November 7, 2016

Here are three books for your use in addressing some of the issues undoubtedly confronting some of our readers.

Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask. Michael J. Marquardt

Most of us have worked for a supervisor or boss whose conversation was full of requests and demands more than inquisitiveness. Some how too many leaders have concluded that asking questions is a sign of weakness, an indication that he/ she is not in control or knowledgeable.

Michael Marquardt bashes this notion and provides leaders with a wealth of insights in how to energize their organizations by purposeful inquiry and powerful listening. As he writes, “Questions can elicit information, of course, but they can do much more. Astute leaders use questions to encourage full of participation and teamwork, to spur innovation and outside-the-box thinking, to empower others, to build relationships with customers, to solve problems and more.” Indeed they can and such a mind-set goes to the heart of being a transformational leader. We highly recommend Marquardt’s treasure of a book.

How to Create a Culture of Achievement in your School and Classroom. Douglas Fisher, Nancy Fey and Ian Pumpian.

Culture is the new buzzword in organizational study. One hears of “toxic cultures,” “creative cultures “and football coaches who change the “culture of the locker room.” But just what does this mean for the leaders charged with improving schools?

Most school improvement efforts focus on academic goals, but too often it’s the intangibles that block meaningful and lasting improvement. Authors Fisher, Fey and Pumpian believe that no school improvement effort will be effective unless school culture is addressed. Their book provides a useful way for leaders to weave into their efforts ways to address the invisible yet critically important component of organizational effectiveness.

Eight Myths of Student Disengagement: Creating Classrooms of Deep Learning. Jennifer A. Fredricks.

Fredricks writes, “Student disengagement is one of the biggest challenges teachers face each day in their classrooms. This disengagement can take many forms, including lack of participation and effort, acting out and disrupting class, disaffection and withdrawal and failure to invest deeply in the academic content…”

Her book presents a “multidimensional construct” addressing behavior, emotional and cognitive aspects of the solution and she argues that there is no quick fix but rather all three dimensions of disengagement must be addressed.   She has provided practical ways to implement practices to increase student engagement.

May 6, 2016

We hope you enjoy our summer reading list. Each of the books in its own way addresses the dispositions, concepts, and tools the transformational leader needs to employ in the hard work of improving our schools.

Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown
Transformational leadership demands risk-taking that inevitably includes failure, setbacks, discomfort, and hurt. Rising Strong by Brown, the Ted Talk phenomenon and author of Daring Greatly, offers thoughtful strategies to deal productively with these inevitabilities. Falling down, sometimes face first with skinned knees and mud on one’s face is the chief metaphor of Brown’s inspiring book. She writes, “The truth is that falling hurts. The dare is to keep being BRAVE and to feel your way back up.” Brown’s purpose in writing this book is “to slow down the falling and rising process: to bring into our awareness all the choices that unfurl in front of us during those moments of discomfort and hurt, and to explore the consequences of those choices.” Through specific precepts and inspiring stories of “rising strong,” Brown offers us the insights and courage to take the risk, overcome fear of failure, and consequently engage in the behavior required of a transformational leader.

The Power of Collective Wisdom and the Trap of Collective Folly by Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, and Tom Callanan
As the authors write in their welcome, “This book is intended for people who seek more effective and satisfying ways of working with other people. It is for people who are working to make their communities, neighborhoods, and organizations more inclusive, effective, and wise.” Transformational leaders certainly fall into this group. Indeed, one of the major roles of transformational leadership is to capture the power of a school’s collective expertise and wisdom.

Peter Senge who writes the foreword, commends the book for correcting two misconceptions about wisdom: one, that wisdom is not developable and, two, that it not about a few wise people…but about the capacity of human communities to make wise choices and to orient themselves around a living sense of the future that truly matters to them.” He sees this text as “…offering stories and practices that can help each of use in our own wisdom journey.”

We have all been warned against “group think” what the authors call the “trap of folly.” While praising the power of collective wisdom, the book firmly warns against “collective folly,” the consequence of two related yet opposing group dynamics: group polarization and group false agreement.

This book is inspirational in showing how transformational leaders can better capture the power of collective wisdom while avoiding the folly of the collective trap.

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World by Tony Wagner
Tony Wagner is no stranger to educators seeking solutions to current educational issues. Those who have read How Schools Change, Making the Grade,or Change Leadership know he is both a critic of most of what passes for educational reform and a clear voice for what we should be doing.

Creating Innovators is not so much another book about K-12 reform as it is a call for the nurturing of innovators in our k-12 schools, colleges, and in the workplace. After making the case for the need of innovation, he notes the most essential qualities of successful innovators include: 1) Curiosity, which is a habit of asking good questions and a desire to understand more deeply, 2) Collaboration, which begins with listening to and learning from others who have perspectives and expertise that are very different from your own, 3) associative and integrative thinking , and 4) a bias toward action and experimentation.

Too often we assume that innovators are born not bred. Thomas Edisons and Steve Jobs are viewed as rare natural phenomena. Wagner objects and is convinced that his four essential qualities of successful innovators “…represent a set of skills and habits of mind that can be nurtured, taught, and mentored.”

He provides a clear answer for school leaders to the question “transformation into what?” Like many of us Wagner is “…frankly appalled at the idea “…that the best measure of teacher’ effectiveness is student performance on standardized, multi-choice test.” He asserts that most school administrators have “…no idea what kind of instruction is required to produce students who can think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, and collaborate versus merely score well on a test.” For school leaders questioning the current focus on test achievement, Wagner offers a compelling alternative. This is a great read.

November 11, 2015

Here are our top reading picks for the fall.  Pour yourself a glass of hot apple cider (we like to add a little Guatemalan Zacapa rum), settle in front of the fireplace, and enjoy these reads:

The Allure of Order by Jal Mehta
This is a must-read for those seeking to understand  how we arrived at the present state of educational reform in this country. The book offers a detailed historical and political analysis of America’s checkered  attempts to reform its schools. For those familiar with Raymond Callahan’s Education and the Cult of Efficiency, published in the early 1960s, this is a much needed update on reformers’ quests to reform schools through scientific management.  Mehta’s final chapters offer recommendations  to implement practices based on valuing human knowledge and skill over technical order in our educational systems

Leading for Learning: How to Transform Schools into Learning Organizations by Phillip C. Schlechty
Phil Schlechty has been an advocate for radical school change for the past 40 years. This book offers a framework, tools, and processes that will help school leaders move beyond the current bureaucratic mind-set and to a “learning organization.”  The Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform’s web site ( offers a wealth of tools, books and other resources to help those searching for a better path to transforming schools into “learning organizations.”

So Much Reform So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools by Charles M. Payne and The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools by Dale Russakoff
Two of the largest recent urban reform efforts took place in Chicago and Newark. With the infusion of huge grants from corporate donors and foundations (Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook in Newark and the Annenberg Foundation in Chicago), these reform efforts started with great fanfare only to end with little to show for the effort. Payne writes “…most discussion of educational policy and practice is dangerously disconnected from the daily realities of urban schools,…most discussion fails to appreciate the intertwined and overdetermined nature of the causes of failure.” He contends that issues of scale, pace, capacity, and community engagement were grossly misunderstood by reformers. Payne concludes that “…nothing we know about bottom-tier schools suggests that doing a lot of good things superficially is likely to have real impact on the lives of the children or teachers.”

The Newark story so graphically depicted by Russakoff is one of unexamined ideology mixed with hubris that left the students, teachers and parents of that city with little of educational substance. Read these two books as lessons in what not to do in one’s efforts to transform our neediest school systems.

May 29, 2015

Looking for some good reading this summer?  Try these:

The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through The Art of Storytelling by Annette Simmons.  Effective communications is a leadership imperative.   Effective story telling is communication’s first mate. Annette Simmons in this revised and updated edition showcases hundreds of examples of effective storytelling. She illustrates how story can be used to persuade, inspire and motivate in ways the cold facts, bullet points and directives can’t.

 The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall.  Just why are narrative and storytelling so central to being human? Jonathan Gottschall offers a unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories help us navigate life’s complex social problems. He draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary biology to tell us what it means to be a storytelling animal and makes the case how stories can change the world for the better.

The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation by Elena Aguilar.  Effective leaders are learners and teachers. Coaching one’s staff to higher levels of understanding and performance is critical in the “learning organization.” Elena Aguilar offers a comprehensive research and practice guide on how to create a coaching vision, build trust, listen well, ask powerful questions and develop a work plan. She highlights common challenges followed by creative solutions and includes many practical tools: rubrics, cheat sheets, and coaching sentence stems.

Transforming Schools: Using Project-Based Learning, Performance Assessment, and Common Core Standards by Bob Lenz, Justin Wells and Sally Kingston.  “The world is changing, and our schools are not keeping up” is the opening line of this powerful prescription to transform our secondary schools. The authors draw on the example of the nationally recognized Envision Education schools and other leading schools around the country to demonstrate how deeper learning can prepare students for college and career by engaging them in their own education. Throughout the book, the authors explain how project-based learning can blend with Common Core-aligned performance assessments to create an environment that encourages deeper learning. Not just theory but included are examples of how schools have made the transitions from teacher-centered learning to project-based deeper learning.

January 20, 2015

 Ready for some great reading to motivate you in the winter slump.  Try these:

 Taking Charge: Leading with Passion and Purpose in the Principalship by Paul Shaw is one of the top books I have ever read on the principal’s role in transforming a school.  Shaw is a great writer and knows the principalship from the inside out. He draws from his own experience and the experiences of the many principals he has mentored. My students in The Principal’s Role course at St. Louis University unanimously praised the book as the best leadership text they had read.  Filled with specific suggestions, Shaw weaves a clear theory of transformation throughout the work.  Is guaranteed to get you fired up if you are facing the January blahs.

 The Power of Protocols: An Educators Guide to Better Practice by Joseph McDonald et al. is a compact book filled with specific protocols designed to improve instructional practice.  The book offers a step-by-step guide to help leaders implement intentional conversation that focuses on teaching practices, student work, and instructional design. I am afraid far too many school leaders underestimate the power of these structured conversations to raise the bar and support the purposeful collaboration that is a critical part of genuine school improvement.

 The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups by Bob Garmston and Bruce Wellman is a required book in any transformational leader’s library.  When I was at the international school, la Escuela de Campo Alegre, in Venezuela in October, so was Bob Garmston, teaching his wonderful course based on the book.  We had meals together several time, and I confided to him that I had taken his course at least five times that I could remember.  His focus on critical processes and structures that support deep reflection and learning was essential to our work at MRH; and all administrators and many teacher leaders took the course. If it’s not on your go- to pile of books, you are missing something. Get the accompanying workbook, as well.

 The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact by Michael Fullan is a real gem of a book for both principals and superintendents and other central office people. In this, his latest book, Fullan does what he is so good at—distills research, cuts through the baloney, and articulates with remarkable clarity the wrong-headedness of current reform efforts and what should be happening instead. Of course, part of why we like the book is that it aligns so well with what we believe. But even if we already weren’t on the same court, Fullan would entice us there. He focuses on the critical impact of systems work and helps to reconceptualize the role of principal in a straightforward way that makes so much sense. Read it…he will inspire you!

September 25, 2014

Here are three great resources for your fall reading:

The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni is a must-read for leaders searching for specific strategies to nurture a more coherent and powerful culture. Clear, easy-to-read, and chock full of specifics that will help you transform your work environment, the book includes stories of leaders who have struggled and then learned how to attend to their organizational culture as intently as they do the other aspects of their business.  Included is a terrific section on leveraging meetings as part of the transformational work.

Read, Write, Lead by Regie Routman. If you only have time to read one book this year, read Regie! Regie Routman’s work with early literacy has always been a shining star among literacy specialists.  Her new book, Read, Write, Lead, is absolutely the best thing on the market when it comes to rethinking literacy in schools.  She expands her perspective to examine the role of teacher leadership as part of the transformation of the program.  Filled with Regie’s clear strategies for teaching literacy and for changing a school culture, this book is a must read for anyone working with elementary and middle schools. It is a clear guide to transformation through literacy.

Step-Back Consulting. The process of step back consulting developed at the Harvard Business School offers leaders a clear protocol for exploring multiple perspectives in solving a problem.  We have found it highly effective in supporting teams in sharing and critiquing work effectively. See attached Step-Back Consulting Process (PDF) for a step-by- step description of the process.

July 6, 2014
We recommend three great books for your summer reading.

Leaders of their Own Learning by Ron Berger, et al.  Many of us at the Center are real fans of Ron Berger and his first book, Ethic of Excellence.  This new book is a great addition to our library.  Berger explores through vivid description and examples how student self-assessment can play a critical role in engaging students, informing practice, and transforming schools.  Ron and his colleagues write so well, and the book is both pragmatic and inspiring. An absorbing read.

Educating Students in Poverty: Effective Practices for Leadership and Teaching by Mark Lineburg and Rex Gearheart
This book fills a real need for us.  It provides a clear blueprint of best practice in both teaching and leading for those of us committed to providing high quality education for our students in poverty.  We have already had several rich discussions stemming from the thinking of the authors.  A great way to get you prepped for the coming school year!

Rethinking Teacher Evaluation and Supervision by Kim Marshall
Kim Marshall worked in the trenches…and analyzed the effects of his own practice in supervising teachers.  In a book that often reads like an autobiography, Kim outlines the ineffectiveness of current practice in teacher evaluation and suggests an intriguing alternative.  One of our school sites is already reading the book and will be piloting Marshall’s recommendations this fall. A great addition to the supervision field that has been sorely lacking new thinking.  Marshall’s ideas strike us as ideal ways for school leaders to build collaboration and transform practice.