enhance student learning, and give
adults opportunities for support and
Capitalize on the Snowball Effect
External relationships provide opportunities for more outside contacts, more
information, more access, and more
allies. Success breeds success—and
successful schools can cultivate a
competitive advantage. Schools that are
relatively high performing and schools
that develop innovative approaches are
more likely to attract the attention of
people and outside organizations. That
attention creates opportunities to develop
relationships with individuals and groups
that can help the schools to get better
assistance, more expert staff, and better
resources and to make further improvements.
In turn, the increased visibility brings
visitors and recognition to the school that
can help validate the school’s approach
and build a positive and collaborative
school culture. Those contacts then give
schools the social capital to negotiate
with their partners, get support and
assistance adapted to their needs, and say
no to requests and demands that they
believe would detract from achieving
See the Big Picture
The competitive advantage that comes
with the capacity to manage the external
environment means that successful
schools, ironically, can resist demands to
improve, can maintain the status quo,
can lower expectations, and can gloss
over problems in operations and
outcomes. As a result, the work of
managing the external environment
always has to extend beyond the individual school and take into account the
larger purposes of schooling and the role
that successful schools may play in
helping or hindering efforts to improve
surrounding schools and society as a
whole (Fullan, 1993, 1999).
Promoting Wide-Scale Success
School improvement efforts that focus
largely on scaling-up specific programs
or replicating the successes of individual
schools without regard to maximizing
external relationships and opportunities
are likely to continue to fail. To succeed
on a wide scale, school-based improvement initiatives have to be accompanied
by a concerted effort to create more
favorable economic, social, and political
conditions that will give all schools a
better chance to manage the external
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schools can survive (and sometimes thrive) in
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Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling alone: The
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New York: Simon and Shuster.
Shirley, D. (2002). Valley Interfaith and school
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Austin: University of Texas Press.
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Author’s note: All school names are pseudonyms. The school examples are drawn
from a study of six schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information, see
Managing to Change: How Schools Can Survive
(and Sometimes Thrive) in Turbulent Times
(Teachers College Press, 2009); www
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standards and achievement: The imperative
Thomas Hatch is Associate Professor of
Education and Codirector of the National
Center for Restructuring Education,
Schools, and Teaching, Teachers College,
Columbia University, New York;
For more stories of how principals deal with challenging situations, read
the October online-only EL article, “Taking Your Leadership Pulse” by
Kathryn A. Riley at www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership