Starting A Movement: A Book Review (Chapter 2- What Is Authentic Alignment?)

Starting A Movement: Building Culture from the Inside Out in Professional Learning Communities

Written by Kenneth C. Williams and Tom Hierck

In my last post I reviewed the first chapter of this book, which talks about how to create an effective leadership team. If you miss that post, you can read it here.

If you feel like you just need to buy this book now, please click on the image below.

The Breakdown:  Chapter 2- What Is Authentic Alignment?

All organizations are perfectly aligned to get the results they get.

-Arthur W. Jones

This chapter starts by introducing the four pillars of a Professional Learning Community which are:

  1. Mission: Asks the question “Why?” and is meant to define the main purpose of the school.
  2. Vision: Asks the question “What?” and helps to define what the school hopes to become.
  3. Values: Asks the question “How?”, more specifically, “How must we behave to create a school that will achieve our purpose?”. This will be what guides the work of each staff member.
  4. Goals: Asks staff to set specific goals they hope to achieve as we work towards the vision. This will create short-term priorities to help reach the ultimate goals of the school.

The Four-Step Process of Authentic Alignment

The authors go into more detail on each of these pillars in the next four chapters. For now, they mention them to help us understand the process of authentic alignment which is also broken into four stages:

Exploring: The Why

This is the first stage and it works to strengthen the first pillar of a Professional Learning Community- The Mission. It is important to start here because this is where you develop your main purpose and develop a guiding mantra (an energy-infused phrase that is easy to remember,  embed into daily work and expresses the spirit of the mission statement. The mantra should answer the following questions (or something similar):

  • What do we believe?
  • What do we want to achieve?
  • Why do we go to work every day?
  • Why does our school exist?

It is important to remember that creating a clear shared mission is absolutely necessary.  Without it, you cannot develop a culture of collective responsibility, which is necessary for a successful Professional Learning Community. You also can’t stop here. Otherwise you run the risk of creating a mission that simply serves as a checklist, when in reality it should be the driving force of everything you do as a school. You can get more detailed information about this stage in my next post.


Envisioning: The Eye 

This stage is meant to strengthen the second pillar of a Professional Learning Community- The Vision. Many people make the mistake of using “Vision” and “Mission” interchangeably, but they are not the same. Your mission statement is something you value and believe right now (it is in the present). Your vision is what you hope to achieve in the future based on the values and beliefs you currently hold. This is where you create an image of the school you hope to become, decide how this is different from where you currently are as a school, and how it will feel, look, sound when you reach achieve that vision. You can get more detailed information about this stage and links to helpful resources in my post where I review Chapter 4.


Connecting: The How 

In this stage, you work on strengthening the third pillar of a Professional Learning Community- The Values. Essentially, this is where you define the steps you need to take to reach your vision. This is where the real work begins! The authors state that when you reach this phase it is extremely important to ensure you have the following things in place:

  • A strong collaborative culture
  • A clear definition of what every student needs to learn (what are the essential outcomes?)
  • A consistent way of measuring the effectiveness of your work
  • An action plan of how to respond when students do and do not learn

They elaborate on this when they go into more detail in Chapter 5. The most important thing to remember here is that you need to remain connected to the mission and vision and constantly ask how what you are doing today is moving you towards your vision for the future. You can get more detailed information about this stage and links to helpful resources in my post where I review Chapter 5.


Integrating: The Now

This is the final stage of authentic alignment and is meant to strengthen the fourth pillar of a Professional Learning Community- The Goals. This is where you integrate the work you did with the other three pillars into your day-to-day life at school. Remaining focused can be challenging because it is very tempting (and usually easier) to slip back to “the way things have always been”. As you continue along this path, you are likely to encounter various questions and challenges. The authors have anticipated this, and provide tools to help you along the way in Chapter 6. Some of the topics covered are:

  • How to organize people into team to support collaboration
  • How to fit collaboration into your schedule
  • How to create a guaranteed viable curriculum
  • How to monitor student learning
  • How to ensure student who struggle receive support for learning

You can get more detailed information about this stage in my post where I review Chapter 6.

Final Thoughts:

I found this chapter to be extremely helpful in my own day-to-day “influencing” of staff. As teachers we are constantly bombarded with new initiatives and it is often met with resistance. Often the problem is not that teachers don’t want to do the work, it is that they don’t understand why it is important. Going through the process of authentic alignment helps everyone make connections between what they are being asked to do, and why it is important.

As leaders we need to ensure that this understanding exists, otherwise we will be faced with one of two scenarios. Worst case, teachers will resist the work or find ways to get out of doing it. Best case, teachers will comply but will not be invested and will lack the commitment necessary to achieve the final goal (the vision).

This means that as a school your focus needs to shift. Gone are the days of using test scores as a measure of success. Instead the focus should be on achieving the shared mission and vision in order to create your ideal school. You will find that if you are working towards a shared vision and the focus is on what is best for kids (which it should be), student achievement will increase as a side effect of the shift in focus.

Ultimately we need to create a culture where staff feel invested in the work. This does not happen in a top-down structure, instead we need to include staff in the process, work beside them to ensure they understand, and listen to their input. Once they feel their voice is being heard, they will be more likely to commit to the vision, even when challenges arise.

Finally, we need to remember that this is not a quick and easy process. In order to shift the overall culture of a school, we need to see changes in the behaviour of the people within it. This will take time and you may not see any major changes until later in the process. That being said, if you are patient and diligent, once the culture shifts, your staff will gain momentum and exciting changes will follow!

In my next post, I will review Chapter 3: Exploring: The Why which goes into more detail about the first step in the process of authentic alignment.

If you would like to read along, please purchase the book here. If you have already read the book and have questions, comments, or would like to elaborate on anything I just wrote, please comment below!

Let me know what you think, if you have book suggestions, or if you want me to elaborate on a specific topic. Feedback is always welcome!