A Leadership Toolkit for Schoolwide Rigor

Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders
By Ronald Williamson and Barbara R. Blackburn
(Routledge/Eye on Education, 2011Learn more)

bret olsonReviewed by Bret Olson

There aren’t many schools in the world that aren’t looking to improve and grow. Often times the focus of school growth is centered around the idea of creating a more rigorous academic environment for student learning. Every school leader aims to increase the learning capacity of their students, but the question is, how?

rigor in your school 2011Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders is part of a book series on rigor developed by Barbara Blackburn and (in several instances) school leadership expert Ron Williamson. It follows Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way. Blackburn explains that “as much as leaders loved that book, they wanted more tools for use in their schools. This book allowed us to provide even more strategies to work with rigor in schools and districts.”

The result is a step-by-step guide to increasing rigor in your school.

Creating a Vision

Every school has a mission and vision; they are at the heart of what we do as educational institutions. Williamson and Blackburn believe strongly that to create change toward a culture of rigor you must start with a vision. Walking you through the steps of creating a personal vision (as they do with every aspect of this process) starts you on a journey of exploration and self-reflection that will guide your understanding of how rigor can be built within your personal context.

Rigor doesn’t happen overnight, nor does positive change. Understanding the change process and the time it takes to be successful is crucial to successfully creating a more rigorous environment. The authors provide a strong explanation of how to create this plan.

Tools, Tools, and More Tools

Williamson and Blackburn clearly set out to provide strategies and resources for school leaders to use as they work to implement change toward rigor. The description of this book as a “toolkit” couldn’t be more accurate. You can’t go more than two or three pages without being given another example of a useful tool (there are 97 in all). Without a doubt, if you’re looking for specific and useful strategies and resources for creating a culture of rigor in your school, then look no further than Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders.


Change Takes Time

When reading this book, if you’re expecting a “quick fix” solution you’ll most likely be frustrated or overwhelmed. Williamson and Blackburn never purport to have a magic spell for creating a more rigorous school. However, if you’re willing and able to dedicate the time and effort necessary to achieve a long-term goal, then this book can lead the way.

Working chapter by chapter, the authors walk the reader through the entire change process and what is required along the way. In addition, the strategies and tools provided allow you to focus on the task at hand without spending the time to invent your own resources.

Reading this book won’t provide you “the answer,” but rather it will provide you a roadmap for success; it’s your responsibility to apply the lessons and tools provided to reach your goal of a more rigorous academic climate.

A Rigorous Route to Rigor

Many books provide theories, philosophies, and mandates for change but do little to provide the necessary help for achieving success. Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders comes ready made for those who desire change but need assistance in developing and implementing a plan for something so important as increasing rigor in a school.

With myriad resources and tools to guide school leaders toward a more rigorous school, there is something here for everyone looking to make a change. Whether you aim to follow through with a long term plan or you’re looking for simple tools for a shorter term target, Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders provides school leaders with a wealth of knowledge and resources.

Bret Olson is an Associate Principal at Academia Cotopaxi, a school for children of international families living in Quito, Ecuador. Previously, Bret worked as a Vice Principal in Shanghai, China and taught elementary students in Milan, Italy. Bret was a Teach For America corps member in Houston, Texas prior to moving overseas. Bret earned his BA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and MEd at Lehigh University, studying Educational Leadership. Bret shares his educational thoughts via his professional website and on Twitter @The1sWhoDo.


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