Theory of Action

Theory of Action Image

The First 10 Theory of Action outlines the goals and objectives that First 10 Schools and Communities should support, the kinds of schools and community institutions they are trying to build, and the roles these partnerships play in supporting these goals.

A theory of action tells a story about how a package of strategies is expected to lead to positive outcomes, creating what some have called a causal story line (City et al., 2009). In effect, a theory of action is a hypothesis: We believe that these activities will lead to these outcomes, which can be tested over time. In this way, the theory serves as a guide for how a group of strategies can be implemented in such a way that together they form a coherent, consistent approach (Argyris & Schön, 1978; City et al., 2009).

Theories of action are often summarized as “if-then” statements that convey the causal storyline underlying the expected link between action and outcomes. The First 10 Theory of Action, depicted graphically above, outlines how First 10 initiatives can create a virtuous circle among families, schools, and communities—an ongoing process in which each supports the others in a mutually reinforcing cycle. The First 10 Theory of Action can be summarized as follows:

If First 10 School Hubs and Community Partnerships perform four roles:

  • Support professional collaboration to improve teaching and learning
  • Coordinate comprehensive services for children and families
  • Promote culturally responsive partnerships with families
  • Provide strategic leadership and ongoing assessment

with the explicit aim of promoting a virtuous circle of collaboration and improvement among:

  • Effective schools
  • Nurturing families
  • Strong communities

then communities will promote educational equity and close opportunity gaps, and all children will learn and thrive.

All Children Learn and Thrive

The goal of First 10 Schools and Communities is for all children to learn and thrive. This is an educational equity goal, meaning that all children receive what they need in order to develop to their full academic and social potential. Realizing this goal requires that communities do the following:

  • Ensure that all children have opportunities and supports that enable their educational success
  • Eliminate the predictability of success or failure that currently correlates with any social, economic, or cultural factor, including race
  • Identify and end inequitable practices
  • Create inclusive environments for adults and children[1]

A Virtuous Circle: Effective Schools, Nurturing Families, and Strong Communities

Improving schools, strengthening families, and strengthening communities are interdependent and mutually reinforcing endeavors. Fundamental to the First 10 Theory of Action is an underlying premise: Effective schools, nurturing families, and strong communities form a virtuous circle of collaboration and improvement, each positively affecting the others in an ongoing process. Effective schools and strong communities support nurturing families, nurturing families enable schools to be more effective and strengthen communities, and the work of schools and communities is likewise interdependent and mutually reinforcing (Hoagwood et al., 2018).

The First 10 Theory of Action draws on several seminal research statements to define these three domains as follows:

  • Effective schools are characterized by strong leadership, collaborative professional learning, effective teaching, culturally responsive family partnerships, and community connections and support (Bryk et al., 2010).
  • Nurturing families develop positive parent-child relationships, are knowledgeable about parenting and child development, promote the social-emotional competence of their children, and foster connections with their peers and the community. They are resilient and strive to promote family well-being (Browne, 2014; NRC, 2000; Office of Head Start, 2011).
  • Strong communities are characterized by trust, a strong sense of community, the commitment of stakeholders to the community’s collective well-being, the capacity for collective action and the ability to solve community problems, and access to economic, human, physical, and political resources (Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh, & Vidal, 2001; Sampson, 2012). They are homes to effective community organizations, including home visiting programs, early childhood centers, Head Start programs, health providers, social services, libraries, hospitals, museums, and housing authorities.

The Role of First 10 School Hubs and Community Partnerships

According to this theory of action, First 10 School Hubs and Community Partnerships perform four roles:

Support Professional Collaboration to Improve Teaching and Learning: First 10 School Hubs and Community Partnerships bring professionals together to collaborate on improving teaching and learning for adults and children both within sectors (e.g., quality improvement) and across sectors (e.g., transitions and alignment).

Coordinate Comprehensive Services for Children and Families: First 10 initiatives coordinate the education, health, and social services that children receive at each stage of their development.

Promote Culturally Responsive Partnerships with Families: First 10 Schools and Communities build the capacity to engage and partner with families in culturally responsive ways; they also support the development of community-wide family engagement approaches, the development of common resources (e.g., online resource information), and community-wide campaigns to support young children.

Provide Strategic Leadership and Ongoing Assessment: Leaders of First 10 initiatives facilitate collaboration to promote quality, alignment, and coordination. They build the capacity of their stakeholders and their staff in effective teaching and learning, family engagement, and the provision of comprehensive services. They use needs assessments, strategic plans, and formative assessment to continuously promote quality and alignment across the First 10 continuum.

[1] Adapted from The National Equity Project (