Bookshelf: Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High (2nd Edition)

Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler 2012

School’s are like every other human organization, they tend to avoid important conversations about core issues because they are not equipped to safely and productively deal with conflict. As a result, many schools sidestep issues such as ineffective instructional practices, leadership inconsistency or lack of curricular alignment. School improvement efforts inevitably require leaders to effectively navigate conflict and facilitate difficult conversations. When done well, schools experience greater outcomes for students, staff and the entire school community.

Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High 2nd Edition (Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler 2012) is an essential book for every leader who aims to authentically improve his/her school as well as their own leadership practice. Leaders will be exposed to techniques and case studies that will prepare them for genuine dialogue throughout the school community.

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Foundations For Success: 5 Building Blocks For Maximizing Student Achievement

Building a Foundation for Achievement

Maximizing student achievement is arguably the chief aspiration of every educational leader. In every school, professional educators are striving to overcome the barriers that stand between their students and the full attainment of the skills and knowledge needed for success in a global market.

I have had the honor of working with school leaders in small rural towns to inner city neighborhoods and everywhere in between. While the nuances of local context vary, I have found five foundational elements (or building blocks) that have proven to be critical for maximizing achievement. None of them are revolutionary or particularly innovative. In fact, all of them are fairly obvious. However, the multitude of daily demands associated with educational leadership often distract even the most efficient leader from the goal of maximized achievement. 

  1. Fully Supported Professional Educators
  2. Climate & Culture Focused on Achievement
  3. Data Informed, Differentiated Instruction
  4. Aligned Curricular Program
  5. Meaningful Assessment

Click below to find a simple tool for assessing the strength of each building block as well as tracking each over time. School leadership teams have used this tool as a monthly/quarterly activity in which they individually asses each item and, as a team, develop and implement strategies to address gaps. Others have used this tool as a part of their school improvement practices. Regardless of how you choose to use it, this tool can be helpful in maintaining your focus amidst an array of interference.


Leading School Improvement: 5 Practices of Successful Improvement Leaders

Leading a school is difficult, but leading school improvement is really, really difficult. Granted, there are many who hold that school improvement is simply a formula, a checklist or a new curriculum. Some even assert that school improvement is nothing more than enacting the latest legislative agenda or implementing a new school model. There is no question that, in some cases, these prescriptions have worked for some schools. On the other hand, based on my experience, school improvement is anything but simple. Schools are deeply dynamic organizations that demand the same depth from those who answer the call of educational leadership.

In the attached article, I share five practices have been distilled from years of working side by side with real leaders who have led school improvement initiatives.

Although successfully leading school improvement is extremely challenging, it is not impossible. In my view, few missions are more rewarding than leading school improvement. When leaders include these five elements in their daily leadership practice, they increase the likelihood of success in even the most challenging scenarios.

Leading School Improvement 5 Practices of Successful Leaders

Managing Complex Change: Using Knoster’s Model to Strengthen School Improvement Plans

Schools are complex organizations. On one hand, the complexity is a tremendous strength. On the other hand, it makes the implementation of school improvement plans uniquely challenging. Leaders become frustrated and stakeholders lose trust as once high powered improvement initiatives dissolve into prolonged exercises of ineffective implementation. Leaders can bring clarity by using Tim Knoster’s model for Managing Complex Change to assess the strength of school improvement plan components as well as diagnose root causes of implementation breakdown.


During a presentation at a 1991 conference for The Association for Severely Handicapped, Knoster presented his model of Managing Complex Change. To summarize, the model is predicated on the following theory of action: If an organization has a well articulated VISION, the necessary SKILLS to accomplish the vision, appropriate INCENTIVES for accomplishing the vision, adequate RESOURCES to accomplish the vision and an aligned ACTION PLAN… then the organization is more likely to experience positive change.


Vision + Skills + Incentives + Resources + Action Plan = Positive Change


The model goes on to contemplate the results when one of the key ingredients is missing. The table in the attached article describes the likely outcome when the corresponding attribute is missing from the organization.


Since 1991, a wide array of organizations have applied the Managing Complex Change model to their unique environments. As a result, a large number of valuable case studies exist describing various applications of this model. The attached article includes two quick applications that my clients have used to support the school improvement process in their schools and/or districts. Let me know if you have questions or want more information.

Managing Complex Change Using Knosters Model to Strengthen School Improvement Plans