Building a BASE

Four Steps to Long-Lasting Change

by Barbara R. Blackburn and Ron Williamson

Schools are constantly changing and improving—students change, families change, the community changes, expectations change, and the context in which the schools function changes.

Based on our work helping schools strengthen and improve, we developed our BASE model to describe this process. We chose BASE because everything you do to improve your school must be built on a solid base, one that reflects research and best practice, builds support among teachers and families, and includes solid measures for success.

The four stages of our BASE model reflect a commitment to continuous improvement.

It should be thought of as circular and is built on an assumption that to nurture and sustain improvements in rigor, you must continue to examine how you’ve done. This analysis, in turn, will lead to identifying other ways you can make your school more rigorous.

BASE Model

  1. Begin to Plan
  2. Act to Implement
  3. Sustain Success
  4. Evaluate and Adjust

Step 1: Begin to Plan

As you begin to think about planning, we want to emphasize the importance of using an inclusive process to make your vision of a more effective school a reality. We’ve discovered that involving others in planning is one of the most important tools. It allows people to develop collaborative skills, and to learn and grow together. Hearing different points-of-view can help assure that what is planned is most appropriate for your school.

There are also other critical aspects of the planning process that support your effort to improve the rigor of your school, such as agreeing on a vision or mission, assessing current available data, determining a process for decision-making, and deciding on methods for sharing information.

Planning Questions

  • Are critical stakeholders involved?
  • Is there an agreed upon mission/vision for a rigorous school?
  • Do we have the data and information about our current conditions?
  • Is there an agreed upon process for making decisions?
  • How will we share information with others?

Step 2: Act to Implement the Plan

Planning is just the beginning. Implementing and sustaining changes can be even more of a challenge because it is the implementation that forces people to face the reality that things “may be different.” Implementation often provokes a range of feelings including regret about abandoning familiar practices, exhilaration at the prospect of new ideas, or fear of being overwhelmed by the challenge of doing something new.

As you begin implementation, key strategies include creating a culture of collegiality, executing a clear strategy for collecting, assessing, and using data, identifying ways for teachers to discuss successes and challenges regarding the implementation, having a clear decision-making process, and regularly sharing information in a systematic manner.

Planning Questions

  • Have you created a culture of collegiality?
  • Do you have a process for gathering initial data about implementation and monitoring the implementation?
  • What opportunities have you planned for teachers to talk about and share their successes and challenges?
  • Is there an agreed upon process for making decisions?
  • How will we share information with others?

Step 3: Sustain Success

Change is more likely to be sustained when your work is guided by a shared vision, and where teachers and other school staff are actively involved in planning, implementing, and monitoring your progress. When change is the result of the personal vision of one or two people, the change is more likely to be abandoned as soon as its advocates leave.

The third part of our planning model focuses on sustaining success. At this stage, you should continue to monitor the implementation and provide continued support for implementation. You should also work to build internal capacity with teacher leaders so that the commitment to increased rigor becomes an integral part of the way your school operates. Although several of the specific steps are similar to those in earlier stages, at this point, it is critical to ensure they are actually occurring, rather than simply being planned.

Planning Questions

  • Do you have a strategy for monitoring the success of your plan, identifying next steps, and suggesting appropriate changes?
  • Is there time for teachers to work with colleagues to share successes and participate in professional development?
  • What steps will you take to create a culture that will sustain the improvements?
  • How will you gather data and use that data to guide decisions?
  • What is your plan for celebrating successes?

Step 4: Evaluate and Adjust

The final stage of our BASE planning model is to “Evaluate and Adjust.” We’ve come to appreciate that the best schools are those that are comfortable with routine evaluation of their program. They want to know what is going well and they are not afraid of identifying areas for further growth. This routine monitoring and adjusting is what sets them apart from other schools.

The planning process is circular, and decisions you make during this step will naturally lead you to continue your planning to become even more rigorous.

Planning Questions

  • Do you have a process to evaluate the success of your plan and identify next steps?
  • Have you gathered the data to make informed decisions about your progress?
  • What plans are developed for sharing your plans with teachers, families, and community?
  • What is your plan for celebrating successes?

A Final Note

Change does not happen overnight, and it requires a long-term focus. By thinking through the steps of the change process, you can impact your school in positive ways.

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