Activity 1: Building Ranks™ Framework

Activity Guide

The Executive Summary for Building Ranks K–12: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective School Leaders provides an overview of the two domains of effective school leadership, Building Culture and Leading Learning. Principals, facilitators, and school teams can use the following questions and discussion prompts to ensure that participants have a thorough understanding of the concepts before beginning the “deep dive” into creating any plans for improvement.

Note: The Discussion Guide Planning Templates referred to throughout this document (A, B, and C) can be used as you work through the steps in the strategic planning/change process. A is the Six-Step Process Circle used to plan and implement successful initiatives. Follow the steps to collect data, plan strategies, train, monitor, and adjust your program. B is the Personnel Planning Matrix which is helpful when deciding if the right people are “on the bus.” This matrix follows a process to identify stakeholders with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to successfully lead and staff a successful program. C refers to the Timeline for Planning or Pyramid Planning Tool which follows a process to sort program strategies and actions by implementation times, sorted by immediately implement, semester planning, and long-term planning (2–5 years). Used together, these can provide a comprehensive view of the work that needs to be done on designated improvements or areas of focus. You may use them individually as well if that is more relevant to your practice. All other templates, forms, or activities are created specifically to make meaning of the particular content of the specific activity in which you are working.

Begin conversations with your leadership team and your staff that will expand your school’s vision of school improvement, introduce and expand upon perspectives of successful practices, and focus the local discussion on broader possibilities for successfully improving the teaching and learning in your building. In this activity, you will become familiar with the Building Ranks framework and explore your school’s strengths. There is sound evidence that a strengths-based approach can establish a positive environment and boost self-confidence. Focusing on weaknesses does the opposite; it actually undermines your work and can lead to negativity and lower production.

To get started:

  • Give all participants a copy of the Executive Summary for Building Ranks K–12: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective School Leaders. The National Association for Secondary School Principals (NASSP) grants permission for you to make 100 copies of each article for educational purposes.
  • Ask individuals to suspend their assumptions and use specific textual references to support their comments.
  • Add discussion questions to continue the conversation in a way that’s most relevant to your school.
  • Conclude the discussion with open-ended questions designed to encourage further inquiry, such as, “How do these findings support our existing school improvement initiatives? What would it look like here if we were to capitalize on the identified strengths, and which new actions might we consider after having read the summary and identified our strengths?”

Resources

  • NASSP (2019). Building Ranks K–12: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective School Leaders, Executive Summary. Retrieved from www.nassp.org/professional-learning/building-ranks.

Materials

Process

  1. Establishing a Conceptual Understanding of the Building Ranks Logic Model (p. 3)
    Explain the logic model to the team and allow time for any clarifying questions regarding the model. The most important points in this model are presented visually as a schoolhouse because NASSP believes that effective schools have effective school leaders—and that leadership is the foundation for all improvement within the school. With a strong leadership foundation established, NASSP believes effective school leaders are skilled in the essential work of all schools. That work is identified as two broad domains, Building Culture and Leading Learning. Within each of those domains are specific, aligned dimensions that effective school leaders value as part of their daily work. In addition to the domains and dimensions, NASSP believes effective leaders must maintain a relentless focus on student achievement and must also focus on the adults in the building. Effective leaders know the moral authority to ensure the safety, emotional, and professional well-being of all staff is the precursor to student achievement. By focusing on the adults and ensuring they have the disposition and tools needed to work with students, effective school leaders build the foundation for effective schools and create the conditions where the adults and students learn and thrive. School improvement has been synonymous with student achievement, and every educator knows their ultimate goal is to ensure an excellent education for each student—however, it is important to highlight the influence that leaders, teachers, and other adults have on student achievement. If teachers and other staff are going to provide opportunities for students, effective school leaders must make sure they are prepared to do so. Focusing only on student achievement, without a concentration on adult success, will not yield the outcome we are all striving for.

    1. Assign a recorder to collect the information generated in these discussions for later use. Ask the group to react to the model. Ask each individual to think about this model and individually respond to the following as a prompt:
      1. Things I like about this model.
      2. Things I have questions about with this model.
    2. Ask each person to read their responses to the team and take note of common themes that arise as a result of this conversation.
    3. Expand your understanding of the model by brainstorming ways the adults are supported at school. How might you capitalize on those strengths? What more might you do to support the adults in your school?
    4. The goal of this activity is to have a conceptual and common understanding of the logic model. There will be time to clarify the domains and their specific dimensions in detail later in the conversation. Address any questions that pertain specifically to the logic model so there is a common understanding of the work effective leaders do in order to have effective schools.
  2. The Domains
    1. Next, discuss the two domains of effective school leadership. Talk about these two domains in relationship to your school. Cite authentic examples of practice in your school that support your thinking. Have a brief discussion about the strengths in your school and the evidence to support this thinking.Focusing from a strengths-based approach, discuss these questions as a group.In the domain of Building Culture, what are our schools’ strengths? (A brief description is provided on p. 4.)How might we leverage these strengths to continue to refine our work and move our school forward?In the domain of Leading Learning, what are our school’s strengths? (A brief description is provided on p. 6.)

      How might we leverage these strengths to continue to refine our work and move our school forward?

      As you and your team work through these questions, stress the importance of only focusing on strengths at this point and providing specific examples of work being done at your school rather than generalities. Avoid having a detailed discussion of the dimensions at this point. Direct the group’s focus to strengths that already exist at your school and how you can leverage those strengths in your work.

    2. After your team has had an opportunity to share their thoughts about strengths, explain that you would like them shift their focus. Ask them to reflect on the following: Knowing our school has strengths in both domains, is there one domain in which our school is stronger? What evidence do we have that supports this thinking? Ensure all participants have a voice in this discussion and ideally lead your team to consensus in which domain you feel is strongest at your school.
  3. The Dimensions
    1. Ask your team to review the dimensions of Building Culture (p. 5). Each box is a different dimension that supports why school leaders must focus on Building Culture. Tell your team that the descriptions focus on why each of these is important to the school leader. (You may choose to share the NASSP Building Ranks dimensions definitions resource located at the end of this section for further clarification.) Ask the team to react to the Dimensions in the following manner:
      1. Using the Dimensions of Building Ranks Template, have each person individually prioritize the dimensions from the area strongest at our school to the area that needs the most attention at our school. As you guide them through this activity, remind them that they may be asked to provide examples that support their thinking. Use sticky notes and have each person write each of their answers on a separate sticky note. This allows everyone in the room to express their opinions without having a few people dominate a conversation.
      2. Next, ask them to post their prioritized dimensions so that all of the top priorities are together, etc. Allow time for them to look at the collective work of the group.
      3. Look for commonalities and discrepancies and clear up any misunderstandings. The intent of this activity is not to see who is right, but rather come to some consensus about where the strengths of the school are and how they can be maximized.
      4. Have a conversation about those dimensions that are rated highest and respond to the following:
        1. How might we leverage these strengths to continue to refine our work and move our school forward?
      5. Capture your conversations using the Dimensions of Building Ranks Template
    2. Next, ask your team to review the dimensions of Leading Learning (p. 7). As with Building Culture, each box is a different dimension that supports why school leaders must focus on Leading Learning. Tell your team that the descriptions focus on why each of these is import to the school leaders; however, you are going to ask them to react in the following manner:
      1. Have each person individually prioritize the dimensions from the area strongest at your school to the area that needs the most attention at your school. As you guide them through this activity, remind them they may be asked to provide examples that support their thinking. Use sticky notes and have each person write each of their answers on a separate sticky note. This allows everyone in the room to express their opinions without having a few people dominate the conversation.
      2. Next, ask them to post their prioritized dimensions so that all of the number one priorities are together, etc. Allow time for them to look at the collective work of the group.
      3. Look for commonalities and discrepancies and clear up any misunderstandings. The intent of this activity is not to see who is right, but rather come to some consensus about where the strengths of the school are and how they can be maximized.
      4. Have a conversation about those dimensions that are rated highest and respond to the following:
        1. How might we leverage these strengths to continue to refine our work and move our school forward?
      5. Capture your conversations using the Discussion Guide Planning Templates.

Extend and Apply

Now that you are familiar with the conceptual idea of Building Ranks and understand the vocabulary, you are ready to explore the information contained within the book.

  1. Ask the group to revisit their thinking on which domain was strongest and which might need to be an area of focus at your school. Looking at the domain and the prioritized dimensions can provide you with a blueprint for where to begin your work as a team. At this point, you may want to consider any identified areas of focus and begin to capture your thoughts using the Discussion Guide Planning Templates A, B, and C. (See the note at the beginning of this activity.)
  2. Pages 9–13 in the Executive Summary serve as a blueprint for how to use the Building Ranks framework as a resource for ideas on addressing those areas of focus at your school. Remember there are no weaknesses—only areas where Building Ranks can help you bolster your work to move it to the strength category!