5 How-to Manuals Every School Needs


One of the smartest moves we made when we launched Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) in 2008 was to write internal (“how-to”) training manuals in five key areas. Full disclosure- we picked areas where it seemed intuitively prudent to write down and train people in our best practices. It turns out that the five areas we picked were well-aligned to school improvement research. This move proved critical as we launched United Schools Network (USN) and grew from one school to a network of four public charter schools.  

Each year, the manuals undergo a revision process based on lessons learned from the previous school year. In this way, we not only capture our best practices, we ensure that a continuous improvement process is a part of our network’s DNA. The five manuals form the cornerstone of our Summer Institute training for teachers and school leaders as well as a key knowledge management system. A brief description of the five manuals follows.


#1 Overview & Operations Manual

Each USN school has its own Overview & Operations Manual that outlines key school and classroom systems and procedures as well as key components of the school’s physical set-up. Many of these systems and procedures are shared between the schools, but the manuals also account for the differing layouts of each school’s building. Having a shared set of systems and procedures across a school helps ensure efficient operations and preserves learning time. You can learn more about the manual in the Engineering UPrep Classrooms video.   

#2 Culture Manual

Each USN school has its own Culture Manual that outlines our culture, discipline, and management systems. The purpose of the manual is to ensure that a joyful, rigorous culture that supports learning is in place at each USN school. Besides outlining the systems for our scholars (USN students are called scholars), it also includes a number of other important components. For example, the manual for United Preparatory Academy-State St. includes a section that details expectations for staff entitled What It Means to be a UPrep Team Member.  


#3 Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Manual

During Summer Institute, new teachers are trained in the curriculum development, lesson delivery, and assessment practices used at USN schools. There is a version of this manual for elementary teachers and a version for middle school teachers. Key components include training teachers in backwards design methods and the gradual release instructional method. Teachers are also given curriculum materials from previous years, so that they don’t have to start from scratch (check out a sample USN curriculum template below). In their first two years with USN, teachers receive more than 40 hours of training in these methods.    


#4 Recruitment & Retention Manual

USN is a network of public charter schools. Unlike traditional public schools, students are not assigned to our schools by geographic boundaries. Instead, we have to recruit students through various grass roots methods (e.g. door-to-door visits) to get the word out about our schools. Families are making an important decision when they choose to enroll their child in one of our schools. The Recruitment & Retention Manual helps to ensure that the recruitment, enrollment, orientation, and retention processes go smoothly.

#5 Human Capital Manual

Without great people, we cannot achieve our mission. The Human Capital Manual outlines the network’s strategic human capital management system for recruiting, selecting, hiring, onboarding, and off-boarding employees. The manual also includes a methodology for using data to evaluate USN’s human capital systems both for candidates as well as for current employees. As USN has grown and the number of hiring managers have increased, the Human Capital Manual has ensured that a high level of consistency exists in hiring practices across these managers.

More on USN’s Best Practices

At the School Performance Institute, we are studying school design best practices within the United Schools Network and sharing them with others. Join us for our next Study the Network workshop at Columbus Collegiate Academy-Main St. on May 17th to learn how the school uses the how-to manuals described in this blog to get results in a high-poverty context.  

John A. Dues is the Director of the School Performance Institute and Chief Learning Officer for the United Schools Network in Columbus, Ohio. The School Performance Institute is the social enterprise division of the United Schools Network. Send feedback to jdues@unitedschoolsnetwork.org.

John A. Dues