It's Not Rocket Science - A Guide to the School Improvement Cycle

With Examples from New Zealand and Australian Schools

December 2022
More details
  • Publisher
    Myers Education Press
  • Published
    7th December 2022
  • ISBN 9781975505424
  • Language English
  • Pages 250 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"
  •    Request Exam Copy
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December 2022
More details
  • Publisher
    Myers Education Press
  • Published
    19th December 2022
  • ISBN 9781975505431
  • Language English
  • Pages 250 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"

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December 2022
More details
  • Publisher
    Myers Education Press
  • Published
    19th December 2022
  • ISBN 9781975505448
  • Language English
  • Pages 250 pp.
  • Size 6" x 9"
  •    Request E-Exam Copy

It's Not Rocket Science - A Guide to the School Improvement Cycle: With Examples From New Zealand and Australian Schools presents an easy-to-read, practical guide to effectively leading school improvement. It walks leaders through each step of ‘The School Improvement Cycle’ developed by Bendikson and Meyer, providing case studies, examples, and helpful tools from primary and secondary schools for the implementation of each step. The book will support school leaders in implementing improvement cycles without making the classic mistakes of failing to develop measures of improvement and test change actions before scaling up. Schools and system leaders will benefit greatly from this practical guide, in which Bendikson and Meyer demonstrate that implementing improvement cycles is not a difficult process. While the book uses examples from Australian and New Zealand schools, the lessons that the book teaches can be applied to school leaders everywhere.

The authors show how to make the complex work of improving student learning and outcomes at least somewhat simpler. They do this by describing and illustrating improvement steps that they have found to work in practice, providing examples from their work in schools to show the application of these ideas. If implemented properly, the cycles become “self-propelling,” thus reducing the cognitive load involved in planning how to improve. A range of evidence from international research and the authors’ own research and development work in schools explains the cycle and illustrate it.

The book is entitled It’s Not Rocket Science because this is the common reaction from leaders once they understand the improvement cycle process. The book is perfect for a variety of courses in Education Leadership, Professional Development, and any other curriculum devoted to improving schools and student performance.

Perfect for courses such as: Educational Leadership, Professional Development

“Rich with examples, focused on goal-directed implementation and refinement, and asks for developing a theory of action and improvement. This rocket hits the target.”

John Hattie, Emeritus Laureate Professor

“This book provides a practical and evidence-based response to the challenge that while we know improvement cycles work, we are also aware of the difficulties of making them business-as-usual. Misinterpretations, misunderstanding and confusion can hinder our resolve to ‘get better at getting better.’ The outline of common ‘failure points’ such as the failure to link teacher learning to student outcomes is helpful; from there, the book focuses on processes and practices that can make ongoing school improvement efficient, non-intrusive and core to all we do (not an extra). I particularly like the explanation of various analysis tools such as the Fishbone, Driver, and Impact v. Ease diagrams. While the book acknowledges that there is rarely a single factor leading to any given concern, it also brings a simplicity to improvement efforts by ‘cutting through’ to the practices that make a difference. In doing so, it is respectful of the work of leaders, middle leaders, teachers and broader school communities. The WHY of this work resounds clearly: great educational outcomes for our students.”

Carmel Kriz, Assistant Director: Teaching and Learning Catholic Education, Diocese of Rockhampton Queensland, Australia

“At last! A useful text that draws on our own schooling context to provide much needed clarity and guidance about ‘what counts’ as an improvement cycle. This book weaves theory and practice together, in ways that provide practical insight to the sequence of improvement cycles. I particularly appreciated the time spent addressing common ways ‘improvement cycles’ can be misinterpreted and enacted in schools, wasting precious time and energy. This book is ‘a must have’ for anyone who wants to do the real work of school improvement in ways that will make a positive difference for students and teachers.”

Dr Anne S. Hynds, Senior Researcher, Ihi Research, Wellington, New Zealand

“Having worked with Linda and Frauke on improvement in my own school I know that they are not just speaking about theory here but from experience of what actually works in schools. It may not be rocket science but sometimes you need a book like this to focus on what is important and remove the clutter of everyday distractions in school. I have found that if you are able to focus on a clear action plan for improvement then these improvements do come—you then gain clarity on the important things to focus on.”

Tom Webb, Principal, Mangere College, Auckland, New Zealand

“Bendikson and Meyer’s book unravels the mystery of the often-misunderstood concept of school improvement. Drawing on their research and successful experience in supporting schools, Linda and Frauke provide achievable, practical steps that help school leaders drive improvement. Applying their user-friendly School Improvement Cycle, the authors show schools how to become intentionally sharp in their daily work. With practiced application, Bendikson and Meyer’s insights will transform school improvement and become anchored in the heart of a school’s culture. An excellent resource for leaders who strive for continuous improvement in their schools.”

Anne Duncan, Workstream Lead, and Kevin Williams, Deputy Workstream Lead, Capability and Enablement of Our People, Catholic Schools Broken Bay, Sydney, Australia

“What a breath of fresh air! It’s Not Rocket Science: A Guide to the School Improvement Cycle by Linda Bendikson and Frauke Meyer offers school leaders a uniquely practical insight into a set of research-informed principles and easily applied strategies for leading successful school improvement. As they reflect on the research-informed insights provided throughout the book, everyday leaders in everyday schools will discover that leading improvement is not a mystical undertaking after all. It’s Not Rocket Science skillfully combines relevant and up-to-date research with clear insights and pragmatic approaches, resulting in a step-by-step model of school improvement which is further enriched and informed by relevant case studies. It’s Not Rocket Science is a book that schools leaders at all career stages will find informative, accessible and above all else, useful! Get it, apply it . . . transform your school’s leadership!”

Richard Newton, Senior Leadership Consultant, Tui Tuia Learning Circle, University of Auckland

“The Swedish Education Act states that school principals should systematically pursue equitable results, through data collection of student outcomes among other things. Administrative tasks and the requirement for documentation risk taking time away from the school’s main mission; that the students should acquire and develop knowledge. My experience as a former Head of School is that many schools struggle with abstract and overarching goals that sometimes lack the student perspective, and without first having thought about how to measure knowledge development. The school leader needs to create conditions (time and tools) throughout the school year, to follow up and reflect on the process of goals and activities always from the student’s perspective. This is what It’s Not Rocket Science delivers: guidance on how to do this.”

Vera Sandin, Education Consultant, Stockholm, Sweden

“As a professor of educational leadership in Norway, I have had the great pleasure of reading this book. This is a very down-to-earth and practical book with models and tools that will be very useful for all school leaders, not just in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Island nations but also in the rest of the world. The book gives us a reminder that school development is an ongoing process. It is a book I can recommend for school leaders who want support in their pursuit of improvement.”

Professor Anne Berit Emstad, Innovation Leader, Department of Teacher Education, Faculty of Social and Educational Sciences, Norwegian University of Science and Technology

“The aim of the authors was ‘to make the complex work of improving student learning and outcomes, at least, somewhat simpler’. In my view, they have succeeded in this goal! In my ‘practitioner-researcher’ role I have facilitated innumerable development projects and appraised 112 principals. I have always exhorted the employment of a collaborative action research based, cyclical, approach to development and improvement. The ‘School Improvement Cycle’ model outlined in this book deeply aligns with several elements of an action research approach and, as such, helps leaders in schools to provide depth and structure when grappling with problems and enacting improvement and change. It’s Not Rocket Science is a highly practical book, designed to both provide step by step guidance and practical examples of application in schools. The strength of the book lies in the way that the latter examples as case studies are used in subsequent chapters to illustrate each step of the School Improvement Cycle model. Detailed descriptions are provided (particularly the inclusion of clear evidence of specific outcomes) for each step in a way that is often missing in many books associated with improvement models. The use of very specific examples of employment of data from the case studies in decision making points in the model is a highlight. The importance of authentic, genuinely inclusive, collaboration at each step in the model is included in Chapter 11. In my experience even the best laid steps in a plan/model, quickly fold without such significant collaboration and subsequent ownership of change. This topic is worthy of an accompanying book on its own and I encourage the authors to consider that.”

Professor Eileen Piggot-Irvine, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand Adjunct Professor, Royal Roads University, Canada

“More than a leadership text for individual stakeholders, It’s Not Rocket Science provides an opportunity for teams to apply a sequence of practical strategies enabling sustainable student achievement and transformation. In times of uncertainty and competing agendas, this coherence-maker promotes teachers as leaders and collaborators, focussing on precise, bitesized achievable steps that lead to goal achievement and school progress. The ‘self-propelling’ methodology outlined in this book promotes a culture of internal commitment and inclusion, drawing everyone into the plan with role clarity and expectation. Schools often have a high impact on individual students and cohorts, however, it is the whole school collective efficacy required for sustainable success that this book will ensure.”

Tim Hardy, Head of Leading and Learning, Catholic Education Parramatta Diocese, New South Wales, Australia


List of Figures and Tables


Foreword by Helen Timperley, PhD


Chapter One: Introducing the School Improvement Cycle

Chapter Two: A Case Study of Gauguin Primary

Chapter Three: A Case Study of O’Keeffe College

Chapter Four: Defining the Problem and the Goal

Chapter Five: Developing the Theory for Improvement

Chapter Six: Narrowing the Focus to Quick Wins

Chapter Seven: Developing the Measures and Establishing the Baseline

Chapter Eight: Analysing Causes and Designing Strategies

Chapter Nine: Implementing Strategies

Chapter Ten: Checking and Refining

Chapter Eleven: Leading Improvement—The Human Side of Change

About the Authors


Linda Bendikson

Dr. Linda Bendikson has been involved in educational leadership in New Zealand her whole career, as a principal of a two-teacher school serving a rural Māori community, as an adviser to rural schools, as a deputy principal and then as a principal of a provincial city school in the 1990s. She went on to become a regional manager in the Ministry of Education of New Zealand for ten years whilst completing a PhD on “The Effects of Principal Instructional Leadership on Secondary School Performance” under the supervision of Professors Viviane Robinson and John Hattie at the University of Auckland. She then worked for the University of Auckland, spending eight years leading the Centre for Educational Leadership before heading into private consultancy work in 2019. Her schooling improvement and leadership development programs (Leading Teams and Leading Improvement) are delivered online to New Zealand and Australian schools. Her programs support teams of leaders to do the real work of improvement. She guides leadership teams through the process of implementing improvement cycles and effectively leading change. She has been actively involved in researching school improvement and leadership since completing her PhD, frequently publishing with Dr Frauke Meyer. Linda is a pragmatist who draws on her practical experience and her academic interests in goal theory and improvement science to support school leaders to carry out their roles more strategically and effectively. As someone who never had the benefit of leadership training until very late in her career, her mission is to improve learners’ outcomes by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of leaders in schools and schooling systems.

Frauke Meyer

Dr. Frauke Meyer is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland. She teaches and supervises students in the Master of Educational Leadership program. Frauke trained as a teacher for students with special needs in Germany, completing a master’s degree in teaching and working across schools to support their inclusion efforts. She moved to New Zealand in 2008 and completed another master’s degree and a PhD under the supervision of Professor Stuart McNaughton. Whilst working on her PhD, Frauke worked for several small to large-scale research projects in New Zealand and Australia, including as a researcher for the Centre for Educational Leadership (UACEL). She continued her work for the centre, mainly supporting the First-time Principals’ Programme, and worked closely with Distinguished Professor Viviane Robinson during these years, before taking up a lecturer position at the faculty. Her research is concerned with school improvement, school leadership, and interpersonal leadership practices. The immediate focus of her research is leadership practices that foster school improvement and create equity in outcomes. In her research, she works closely with schools and school leaders, prioritising outcomes for schools. Linda and Frauke have worked closely together at the Centre for Educational Leadership on research projects focused on school improvement projects, and in teaching at the faculty and in professional development courses. Frauke has presented and published her research internationally at conferences and in journals. Her aim is to support schools and leaders in improving equity in outcomes for their learners through effective and strategic system leadership.

school improvement; school improvement cycle; improvement science; leadership; theory for improvement; problem solving; educational leadership