Activity 1: Breaking Ranks Framework

Activity Guide

Breaking Ranks: The Comprehensive Framework for School Improvement Executive Summary.

The executive summary provides an overview of the Breaking Ranks core areas (collaborative leadership and professional learning communities; personalization; and curriculum, instruction, and assessment). Principals and facilitators 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 a plan for improvement.

Begin conversations with your staff that will expand your school’s vision of school improvement, introduce multiple perspectives on successful practices, and focus the local discussion on broader possibilities for successfully improving student achievement.

To get started:

  • Give all participants a copy of the Executive Summary. (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 further inquiry, such as How do these actions align with our existing school improvement initiatives? What would it look like here? and What new actions are you considering after having read the summary?

An implementation template is included at the end of the discussion prompts to help you organize the new actions being considered for implementation. (For strategies to assist in organizing effective discussion groups, see the text-based discussion guidelines.)


Breaking Ranks: The Comprehensive Framework for School Improvement, Executive Summary. National Association of Secondary School Principals.

  1. Discuss the three core areas. Talk about the core areas in specific relationship to some current or planned initiatives at your school. Can you classify the school actions or strategies you identified according to the core areas? Take note of the fact that some of the areas overlap. Why is that? Identify some initiatives in your school that are examples of the areas overlapping. Have a brief discussion about why the overlap can be a benefit.
  2. Ask participants to identify the reasons that schools need to address all three core areas simultaneously, rather than individually. Again, think of the initiatives in your school that need to be addressed simultaneously. Be specific in your conversations about how your school change actions can be improved or accelerated by addressing areas of need simultaneously.
  3. Review the four key questions:
    • Why does our school need to improve?
    • What needs to improve?
    • How do we improve our school?
    • Do we have what it takes (personnel, skills, capacity) to create a culture of school improvement?

As you and your staff work down this list, stress the importance of teams and faculty members providing specific answers to each question, rather than generalities. For example, if the question is, What needs to improve? The answer “ninth-grade student passing rates in Algebra I and English I” is more specific than “freshman academy success.”

  1. Schools might be tempted to skip the fourth key question or only address it superficially. Discuss the importance of a “deep dive” into the skills and dispositions required to make significant school improvement in the designated areas. What are the possible consequences of starting an initiative when team members lack key knowledge or skills? Take the time to develop the “right” questions.

    • Do we have the requisite knowledge about the developmental characteristics of ninth graders? If not, what is the most efficient way to access that knowledge?
    • Are our ninth-grade Algebra I and English I curricula aligned with the eighth-grade curricula?
    • Do we need to establish more effective diagnostic assessment at the beginning of the freshman year?
  2. Review the Breaking Ranks Plan for Action. Evaluate actions or strategies that are quick wins, moderately difficult undertakings, or major tasks. Remember to consider actions needing increased staff capacity to be effectively implemented.

Breaking Ranks Plan for Action template

Organize any new actions being considered for implementation at your school with this implementation template. Consider all general actions, those already begun as well as new ones, and then categorize them according to:

  1. Quick wins: actions that can be implemented this semester or this school year
  2. Moderately difficult undertakings: actions that need summer planning, professional development, or both
  3. Major tasks: actions that will need two years or more for full implementation and may include quick wins and moderately difficult undertakings.
Collaborative Leadership
Specific Strategies/Actions
Specific Strategies/Actions
Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
Specific Strategies/Actions
List quick wins.
List a few moderately difficult undertakings.
List one or two major tasks.

Professional Development and Communication Planning

Consider your planned school improvement actions and strategies. Identify the teams and team members who will lead the implementation and the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed for success. Discuss and list specific steps and actions that school staff members will take to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of each group below.

Actions to develop the requisite
knowledge for success
Actions to practice the requisite
skills for success
Actions to develop the requisite
attitudes for success
Leadership team / Steering committee
Faculty colleagues
District personnel
Community leaders
(list them)