Guiding Principles and Resources

Our Guiding Principles - How We Work

We use systems-based and collaborative approaches to help our clients -  state departments of education, districts, and schools - identify  factors that are influencing their ability to engage in effective and  sustainable improvement efforts. Through a collaborative process of information analysis, data exploration and collective  sense-making, we jointly identify innovative strategies for improving  public education and construct an implementation road map for  translating those strategies into practical and meaningful actions. Our  work ranges from designing and conducting rigorous evaluations of  policies and strategies to facilitating intensive and ongoing strategic  planning sessions focused on collective sense-making and developing  actionable strategies to meet client needs and goals.

In our  work, we carefully analyze and consider individual, organizational, and  contextual factors as they lead to and open windows of opportunity for  mobilizing and enacting innovative change.


  • We  access and leverage individuals' perspectives and knowledge as a key  source of the expertise and energy needed to advance innovative change.
  • We strive to develop a coherent policy environment that enables districts and schools to engage in sustainable improvement. 
  • We  examine and consider how different levels of the education system  interact with each other and in relation to client goals and objectives.
  • We consider how existing relationships with the surrounding community influence efforts to engage in sustainable improvement.
  • We explore and use emerging technologies and networks as means to support innovative and transformational change.


Research Base as the Foundation for our Work

District and School Improvement

An overview of the research base that provides the foundation for our work

Our  district and school improvement approach, protocols, and strategies are based upon a range of education and policy oriented literature. 

Childress, S.,  Elmore, R., and Grossman, A.  (2006).  How to manage urban school  districts.  Harvard Business Review, 84(11), 55-68.  


Corcoran,  T., Fuhrman, S. H., & Belcher, C. L. (2001). The district role in  instructional improvement. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(1), 78-84. 


Darling-Hammond,  L. (2003). Enhancing Teaching. In William Owings and Leslie Kaplan  (Eds.), Best Practices, Best Thinking, and Emerging Issues in School  Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.  


Elmore, R.F. (2000). Building a New Structure for School Leadership. Albert Shanker Institute  

Fuhrman,  S., Clune, W.H., & Elmore, R.F. (1988). Research on education  reform: Lessons on the implementation of policy. Teachers College  Record, 90(2), 237-257.  

Hatch,  T.  (2001).  Incoherence in the system: Three perspectives on the  implementation of multiple initiatives in one district. American Journal  of Education, 109, 407–437.  

Honig, M, & Hatch, T.  (2004).   Crafting coherence: How schools strategically manage multiple, external  demands.  Educational Researcher, 33(8), 16-30.  

Knapp, M.S.,  Copland, M.A., & Talbert, J.E. (2003). Leading for Learning:  Reflective Tools for School and District Leaders. Center for the Study  of Teaching and Policy. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.  

Leithwood,  K., Jantzi, D., and McElheron-Hopkins, C.  (2006).  The development and  testing of a school improvement model.  School Effectiveness and School  Improvement, 17(4), 441-464.  

Martin-Kniep,  G. (2007). Developing Learning Communities that Learn Lead and Last:  Building and Sustaining Educational Expertise: San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.  

Massell, D. (2000). The District Role in Building  Capacity: Four Strategies. Policy Briefs. Consortium for Policy Research  in Education. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania.  


McLaughlin,  M. & Talbert, J. (2003). Reforming Districts: How Districts Support  School Reform. A Research Report. Center for the Study of Teaching and  Policy. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.  

Rorrer,  A., Skrla, L, & Scheurich, J.  (2008).  Districts as institutional  actors in educational reform.  Educational Administration Quarterly,  44(3), 307-358  

Spillane, J. Distributed Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.  

St. John, M. & Stokes, L. (2008). Lessons to be Learned from the National Writing Project, Inverness Research Inc. (Link)  

Systems Design and Policy Analysis

An overview of a few of the key  research, policy, and theoretical documents (all continuously evolving) that informs and grounds our work are listed below.

Argyris, C., and Schon, D. A. (1978). Organizational learning: A theory of action perspective. Reading:MA: Addison-Wesley.

Coburn,  C.E. (2001). Collective sense-making about reading: How teachers  mediate reading policy in their professional communities. Educational  Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 23(2), 145-170.  

Dwyer, C. (2005).  Leadership Capacities for a Changing Environment: State and District  Responses to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Providence, RI: The  Education Alliance at Brown University.  

Elmore, R.F. (1980). Backward mapping: Implementation research and policy decision. Political Science Quarterly, 94(4), 601-609.  

Fullan, M. (2005). Leadership and Sustainability: System Thinkers in Action. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press  

Gigerenzer, G. & Selton, R. (2001).  Rethinking rationality. In G. Gigerenzer & R. Selton (Eds.), Bounded  rationality: The adaptive toolbox. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.  

Hannaway, J. & Woodroffe, N. (2004). Policy Instruments in Education. Review of Research in Education, 27, 1-24.   

Hargreaves, D. (2003). Working Laterally: How Innovation Networks Make an Education Epidemic.  

Leedom,  D. (2001). Final report: Sense-making symposium. Command and Control  Research Program, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for  Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence. Vienna, VA: Evidence  Based Research. Inc. (Link)  

Lusi, S. (1997). The role of state departments of education in complex school reform. New York: Teachers College Press.  

McLaughlin, M.W.  (1987). Learning from experience: Lessons from policy implementation.  Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 9, 171-178. 

O’Day, J.  (2002).  Complexity, accountability, and school improvement.  Harvard Educational Review, 72(3), 293-329.  

Ogawa,  R.T., & Bossert, S.T. (1995). Leadership as an organizational  quality. Educational Administration Quarterly, 31(2), 224-243.  

Senge, P.M. (1990). The fifth discipline. New York: Doubleday.   

Spillane,  J.P., Reiser, B. & Reimer, T. (2002) Policy Implementation and  Cognition: Reframing and Refocusing Implementation Research. Review of  Educational Research, 72(3), 387 431.  

Stone, D. (2002). Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.    

Vera,  D., & Crossan, M. (2004). Strategic Leadership and Organizational  Learning. Academy of Management Review, 29(2), 222-240.  

Weick, K. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. Sage Publications  

Wise,  A. (1984). Why education policies often fail: The hyperrationalisation  hypothesis. In J.J. Prunty (Ed.), A critical reformulation of education  policy analysis. Geelong, Victoria, Australia: Deakin University Press..