Dr. Mark Smylie - Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County

Continuous School
Mark A. Smylie
University of Illinois at Chicago
ESC of Cuyahoga County, Ohio
Leadership Series
February 10, 2011
Starting Points
“Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda.”
A “work in progress”.
The ubiquity of it all.
Opportunity knocks.
A Presentation in Five Parts
1. The context and call for CI.
2. The meaning of CI.
3. Processes of CI.
4. Organizational design for CI.
5. On becoming a CI school.
From Continuous School Improvement
(Corwin Press, 2010).
1. The Context and Call
• “The future ain’t what it used to be.”
• Schools are unprepared for an uncertain
and demanding future.
• Schools must change in fundamental
• The call for continuous improvement.
Shifting Terrains, Growing
Transformation of jobs and the economy.
Politics and control of education.
School funding.
Characteristics and conditions of children
and youth.
And if that wasn’t enough…
Growing demands for:
• New learning.
• Higher performance for all.
• Greater accountability.
Up to the Challenge?
• “Built for comfort not for speed.”
• The “happy place” of equilibrium and
• Low tolerance for ambiguity.
• Institutional grammars and organizational
• External expectations, encapsulation, and
• External threat? “Circle the wagons!”
The Call for CI
Need for schools to adopt organizational
forms and processes for:
• Meeting changing demands.
• Engaging uncertainty and environmental
• Becoming more flexible, adaptable, and
strategically proactive.
• Bringing about their own learning and
ongoing transformation.
“In the beginning…”
• Scientific management (late 19th early
20th centuries).
• Statistical methods of quality control in
industry (1920s and 1930s).
• Early quality movement in U.S. military
and Japan (during and after WWII).
• “Reliability engineering and quality
assurance” (1950s and 1960s).
• TQM (1980s and 1990s).
Early Application to Schools
• Mid-1960s. The “self-renewing school”.
National Training Laboratories.
• Late 1960s and 1970s. DDAE (DialogueDecision Making-Action-Evaluation).
• 1970s and 1980s. Self-development and
renewal strategies in OD.
• 1980s and 1990s. TQM.
2. The Meaning(s) of CI
An evolving concept. Multiple definitions.
• A set of values and beliefs. An organizational
• A strategic organizational process.
• An organizational property. The very definition
of organization.
• A means and an end.
• A noun and a verb.
• All of the above.
Common Defining Elements
Regular and ongoing.
Oriented toward incremental changes.
Intentional and strategic.
Both proactive and reactive.
Focused on the whole organization.
Inclusive of all organizational members.
Oriented toward mission and core values.
Integral to organizational identity, design,
and basic functions.
Logic of CI
Making continuous, strategic, incremental
changes helps organizations to:
• Adapt to changes in internal and external
• Improve performance and effectiveness.
• Promote innovation and innovativeness.
Small strategic changes can add up to
fundamental changes.
Additional Benefits
• Reduce the need for and costs of radical
• Reduce “threat-rigidity”.
• Mediate isomorphic tendencies.
• Enhance productive organizational
• Avoid vicious circles and create virtuous
A Counter Logic
Revolutionary or “punctuated equilibrium”
theories of change.
• Power of inertial forces.
• Adaptive change not enough.
• Need for perturbations or “big jolts”.
• Example of school “turnaround”.
Counter Logic Countered
• Inevitability of punctuated equilibrium and
the need for perturbations?
• CI as strategic alternative?
• What comes after perturbation? What is
the new and better equilibrium?
• Ambidextrous organizations?
Evidence Regarding CI
Studies of businesses, industries, nonprofits,
government agencies, schools.
• Characteristics of high-performing
• Characteristics of improving and innovating
• Outcomes of particular CI processes.
Findings of CI Effectiveness
Positive contribution to:
• Organizational performance and
improvement over time.
• Adaptation to changing environments.
• Reduction in need for radical change.
• Moderation of stresses and costs of
significant changes when made.
• Organizational creativity and innovation.
3. Processes of CI
• A focus on process models not specific
• General considerations.
Quality of implementation.
Hybrid processes and strategies.
Danger of goal displacement.
“Location” in organization vis-à-vis core
The Basic Process Model
“The Shewhart Cycle” (1939)
Contemporary Example A
NEA KEYS Continuous School Improvement (CSI) Model
1. Preparation
for CSI
2. Data collection/
8. Evaluating
7. Monitoring
3. Developing
goal consensus
6. Professional
4. Continuing
5. Developing
Contemporary Example B
Hawley & Sykes, “Four-Phase Cycle of CI”
Phase 1
Develop consensus
on goals and assessments
of students’ performance
Phase 4
Phase 3
Phase 2
Manage the
implementation of
promising practices.
Provide opportunities
for focused professional
assessment of
students’ performance.
problem solving.
Identify resources to solve
problems and address
alternative solutions.
Contemporary Example C
Boudett, City, & Murnane, “The ‘Data Wise’ Improvement
4 Dig into
5 Examine
6 Develop
Action Plan
1 Organize for
7 Plan to
8 Act and
Essential Elements
Clarify mission, vision, core values.
Determine current state, gaps, reasons for gaps.
Develop goals and objectives to address gaps.
Identify strategies and develop implementation
• Implement strategies.
• Assess implementation and outcomes.
• Rinse and repeat.
Key Qualities and Considerations
• Preparation for CI.
• Teaching and student learning at the
• Primacy of data throughout process.
• Attention to data quality and capability.
• Applied to whole school.
• Integrated into core functions.
4. Organizational Design for CI
• CI processes need particular
organizational supports.
• Products of those processes need
organizational supports.
• Both processes and products need an
organization “designed for change”, a
continuously improving organization.
Design Considerations
• Unitary whole of form and function (noun
and verb).
• Formal and informal elements.
• Open systems perspective.
• Design as systemic, dynamic.
• “Preferred organizational states of being”.
10 Design Elements
1. Norms, values, and a culture for CI.
• To ground and guide CI as “work” of the
• CI as an expected and valued aspect of
organizational life, part of the
organization’s definition.
• Culture of process, prospecting,
experimentation, risk-taking, invention,
intellectual “play”.
10 Design Elements (con’d.)
2. Human capital.
• Knowledge, skills, and attitudes of
individuals and groups for CI.
• Knowledge, skills, and attitudes of
individuals and groups to act upon
“products” of CI.
• Means for ongoing human capital
10 Design Elements (con’d.)
3. Organization of people and work.
• Design of roles, relationships, tasks.
• Structured flexibility, interdependence,
“bounded” autonomy for learning, joint
problem solving, experimentation.
• Communication and interaction.
• Proximity to environment.
• Transition processes.
10 Design Elements (con’d.)
Distribution of authority and influence.
Diffused across roles and levels.
Expansive not “zero-sum”.
Upward and downward.
Putting influence and discretion “close to
the problem”.
“Distributed leadership.”
10 Design Elements (con’d.)
5. Relational trust.
• Predictability, dependability, and socialemotional support for uncertainty and
• Trust of colleagues.
• Trust of leadership.
• Trust of organization.
10 Design Elements (con’d.)
6. Accountability and reward system.
• Logic: What is inspected and rewarded
is attended to.
• Alignment with CI as an organizational
• Extra resources to encourage
experimentation and risk-taking.
10 Design Elements (con’d.)
7. Capacity for data analysis.
• Knowledge and skills to collect, obtain,
analyze, and interpret data for CI.
• Ability to use data in decision making.
• Organization’s capacity to generate
and manage good data.
10 Design Elements (con’d.)
Fiscal and physical resources.
Appropriate for context.
Sufficient and sustained.
Beyond general operations.
“Slack” for CI.
10 Design Elements (con’d.)
9. Internal management systems.
Support for day-in-day-out CI work.
Someone’s job assignment.
Conduct and coordinate flows of information,
ideas, communication.
Manage processes of problem identification,
experimentation, improvement.
Environmental scanning and future probes.
General management practices.
10 Design Elements (con’d.)
10. Leadership from the top.
Linchpin for all design elements.
Promote core values, identity, culture.
Set goals, priorities, and expectations for CI.
Promote development of organizational
capacity and resources for CI.
Manage boundaries and external environment.
Champion CI inside and out organization.
Comprehensive Design Models
• Self-designing organization (Susan
Mohrman & Thomas Cummings, 1989).
• Design requirements and dimensions
(Paul Lillrank et al., 1998)
• The “B2change” organization (Edward
Lawler & Christopher Worley, 2006).
CI “In Action”
School cases:
• Shilling Elementary School, Newark
Unified School District, CA.
• Will Rogers Elementary School, SantaMonica-Malibu Unified School District, CA.
• Gustav Fritsche Middle School,
Milwaukee, WI.
• Blue Mountain High School, Ontario,
5. Becoming a CI School
• Good starts important.
• No one true path but some paths better
than others.
• Contexts and capabilities matter.
• Becoming a CI school a CI process.
• Little guidance, few lessons. But….
“Steps” in Getting Started
• Identify, clarify, and promote mission,
vision, and core values.
• Stabilize core managerial functions.
• Establish an imperative for CI.
• Adopt or develop a systematic CI process
or “technology”.
• Develop human capital, organizational,
and leadership capacity for CI.
• Establish meta-routine for assessing CI.
Issues and Dilemmas
What mission? What core values?
Paradox of stability for change.
“Threshold” capacity.
External leadership and support.
Need for revolutionary change to become
a CI school?
• Reflections.
• Questions.
• Benedictions.