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Breaking Down the High Reliability Schools Framework: Level One--Safe, Supportive and Collaborative Culture

posted Nov 21, 2019, 10:07 AM by Brenda Williams   [ updated Nov 21, 2019, 10:08 AM ]
Pequot Lakes School District is committed to the leadership practices found in the High Reliability Schools Framework, which was developed by Dr. Robert Marzano, and has been adopted by schools across the country. The High Reliability Schools Framework is based on 40 years of educational research into effective school practices combined with research surrounding highly reliable organizations. Simply stated, High Reliability Schools are schools that are continually in pursuit of excellence.

The High Reliability School Framework is broken down into five levels, which are organized in a hierarchy. From the bottom up, these levels include: Safe, Supportive and Collaborative Culture; Effective Teaching in Every Classroom; A Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum; Standards-Referenced Reporting and Competency Based Education. The bottom three levels are interdependent and are foundational for all schools.

This article is the first in a three-part series focusing on levels 1-3 of the High Reliability Schools Framework.

Level 1 of the framework addresses the need for schools to create a safe, supportive and collaborative culture. This is the foundation of the framework, and the remaining levels cannot exist without this level firmly in place. To be certified in Level 1 of the framework, schools must demonstrate the conditions associated with success at this level. These conditions are called Leading Indicators, and there are 8 Leading Indicators for Level 1. Schools must also provide evidence that these Leading Indicators are, in fact, in place. This evidence is called Lagging Indicators.

What does Level 1 look like? The easiest way to explain it is by breaking down the words of the level itself.


At Pequot Lakes Schools, we strive to create a safe environment for all students and staff. A safe environment is free from violence, harassment, bullying and substance abuse. It is a place where diversity is recognized and valued. In a safe environment, all ideas are heard. A safe environment has protocols in place to deal with emergency situations. Most importantly, in a safe environment students feel welcome and cared about.


In a supportive school environment, students, staff, parents and the community all have ways to provide input into the optimal functioning of the school. Resources are managed in a way that directly supports teachers and the work they do with students. In a supportive school environment, the success of individuals, as well as the whole school is acknowledged.


One of the critical commitments of Level 1 of the High Reliability Schools Framework is the implementation of the professional learning community (PLC) process. In the PLC process, collaborative teams are formed and time is provided for them to meet regularly to discuss common issues regarding curriculum, assessment and instruction. These conversations are driven by data and centered around the standards students are expected to master. The focus of these meetings is on student learning, not simply the covering of curriculum. In Leaders of Learning (Dufour & Marzano, 2011), the authors state that “No single person has all the knowledge, skills and talent to improve a school or meet all the needs of every child in his or her classroom.” Hence, the importance of collaborative teams.

Combined, these three words, and their corresponding meanings, define Level 1 of the High Reliability Schools Framework. Last spring, Pequot Lakes Middle School achieved certification in Level 1. Eagle View Elementary and Pequot Lakes High School plan to achieve certification this school year.

In January, I will continue this series with an explanation of Level 2: Effective Teaching in Every Classroom.

-- Michele Zeidler, Eagle View Elementary HRS Coach