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  • Writer's pictureIris Bond Gill

Building Systemic Coherence for School Improvement

teachers climbing ladders and books

Achieving educational equity necessitates a systemic approach that goes beyond addressing individual student needs. It requires a comprehensive assessment and alignment of systems and practices within educational institutions. This approach is essential for creating sustainable, inclusive environments that foster the growth and success of all students.

By developing systemic coherence, schools can ensure that all components work harmoniously to support high outcomes for every student, dismantling inequities rooted in social or cultural factors.

Assessing Systems for Equity

The National Equity Project defines educational equity as ensuring that each child receives what they need to develop their full academic and social potential. This concept highlights the importance of examining and refining the systems that underpin educational practices. To build systemic coherence, schools must undertake the following:

  1. Systemic Assessment: Schools need to conduct thorough audits of their existing practices, policies, and outcomes. This involves identifying areas where inequities persist and understanding the root causes. An effective assessment will look at various aspects such as student enrollment, discipline practices, academic support, and resource allocation.

  2. Data-Driven Decision Making: Utilizing data to inform decisions is crucial. Schools must collect and analyze data related to student performance, engagement, and well-being. This data helps identify patterns of inequity and informs targeted interventions aimed at addressing these disparities.

  3. Collaborative Leadership: Effective leadership is essential for driving systemic change. School leaders must work collaboratively with educators, students, families, and the community to develop a shared vision for equity. This includes setting clear goals, providing ongoing professional development, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

Building Systemic Coherence

Systemic coherence involves aligning all aspects of the educational system to work towards common equity goals. WestEd's four domains of rapid school turnaround provide a framework for this alignment:

  1. Leadership: School leaders play a pivotal role in setting the tone for systemic coherence. They must articulate a clear vision for equity and ensure that all policies and practices reflect this commitment. Effective leaders also promote collaborative decision-making and shared accountability.

  2. Talent Development: Developing the skills and capacities of educators and staff is critical. Professional development should focus on equity-centered practices, cultural competency, and inclusive pedagogy. By equipping educators with the necessary tools and knowledge, schools can create more responsive and supportive learning environments.

  3. Instructional Transformation: Instructional practices must be aligned with equity goals. This involves adopting teaching methods that are inclusive and culturally responsive, as well as providing differentiated support to meet the diverse needs of students. Schools should also implement evidence-based interventions to address gaps in achievement.

  4. Culture Shift: Cultivating an inclusive and equitable school culture is essential for systemic coherence. This includes promoting values of respect, empathy, and collaboration among all members of the school community. Schools should also create structures that support student voice and agency, ensuring that all students feel valued and heard.

School Improvement Coaching: Our Work with Comprehensive and Targeted Support Schools

Our organization is currently engaged with 43 Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) schools in a large urban school district. We coach school leaders and leadership teams through continuous improvement practices, emphasizing the importance of selecting evidence-based strategies and rigorously measuring their impact. This process underscores the importance of measuring whether the changes implemented are genuine improvements, contributing to the overall goal of systemic coherence.

Though coaching and support, we guide schools in conducting thorough assessments of their systems, using data-driven decision-making, and fostering collaborative leadership. By focusing on instructional transformation and promoting a culture shift, we help schools align their practices with equity goals.


Building systemic coherence in educational practices is crucial for achieving equity. By assessing systems, utilizing data, fostering collaborative leadership, and aligning instructional practices, schools can create environments where all students have the opportunity to succeed. The journey towards educational equity requires a commitment to continuous improvement and a willingness to address systemic inequities head-on. As schools work towards these goals, they move closer to realizing the vision of equitable and excellent opportunities for all students.

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