Often, school-level personnel find data-based inquiry to be challenging for a variety of reasons, many of which are beyond their control. Collaborative School Improvement is an examination of three districts' efforts to reform and support teaching and learning in their schools through an increased emphasis on building capacity at the school level to employ data-based inquiry into instructional reform strategies. The authors identify eight practices that districts can use in connecting with schools toward improving instructional performance.

Kaufman, Grimm, and Miller build Collaborative School Improvement (CSI) on the use of inquiry cycles- "regularly collecting and analyzing data [to] help leaders build connections between teacher efforts and student performance"(p. 4). The purpose of the eight practices is to focus support on inquiry-based improvement so that it transfers "across the district, rather than remain in pockets" (p. 4). These eight practices include:

  • Adopt an inquiry cycle—creating a foundation for CSI
  • Clarify roles and create teams—organizing for CSI
  • Team effectively—building skills to engage in CSI
  • Narrow the focus—aligning resources with priority needs
  • Lead with purpose—redefining district leadership for CSI
  • Connect teams—creating opportunities for celebrating and sharing best practices
  • Leverage expertise—building capacity to sustain CSI
  • Reflect and refine—making regular revisions for continuous improvement

A deeper look at Collaborative School Improvement will reveal how organizing a team with diverse perspectives "can generate better thinking and creative outcomes when faced with challenges" (p. 79). In examining leadership on a district-wide basis, CSI promotes sustaining a creative vision, demonstrating the inquiry work, supporting skill development and resources allocation, reinforcing high expectations and supplying consistent and meaningful feedback. The authors stipulate that "effective leaders are key to large-scale, sustainable education reform" (p. 76). District and school personnel will find that in order for these practices to be implemented effectively, embracing the 'across the district' concept is essential-from superintendent to department heads, from central office to principals, from principals to teachers- everyone must be geared toward adopting new roles.

School leaders and staff will find chapter 7: Leverage Expertise helpful in examining ways to effectively direct resources in an intentional way. The goal for CSI is to develop sustainable approaches to resource distribution and the authors view leveraging external expertise as one strategy toward building internal capacity for improvement. The authors state, "With sufficient guidance from internal and external sources, teachers can refine their instructional practice to support real gains in student achievement" (p. 107). CSI walks readers through a process of building internal capacity for school improvement through engaging outside perspectives and strategies and then developing them within the school over time. Chapter 7 outlines the role of the outside expert and their value, how to choose external expertise to maximize effectiveness to the school's context, and then strategies to build on the partnership and ways to incorporate the work into daily operation.

Collaborative School Improvement is a refreshing take on initiative analysis for school leaders who are immersed in school improvement efforts. By providing authentic examples, through case studies, of a variety of school contexts, CSI combines research and practitioner perspectives to outline strategies that focus well-meaning teacher and administrator efforts toward impactful instruction and student achievement. By fostering a sense of collaboration, both internal and external, schools who implement the strategies in CSI will develop the tools and systems necessary for school improvement.


Kaufman, T. E., Grimm, E. D., & Miller, A. E. (2012). Collaborative School Improvement: Eight Practices for District-School Partnerships to Transform Teaching and Learning. Harvard Education Press. 8 Story Street First Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138.

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