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The Best Books on Continuous School Improvement

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

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If you are a regular reader of this blog, then I am going to assume that you are a nerd for continuous school improvement like I am! Welcome to the club! While this blog covers a lot of topics on school improvement, you can only learn so much by reviewing 1000 words each week. So, I have pulled together a list of my favorite books on continuous school improvement. This is a great reading list for new school or system leaders looking to implement continuous improvement for the first time. Are there other books you think should be on this list? Email me and let me know!

In Without Trumpets, authors Susan Allred and Kelly Foster provide a first-hand account of a decade of school improvement work performed by the Kentucky Department of Education. This book is filled with rich insight and valuable examples of school improvement in action. Their open discussion of the successes and challenges of implementing a statewide continuous improvement effort will help to empower future school improvement leaders as they seek to take on this difficult work.

If you have ever worked in a high-poverty environment, you know that the societal and systemic barriers present in the lives of your students can feel insurmountable. In Turning High-Poverty Schools into High-Performing Schools, authors William Parrett and Kathleen Budge throw a splash of hope and optimism into the mix. This book encapsulates years of scientific study on instructional elements of successful schooling in a high-poverty environment. The authors mix scientific reporting and sound educational theory with inspirational true stories of leaders who have made it happen. This is a book I turn to often when I am feeling backed up against the wall.

It is no secret that I believe that an evidence-based approach to schooling is the key to successful school improvement. In Common Sense Evidence, authors Nora Gordon and Carrie Conaway provide an accessible discussion on the various ways that education leaders can access, interpret, and use research and data to make informed improvement decisions. My favorite thing about this book is its casual writing style and direct discussion. At under 200 pages, the book is both thorough and easily read in a weekend – making it accessible for busy education leaders.

A key element to continues school improvement is the ability to create a learning organization; something that can only be accomplished if you understand the science of learning. In How People Learn, the National Research Council provides a detailed overview of the science of learning. Education leaders will come away from this book with a renewed understanding of how instructional decisions impact both students and teachers. I think this book makes a GREAT book study for leadership teams and professional learning communities too!

In Learning to Improve, authors Anthony Bryk, Louis Gomez, Alicia Grunow, and Paul LeMahieu discuss the ways that improvement science can be applied to the educational environment to help schools learn to improve. Its underlying principle is that school improvement must be an intentional effort by institutions and that schools across the nation can learn to improve by implementing techniques such as networked improvement communities to engage researches and practitioners in the improvement process. It is essential reading for any up and coming school leader.

If you liked Learning to Improve, you will love this follow up book by Anthony Bryk. As one of the leading school improvement researchers, Bryk uses Improvement in Action to document the impact of the principles discussed in Learning to Improve in real schools. It is a great example of how the continuous improvement process and elements of improvement science can create seismic shifts in our education systems through thoughtful, intentional action.

While this book was written for researchers, it is an incredibly valuable volume for policy makers and practitioners seeking to use research to drive school improvement. This book is a collection of essays written by some of the most recognizable thinkers of the topic. Fair warning: this book is dense and reads like an academic journal. While the reading can sometimes be heavy, the lessons imparted in it are incredibly valuable. You will learn about how policy is made, how different research methodologies are implemented within the context of education, and how to communicate and use research to drive improvement. Its one of my favorites and I cite it often in my lectures and presentations.

In Teacher Leader Stories, authors Judy Swanson, Kimberly Elliott, and Jeanne Harmon use case study methodologies to illustrate remarkable cases of classroom educators change their schools. This is a great volume for those of you who, like me, believe that teachers hold the key to successful schools and have way more power than many give them credit for. One thing that I really like about this book is that each case is followed up with discussion questions, making it a great resource for professional learning communities or independent book studies.

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