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Getting Serious About the System

Getting Serious About the System
A Fieldbook for District and School Leaders

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December 2012 | 160 pages | Corwin
For many districts, the improvement process can seem like trying to nail Jello to the wall. This fieldbook shows how to avoid a haphazard approach by focusing on all aspects of the system and specific issues that have most impact upon student achievement. This multidimensional process also entails increasing the competencies of everyone involved and implementing solutions districtwide. The authors outline a proven framework and offer step-by-step guidance for addressing the essential components and competencies of the local educational system. Key strategies include:

Concentrating on aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment to state and Common Core State Standards

Working on the underlying issues and people that impact the system

Gathering support from all staff members to maximize time, resources, and energy.

About the Authors
Introduction to Systemic Improvement
Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking in Education

Working Systemically: A Process Grounded in Research

Testing and Refining the Working Systemically Approach

The Working Systemically Approach: Levels, Components, and Competencies

What It Takes



1. The "Works" of Working Systemically
Levels of the System

Components of the System

Competencies for Working Systemically

The Working Systemically Approach in Action

2. Phase I: Understanding Systemic Improvement
Step 1. Study the Approach

Step 2. Collect and Analyze Preliminary Data

Step 3. Present the Approach at the School Level

Step 4. Commit to Systemic Improvement

3. Phase II: Analyzing the System
Step 1. Form the District and School Leadership Teams

Step 2. Begin the Comprehensive Needs Assessment

Step 3. Conduct a Gap Analysis

Step 4. Begin the Process at the School Level

Step 5. Formulate Problem Statements

Step 6. Describe the Ideal State

Step 7. Review System Initiatives

Step 8. Continue the Process at the School Level

4. Phase III: Planning Action
Step 1. Investigate Research-Based Practices

Step 2. Explore the Professional Teaching and Learning Cycle (PTLC)

Step 3. Review Progress Made to Date and Existing Plan

Step 4. Develop a District Improvement Plan

Step 5. Formalize and Communicate the District Improvement Plan

Step 6. Develop School Improvement Plans

5. Phase IV: Taking Action & Monitoring Progress
Step 1. Implement and Monitor the Improvement Plans

Step 2. Provide Continuing Leadership for the Improvement Work

Step 3. Address Unique Challenges as They Arise

6. Phase V: Assessing & Reflecting on Outcomes
Step 1. Analyze and Reflect on Evidence of Implementation and Impact

Step 2. Decide on a Focus for Continuing the Improvement Work

Step 3. Recognize Work, Progress, and Accomplishments

Bibliography Matrix


"This book is a critical roadmap to district and school transformation. It takes the guess work out of determining where improvement is needed."

Freda Hicks, Assistant Principal
Grady Brown Elementary School, Hillsborough, NC

"The working systemically model provides a research-based approach to school improvement. The clearly defined step-by-step approach will assist any school or district in its improvement efforts. My professional practice has been significantly changed as a result of my direct experience implementing SEDL’s working systemically approach."

Sally Bennett, Curriculum Coordinator
East Poinsett County School District, Lepanto, AR

"This book not only describes processes and strategies but provides the tools needed for those leading the process. This is a process that a campus or district leader could use that would examine and use the resources they already have and is not another program they need to buy."

Cynthia Stone, Director of School Improvement
South San Antonio ISD, San Antonio, TX

"The vignettes pulled everything together and increased my understanding of the phases. The tips for building relationship between team members and dealing with sensitive issues are also very helpful."

Debbie Langford, School Counselor
West Hills Elementary STEM Academy; Bremerton, WA

"This is the most comprehensive approach to improving a school system that I have seen in one text. I would absolutely recommend this book to my colleagues."

Diana Pratt, Assistant HS Principal (retired)
Auburn, WA

"This book challenges leaders to focus on what is most important and identifies the improvement efforts required to achieve dramatic results in the classrooms. It is brimming with ideas on how to transform education systemically and provides teachers, administrators, and leaders with a comprehensive resource to improve student achievement."

Debra Paradowski, Associate Principal
Arrowhead Union High School; Hartland, WI

“The authors provide decades of high-quality professional development and hands-on work with schools and school districts. I appreciate and applaud their efforts to translate research on data use, professional development, leadership, and collaboration into tools and processes useful to educators.”

Victoria Bernhardt, Executive Director, Education for the Future
California State University, Chico

The book was less about systems theory than I hoped.

Dr Cade Spaulding
Communication Division, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point
October 14, 2013

D'Ette F. Cowan

Before retiring from SEDL in October, 2010, D'Ette F. Cowan led Texas Comprehensive Center efforts to assist state and intermediate agencies in providing high-needs districts and schools with technical assistance that is systemic in nature. In her 12-year career at SEDL, she also assisted low-performing districts and schools throughout a five-state region to improve student learning, and investigated strategies for transforming schools into professional learning communities. Currently, Cowan serves as a consultant to SEDL on a variety of projects. As one of the researchers and authors of Working Systemically in Action: A Guide for... More About Author

Stacey L. Joyner

Stacey Joyner is a Program Associate at SEDL—a nonprofit education research, development, and dissemination corporation based in Austin, TX. She participates in efforts to build state education staff capacity to serve districts and schools. She is the former editor of the USDE's Reading First newsletter The Notebook, and former editor of the Texas Comprehensive Center's newsletter Texas Focus. She is co-author of SEDL’s Working Systemically in Action, a comprehensive process for school improvement. Prior to joining SEDL, Ms. Joyner served as the Reading Coordinator for the Idaho State Department of Education. She has 11 years of teaching... More About Author

Shirley B. Beckwith

Shirley Beckwith is a Communications Associate with SEDL's Texas Comprehensive Center (TXCC). She provides editorial review of training materials and resources used in meetings hosted by the TXCC and prepares materials for submission to national evaluators. She also provides and reviews content for the TXCC Web site. She has been involved in several revisions of the Working Systemically approach, including the 2008 Working Systemically in Action: A Guide for Facilitators and a conversion of the process into a scripted training manual for school support teams.Prior to joining SEDL Ms. Beckwith worked for several years at the University of... More About Author

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ISBN: 9781452205113