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Passing the “Litmus Test” For Effective School Collaboration

By February 11, 2013December 30th, 2021No Comments
Middle States Accreditation is a process which guides school improvement based on adherence to twelve Standards of excellence and the development of long-term strategic plans for sustainable positive growth in student performance.
In the January, 2013 issue of School Administrator, a publication of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) Lyle C. Ailshie, superintendent, Kingsport City Schools, Kingsport, Tennessee, reviewed the newly published book, Collaborative School Improvement, co-authored by Trent E. Kaufman, Emily Dolci Grimm and Allison E. Miller. Dr. Ailshie explains that Collaborative School Improvement emphasizes the importance of leveraging both internal and external personnel. Outside consultants can bring a new perspective and provide an unbiased view of the current status. However, it is vital to build internal capacity in order to maximize the prospect for sustainability once the external consultant’s work is complete. Although the primary measure of success for district and school collaboration is student achievement, the authors provide what they call a “litmus test,” that can be used by district personnel as a gauge for effective school collaboration. The litmus test is a set of six questions that includes such things as the depth of knowledge regarding school needs, the time committed to working with schools and the type of assistance being provided. It also includes reducing demands on schools and the school staff’s knowledge of the district role.
Ailshie notes that although past efforts in the study of effective educational leadership focused on individual leadership characteristics, this new work builds on previous efforts and emphasizes practices necessary for productive collaboration:

The book identifies eight practices regarding which schools and district personnel should collaborate to enhance school improvement. These eight practices are: adopt an inquiry cycle; clarify roles and create teams; team effectively; narrow the focus; lead with purpose; connect teams; leverage expertise; and reflect and refine. The authors point out several keys to successful collaboration between the school district and its schools. These include the following: Avoid mandating programs and instead focus on providing autonomy within boundaries. Focus on a deeper context of learning versus looking immediately to school structure as a solution. Involve teachers as drivers of needed change. Narrow the focus of collaboration and realize that every issue can’t be addressed at once, while also avoiding hastily implementing solutions before a root cause is identified.

Middle States accreditation leads schools and school districts through a structured cycle of inquiry that can help them “pass the litmus test”; this includes:
  • identifying clear roles and responsibilities
  • involving all stakeholders in continuous review
  • establishing school improvement teams
  • analyzing qualitative and quantitative data
  • focusing on capacity and gaps in student performance and root causes
  • developing a long-term plan for systemic change and avoiding hasty solutions
  • enlisting teachers as drivers of needed change
  • validating assessment using external peer review
Middle States Accreditation is a collaborative process which recognizes the importance of cooperation among and between school-based personnel and the district office for effective change.

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