Learning Environments Consortium International

The Basic Design Components

James W. Keefe and Eugene R. Howard

Whatever plans we make for reform are inevitably controlled by the assumptions from which we begin.* Plans made from the same erroneous or inappropriate assumptions can only result in inadequate solutions. They lock reformers into trying harder at the same old stands, doing more of what failed to work in the first place. Solutions based on inappropriate assumptions produce reforms that fail to solve the basic problems. Worse still, they may produce token gains that only encourage more assiduous efforts based on the same old tired hypotheses (Arthur W. Combs, 1991).

The three basic design components—the mission and vision statements, the culture/climate statements, and the student outcomes statement—are important because they provide focus and direction for the comprehensive change process. Together, these three design components serve as a starting point for vision building, which continues throughout the change process.

The vision and mission statements, the starting points for continuous visioning, are of special importance to the process. The building of a shared vision, the first of Senge’s five disciplines, is the key to creating a learning organization (see Chapters 1 and 2 of Redesigning Schools for the New Century: A Systems Approach, Keefe & Howard, 1997, NASSP).

The significance of culture to an organization’s effectiveness and receptivity to change is well-expressed by Stolp and Smith (1995). These authors affirm that “every school has its own unique culture. It is either an ineffective culture, characterized by the absence of vision and cohesiveness, or an effective culture, where staff and students exhibit such qualities as confidence, trust, cooperation, and commitment to do their best” (p. 7). Many scholars concerned with culture emphasize that without a strong culture to support change, comprehensive school improvement is not possible.

The “assumptions” component of culture is particularly important to the school design for the reasons articulated above by Arthur Combs. Inappropriate assumptions lead to hazy visions and inadequate solutions. Moreover, a positive school climate is an essential precondition for change. Members of the school community must perceive their school in a positive way before they will be motivated to strengthen it. It is noteworthy that Recommendation 3 in NASSP’s (1996) Breaking Ranks report addresses “creating a climate conducive to teaching and learning.” Design teams might want to include the Breaking Ranks recommendations as descriptors in their culture/climate statements.

In a very real way, the student outcomes statements are also a part of the vision and visioning process. Outcomes must be subject to constant review and refinement as the change process evolves and stakeholders’ mental models mature. Outcome statements spell out the purposes of the school in terms of the essential knowledge and skills that today’s children and youth will need to live successfully in tomorrow’s world. These competencies are very different from those anticipated when most of today’s schools were conceptualized and constructed. Student outcomes must be stated again and again to respond to new realities.

* Emphasis added.

Getting Started on the School Design Statement

Once a school’s design team has been organized and awareness activities are underway, work can begin on the three basic components of the school design. The first draft of the basic design components (Step E) can proceed simultaneously with the CASE-IMS assessment, the literature search, and data interpretation activities (Step D). The basic design components should be specified, however, before work begins on the systemic components (Step F).

Not many schools have developed descriptions of desired culture and climate components. Many, however, have already defined mission, vision, belief, and student outcome statements. Many schools have already invested substantial effort in their schools’ improvement plans. To the extent that design teams judge existing efforts to be adequate, they may be accepted and integrated into the design statement, modified, or rewritten. In any case, as data collection and interpretation and the literature review process unfold, it is likely that other changes to the basic components will be in order.

The principal, when organizing the SIMT/design team (Step A), delegates the task of formulating the basic design components to a small (five to nine person) writing team. This team should be led by a member of the design team charged to report progress and seek input and support from other design team members as the writing proceeds. The writing team will need to refer to the definitions presented in Chapter 3 and the sample statements developed by other schools that are reproduced in the next section of this chapter. Additional sample items are available in a brief reference paper entitled “Organizational, Philosophical, and Psychological Assumptions for Use in Design Statements” (Howard, 1993).

Note that the mission statement, the vision statement, the culture and climate statements, and the outcomes statement can be formatted as an assessment instrument. Periodic sampling of the extent to which the school’s stakeholders (especially faculty members) support specific statements will enable the design team to include only those items that are widely supported in the design. Items not widely supported should be modified, deleted, or delayed for adoption until more support can be generated. Figure 7.1 displays a rating scale that can be used with all design statement components.
Suggested Response Scale for Assessing Attitudes toward Potential Specifications of a School’s Design Statement

What Is:

The extent to which the specification
describes the school as it is now
1 = Not at all
2 = Very little
3 = Somewhat
4 = Substantially

What Should Be:

The extent to which you believe that the specification should become a characteristic of our school:
1 = Disagree (Should not be a characteristic of our school)
2 = Agree, but with reservations
3 = Agree
4= Strongly Agree


We recommend that “therefore” statements be included in each item in the “Assumptions” section, as appears in the Littleton statement on Pupil Responsibility for Learning (A-2-2 below). “Therefore” statements clarify the meaning of an item by defining implications for practice. Additional ideas for defining the basic component statements can come from the CASE-IMS data interpretation process (especially the What If analysis and the Interventions Target Program) and from the literature search (Step D). Design team members should be encouraged to read and abstract literature that relates to the emerging basic components. For example, they might read books and articles on social and economic trends as a way of identifying student competencies that may be essential for a satisfying and productive life in the 21st century. Readings on motivation theory might help define the school’s psychological assumptions.

Sample Descriptors and Specifications from Exemplary Design Statements

Most of the exemplary statements in this section were excerpted from actual design statements of schools conducting locally-based literature searches. A few have been developed by the authors where strong examples were lacking. All statements, including those from elementary schools, were chosen for their cogency and their applicability. The format permits the statements to be used both in design instruments and as formative evaluation to survey the extent to which a school’s stakeholders perceive the design being implemented. (Schools, districts, and individuals that contributed statements are listed in Appendix C.) The sample specifications that follow are coded to indicate the school district of origin.
* Codes for Identifying Sources:
A = Authors’ suggestions.
B = Blue Valley School District, Kans.
C = Chicago
CS = Colorado Springs Norridge, Ill.
G = Glendale, Ariz.
H = High Plains Youth Center
L = Littleton, Cob
M = Maple Ridge, B. C.
R = Ridgewood High School,
W = Westminster, Cob.


Sample Basic Components
A-1. Mission and Vision Statements

What isWhat Should Be:
______A-1-1 MISSION: The mission of the Thomas Haney Secondary
School is that “all students will seek challenge and experience
success.” (M)*
______A-1-2 MISSION: The mission of Ridgewood High School, a car-
ing community that promotes individual growth, critical thinking,
and lifelong learning, is to educate every student to meet the
challenges of a changing global society by using the most effective
instructional methods and resources. (R)
______A-1-3 VISION: We at Taft hope to transform our large urban high
school into a place that is attractive, pleasant, and exciting for
both students and teachers. We want Taft to become a community
of learners in which students and teachers collaborate to learn
and grow. We want all to come to believe that learning is a pro-
cess that adds real quality to our lives. (C)
______A-1-4 VISION: Desert Sky Middle School students will perform
as well-rounded, responsible, and productive persons. Students will experience learning as a whole, making curriculum connections with the real world. Students will leave Desert Sky with the spirit and preparation necessary to complete high school. (G)

A-2. School Culture and Climate Statements
Culture: Values, Beliefs, and Underlying Philosophical, Psychological, and Organizational Assumptions

What IsWhat Should Be:
______A-2-1. REALITY-BASED CURRICULUM: We believe that all learning is interrelated. The ability to organize, interpret, and apply knowledge to real situations is the purpose of learning. Content should support process. (Example: We learn how to multiply so we can become better problem solvers.) (L)______
parents, and students of the Franklin School believe that all
students are responsible for their own education. Parents and school
should be pledged to support and assist all learners as they utilize
the learning resources (human and material) available; THEREFORE:
• Pupils will be encouraged in learning activities that make sense
to them and that provide them with a positive sense of accom-
plishment on completion, and
• To the greatest extent possible, positive reinforcement will come
from the successful performance of tasks meaningful to the pupil
rather than from staff members or the school. (L)
______A-2-3. ORGANIZATION OF FACULTY:We believe that the basic
organizational unit of faculty should be the teaching team composed
of flexible teachers with complementary talents, administrators,
paraprofessionals, parent/community volunteers, student teachers,
and student learners. (B)
______A-2-4. LEARNING STYLES: We believe that students will learn
more and will feel more positively about their school if they can
elect or be assigned activities that are appropriate to their learning
styles. (B)
______A-2-5. FROM INDUSTRY TO SERVICE ECONOMY: We believe that the economy of Canada and other industrialized nations is changing from an industrial to a service base. (M)______
______A-2-6. LEARNING: Whether one learns is more important than when. (M)______
______A-2-7. TEACHING ETHICS AND VALUES: The Franklin School of the future will exemplify a set of values to be identified through a democratic process. Among these values will be: (1) honesty- trustworthiness, (2) respect for democratically defined law as a basis for governance, (3) compassion, (4) respect for knowledge and reason, (5) self-understanding and self-control, (6) fairness, and (7) work ethic—responsibility for completion of work, completing work in a timely manner, pride in work. (L)______

Culture: Common Practices and Artifacts

What IsWhat Should Be:
A-2-8. Daily routines, such as the schedule, will be individualized for students and faculty so that the amount of time and resources (human and physical) available will be appropriate to the task to be accomplished. (A)______
A-2-9. Teachers will spend from one-third to one-half of their day learning, developing units of -instruction, planning, and assisting individual students and learning teams with learning activities tailor made to their needs. (A)______
A-2-1O. All ceremonies, rituals, and displays in the school will be designed to reinforce the value of learning as a means of achieving a satisfying and productive life. (A)______
A-2-11. Procedures will be simplified so that staff members can acquire needed supplies and equipment within a reasonable time and with a minimum of
paperwork. (A)
A-2-12. Decision-making and planning processes will include those individuals
most affected by the decisions made and the plans developed. (A)

Culture: Subcultures

What IsWhat Should Be:
A-2-13. The school’s subcultures (e.g., athletes, college-bound, student leaders, performing artists, etc.) will work together on school improvement and service projects. (A)______
A-2-14. Members of the school honor society will be selected for membership on the basis of their academic accomplishments, personal qualities, and service to the school and community. Their initiation ritual will be formal and traditional. (A)______
A-2-15. Students affiliated with out-of-school organizations (i.e., gangs, off-campus clubs) will be permitted to wear jewelry representing their groups, but not clothing (i.e., jackets, T-shirts, etc.). (A)______

School Climate
These climate descriptors are summarized from the NASSP CASE-IMS School Climate Survey. Validation studies show that these descriptors are positively correlated with the CASE IMS student outcomes.

What IsWhat Should Be:
treat students as individuals, be willing to help them, and be fair to
A-2-17. SECURITY AND MAINTENANCE: The school grounds will be violence and drug-free. The school buildings and grounds will be kept clean and neat and buildings and equipment will be kept in good repair.______
A-2-18. ADMINISTRATION: School administrators will commu
nicate openly with students, staff, parents, and community members,
set high standards, model working and learning habits, and
consistently involve others in decision making and planning.
A-2-19. PARENT AND COMMUNITY-SCHOOL RELATIONSHIPS: Parents and community leaders will be kept informed about school issues, will support the school’s programs and activities, and will join in activities to promote learning in the school and in the community.______
A-2-20. INSTRUCTIONAL MANAGEMENT: Learning activities will be task-oriented, orderly, and free of interruptions, and personalized to meet the needs of individual students.______

A-3. Student Goals and Outcomes
A-3-1 Student Exit Outcomes; Students will be:

What IsWhat Should Be:
1. High quality producers who create products and services that consistently reflect high standards; take responsibility for results; and use time management skills effectively.______
2. Collaborative workers who express ideas and needs; accept and value the ideas and needs of others; work closely with others in a changing environment; find creative options and look for consensus; act with integrity; work cooperatively in both noncompetitive and competitive environments.______
3. Global citizens who interact positively with people of varied cultures; identify the environmental impact of decisions and promote the health of the world’s environment; promote the welfare of all people in the world.______
4. Socially responsible contributors who participate in the political process; live in accordance with the just laws of society; process, assimilate, and synthesize information to determine actions; participate in lifelong learning (contribute to improving the welfare of others). 


5. Self-actualized individuals who value themselves as positive, worthwhile people; set and achieve personal and social goals; assess information to solve problems; take responsibility for their own emotional and physical well-being.______
6. Communicative persons who can interact using a variety of communication processes and information sources.______
7. Creative contributors who develop creative solutions and implement new ideas; experiment and take risks; participate in and influence change. (M)______

Reviewing the First Draft

When the first draft of the basic components section of the Design Statement has been ap proved by the SIMT and the design team, it should be presented to the entire faculty and other stakeholders for input. This presentation is usually made during a workshop organized for that purpose. Typically, these workshops include all faculty members, key support staff, and parent, community, and student leaders. A format for such a workshop follows:

Activity:Led By:Time:
1. Review of Total School Improvement Process;
Purpose of the Workshop
Principal15 mm.
2. Presentation of the Basic Components
and Descriptors:
• Mission and Vision Statements
• Culture and Climate Statements; Other Belief Statements
• Student Outcomes
Each Task Force Leader75 mm.
3. Subgroups by Topic
(limit subgroup size to 7. Form multiple groups for each of the basic component subtopics)
• Group members discuss each specification
• Groups recommend modifications and/or additions
Workshop Director and Designated Subgroup Coordinators60 mm.
4. Subgroup Report and Recommendations (minutes)Workshop Director70 mm.
5. Individuals respond to Draft I of Basic Components
(all participants rate all items using the format listed above)
Participants40 mm.
Time Needed (can be scheduled in more than one session—includes time for one break)180 mm.

Schools that do not have formal workshop time available can plan a shorter version of this schedule. In about an hour, it is possible to present the first draft and have each participant rate a survey version of the specifications formatted as above.

Armed with the Draft I survey results (completed during the workshop), the design team may wish to eliminate some specifications with little or no support, modify others to be more accept able, and retain only those with general support among the groups surveyed. Some discarded items may become more acceptable after additional awareness activities and professional development. Should that happen, the items can be reinstated. It is the design team’s job to develop and approve a design statement that represents the thinking of as many of the school’s stakeholders as possible.

Draft II of the basic components, embodying the design team’s response to the Draft I survey, is submitted to stakeholders at a short meeting called for that purpose. At this point, stakeholders will have had two opportunities to provide input for the basic components, and the design team will have responded to stakeholders’ concerns by eliminating or revising unpopular items. Following a survey of Draft II items, the basic components should be made available to the systems component writing teams to serve as guides for their writing of specifications.

A similar survey-revision process should be used in the development of specification statements for the systemic components, the subject of the next chapter.
Text from Redesigning Schools for the New Century: A Systems Approach, Chapter 7, NASSP, Reston Virginia. Copyright 1997, National Association of Secondary School Principals. www.principals.org. Reprinted with permission.

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