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Coloring Outside the Lines: Mentoring Women into School Leadership

reviewed by Mary Ann Maslak - 2002

coverTitle: Coloring Outside the Lines: Mentoring Women into School Leadership
Author(s): Mary E. Gardiner, Ernestine Enomoto, and Margaret Grogan
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: 0791445828 , Pages: 249 , Year: 2000
Search for book at Amazon.com

The field of education formulates, studies, and grapples with concepts and strategies aimed at advancing understanding of the interactions of the multifarious elements in the educational setting. In particular, the effort to reveal and unravel the complex interaction between individuals' views of relationships on the one hand, and the structural institutions that define them on the other, has by turns generated and subscribed to a host of theories and tenets, among which is feminist thought. Feminist theory provides a fresh perspective and fills a glaring gap in the educational administration literature, which has heretofore under-estimated the significance of the poststructuralist approach as a useful way in which we may examine and analyze those critical and crucial interactions (and the operative elements therein) in educational administration.

The book under review here, Coloring Outside the Lines: Mentoring Women into School Leadership, represents an important step toward conjoining feminist theoretical analyses with educational administrative practice by examining feminist poststructural thought as it relates to the concept of mentoring women into school leadership positions. The trio of authors, Gardiner, Enomoto and Grogan, examines how theory and practice inform and govern our understanding of educational administration mentoring relationships and their outcomes. By presenting three case-studies, set in three different states in the United States, they bring to light women’s participation in and experiences with educational administration mentoring. The book provides an interesting and informative account of the connections and tensions between women and the administrative arm of the school system.

The introduction (Chapter 1) canvasses the main ideas of the book. It describes the use of feminist poststructural theory to make sense of women’s experiences in educational administrative mentoring relationships. It describes these experiences in terms of "types of mentoring" which include "mentor as boss or superior," "mentor as adviser," "mentor as teacher," "mentor as guide," "mentor as parent," "mentor as spiritual or philosophical guru," "mentor as gatekeeper," "mentor as public role model," and "mentor as friend or peer."

Chapter 2, "Feminist Research," provides the rationale for adopting the feminist approach which according to the authors, serves to "validate multiple and diverse perspectives, …to clarify one’s own beliefs and values…" (p. 29). The bulk of the chapter discusses at length the work’s qualitative research design and methodology, pointing to the following: the importance of a cooperative research team; selection and sampling procedures for each case; methods used in the study; data analyses; and the location of the researchers in the process.

Chapter 3, "Quality Mentoring Relationships for Women," reports participants’ definitions of quality mentoring. In so doing, the authors interpret the subjects’ varied responses as an extension of the traditional definition of quality mentoring, and depict them as a communicative tool that opens doors and invites reflections on leadership thought and action, and as a personal connection that enhances the quality of human interaction. Here, the authors suggest that a positive and healthy professional mentoring relationship provides the possibility for taking risks and, as a result, promoting change. They also note distinctions between weak and strong mentoring, conflicts over gender differences, irreconcilable differences of opinions and leadership styles, and difficulties in communication.

Chapter 4, "Specific School Leadership Experiences," discusses women’s perceived needs during the mentoring experience to be successful in K-12 public school administration. Section 1, "Opportunities for School Development and Management Training," describes activities designed for skill development and management training. In the second section, "Opportunities for Leadership," the authors illustrate how chances to assume leadership roles are an integral part of a successful mentoring experience. The third section, "Gaining Credibility in the School District," deals with the ways in which women gain respect in their administrative position. It reveals how female administrative interns earn credibility in the school and throughout the school district by chairing a committee in the school system or a professional organization. The authors note that these roles also provide opportunities to network at district, regional and national meetings. Finally, they remind us that successful mentoring experiences include a sequential process of stages: initiation, establishment, and maintenance.

The next three chapters consist of specific case studies in three different states. Chapter 5, "Women’s Conflicts with Leadership – Washington," draws on the experiences of "women of color" (African-Americans and Hispanic Americans), and documents their perspectives on the challenges in terms of the conflicts faced by them in educational administration. This case describes the conflicts between the demands of home and work, women’s vulnerable positions in a male-dominated profession, the role of gender in the mentoring relationship, and the difficulties faced by women of color. Chapter 6, "Mentoring for Women as Relationships of Care – the case of Virginia," focuses on the concept of "care" in educational administrative practice. Here, the author utilizes the concept of care to identify "formal and unequal" relationships as opposed to "informal and equal" relationships, and to examine human interactions during the mentoring process and the practice of educational administration. Chapter 7, "Cultivating Feminist Leadership through Mentoring – Maryland," begins with a theoretical framework that supports the authors’ notions of approaches to feminist leadership, which include instructional leadership, participatory leadership, and care-giving leadership, and in the process explores the ways in which feminist leadership is cultivated in the school environment.

Chapter 8, "Mentoring Relationships for Women of Color," describes the challenges for racial and ethnic minority women. Specifically, it focuses on the experiences of fourteen African American and four Hispanic American women who are participating in a mentoring program. These women of color report that race, and not gender, is the primary obstacle when seeking status in the field experience. Moreover, the participants remark that internal, retrospective ideas of self-doubt and self-improvement also play a role in their efforts to reach their goals during the mentoring process.

The final chapter, "Mentoring as a Transforming Activity," probes the reasons that traditional models of mentoring can and have failed women. The authors also conceive of mentoring as a power relationship, one that can revolutionize women in educational administration and those who come in contact with them. The position, "coloring outside the lines," connotes the need to redesign the ways in which we invite, support, and acknowledge women’s roles in educational administrative circles.

This book offers a vital piece of scholarship that contributes to the woefully inadequate body of literature on educational administration. Although the authors do a fine job describing the underlying tenets and conceptual modes of mentorship, and then illustrating them in case studies, there are several concerns that call for some questioning and clarification. First, the authors claim that feminist poststructuralist ideas guide their inquiry into women and educational leadership, yet they use the ideas sparingly throughout the book. For example, they provide only a brief and generalized description of poststructural thought early in the book. Second, the authors spend surprisingly little time analyzing how poststructural thought can be directly brought to bear on their data, enabling us to understand women’s oppression and recognize that feminist politics are crucial in determining how poststructural theory might be practically useful in the fight for change. A more complete data analysis, addressing the conventional notions of objectivity, voice, and silence, and probing the ways racial and gendered relations influence the mentoring relationship and women’s experiences in educational administration would be helpful. Third, the authors suggest that "feminist leadership" includes "instructional leadership," "participatory or shared decision-making," and "care-giving leadership." However, they do not quite explain fully what "feminist leadership" is. What makes these types of leadership "feminist" leadership"? Fourth, how is power evidenced in the practice of mentoring relationships and demonstrated in the case studies? In what ways is it manifested? How does the mentoring relationship address it? How does the mentoring relationship address and improve the inherent power relations that exist between white males who hold the majority of the educational administrative positions, and women who are joining the field?

To the extent that the book claims to have been guided and inspired by poststructural thought rooted in political inequalities that involve power differentials between individuals, it falls somewhat short in its avowed goals. It does not quite discuss sufficiently the ways in which power oppresses women in the field; nor does it analyze deeply their personal and professional experiences that would help explain such oppression.

Nevertheless, the book’s valuable information overshadows its few shortcomings. Coloring Outside the Lines: Mentoring Women into School Leadership provides a fine empirical and qualitative study of the mentoring process of women in the field of educational administration, the likes of which are few and far between. It is also a firm stepping-stone onto future research that advances the feminist perspective as a tool to investigate the roles and status of women in the educational fields.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 1, 2002, p. 3-6
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10751, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 2:31:01 AM

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About the Author
  • Mary Maslak
    St. John's University
    E-mail Author
    Mary Ann Maslak holds a Ph.D. in Comparative and International Education from Penn State University. Her research focuses on comparative and international educational development, with a particular emphasis on girls’ and women’s education in South Asia. Currently, she is engaged in a book-length study on Nepal’s educational policy and practice as they relate to girls.
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