How to Build Any School into a Success Story

Stop Leading, Start Building: Turn Your School into a Success Story with the People and Resources You Already Have
By Robyn Jackson
(ASCD, 2021 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Frank Hagen

Every school leader needs a focused and intentional process to move a school from where and what it is to what it can become. ASCD author Robyn R. Jackson presents an “entirely new way of thinking” through the four phases of her Buildership Model: Purpose, People, Pathway, Plan.

This model of the school improvement process requires one to step beyond being a traditional school leader to becoming a “school builder.”

A school does not typically have the ability to simply choose its teachers, have access to unlimited resources or have that perfect plan to reach or exceed its goals. The Buildership Model moves you toward where you want and need to be using the people and resources you already have.

As a school leader have you ever found a brief solitary moment to sit down at your desk during the school day and come to the realization that what you were taught to do in education leadership classes, and have done with fidelity, isn’t getting the job done? While you may have seen some success, your school is simply not moving steadily forward to reach its goals.

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. You work tirelessly with your staff, families, and community, but simply do not get the intended results from all of your work with data, setting goals, writing plans, professional development.

It’s time to start “building” with the Buildership Model.

Jackson’s four elements of school success

Purpose ensures that everyone knows what your school is about, where you are going, and the non-negotiable core values that hold everything and everyone together. Without a purpose, there is no clarity to the school improvement process so that each decision lays the foundation for the next step forward.

When it comes to People, one needs to grow one’s staff so they have the “will and skill” to commit and together move toward the Purpose. Every classroom needs a master teacher.

Read another review
of Stop Leading, Start Building
by AP DeAnna Miller

As a school leader, you do not have all the answers. It is clearly more important to be asking the right questions so you do not squander the school’s limited resources without conquering its biggest obstacle. Jackson’s Pathway is a blueprint and focuses on the right work to move your school towards its Purpose.

Anyone who has been actively engaged in the school improvement process understands that the Plan can be lost in the day-to-day work in one’s school. It sits in a binder on the shelf of your office, collecting dust, until the district office calls for an update or makes a change in its priorities.

On the other hand, the Buildership Model process appreciates the energy associated with celebrating a success and the ability to make changes in response to new circumstances. The Plan is simply an iterative blueprint that provides a 90-day window to review your progress and make changes as appropriate.

Just as Curley (Jack Palance) tells Mitch (Billy Crystal) in City Slickers, the “secret of life” is “just one thing” that we have to figure out. The 90-day Blueprint allows a school to seek, find, and focus on the one thing for school improvement.

Serving the needs of students, staff, and families

The Buildership Model ultimately defines success in terms of how well your school benefits and serves the needs of students, staff, and families. With that “one thing” as your focus – with the Buildership Model woven into the fabric of your school’s culture – your school can transform into a learning community that thrives in the face of any challenge as you work the process.


Frank J. Hagen is a retired school principal who currently teaches school leadership courses at Wilmington University where he has taught for the past 20 years. He was a highly successful school principal in both Delaware and Maryland for over 24 years and was selected as Delaware’s School Principal of the Year in 1993.

Frank has served in a number of successful interim school leadership positions in select public and charter schools since retiring in 2007 as well as consulting with McREL International and the Delaware Academy for School Leadership (University of Delaware).


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