Book Review: Rigor in Your Schools: A Toolkit for Leaders

My second book review will be published in the near future.  Here is a sneak peak of my review of Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders.  Other book reviews can be seen here.

Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders

Ronald Williamson and Barbara R. Blackburn

Routledge, 2013

Reviewed by Bret Olson

There aren’t many schools in the world who 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: A Toolkit for Leaders is the third book in a series on rigor by Williamson and Blackburn.  Having focused on strategies for teachers in their first book and school leaders in their second, this author duo heard the cry from school leaders for more tools and examples to draw from.  The result is Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders, which acts as 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 in order to create change toward a culture of rigor you must start with a vision.  Walking you through the steps (as they do with every aspect of this process) of creating a personal vision 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 change.  Understanding the change process and the time it takes to be successful is crucial to successfully creating a more rigorous environment; Williamson and Blackburn 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.  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

These authors are very clear to share throughout this book that change doesn’t happen quickly.  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 will allow you to focus on the task at hand without spending 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 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 in Milan, Italy.  Bret was a Teach For America corps member in Houston, Texas prior to moving overseas.  Bret earned his B.A at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and M. Ed. at Lehigh University, studying Educational Leadership.  Bret shares his educational thoughts via his professional website and on Twitter @The1sWhoDo.

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