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Developing Effective Principals Through Collaborative Inquiry

reviewed by Eleanor Drago-Severson - February 25, 2008

coverTitle: Developing Effective Principals Through Collaborative Inquiry
Author(s): Mónica Byrne-Jiménez and Margaret Terry Orr
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807748161, Pages: 127, Year: 2007
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The complexities of schooling and principals leadership work in the twenty-first century present enormous challenges. As we know, principals struggle with the challenge of how to support teacher learning and improve practice in an atmosphere of standards-based reform and increased accountability. Teacher shortages, turnover, and caring for increasingly diverse populations are among other crucial issues that principals face. There is an imminent need for better support of principals learning and leadership development. How can principals develop their leadership capacities in ways that will enable them to meet and grow from these new and complex challenges? How do principals support themselves in their challenging work?

As we think hard about these questions, Mónica Byrne-Jiménez and Margaret Terry Orrs book, Developing Effective Principals Through Collaborative Inquiry, illuminates a promising pathway. Their book is a timely and essential resource that thoughtfully offers a robust model for supporting principals authentic personal learning and leadership development. The authors eloquently describe their Collaborative Inquiry Leadership Seminar model (hereafter, Collaborative Inquiry or CI) and the adult learning theories that undergird this model in a user-friendly, practical, and application-oriented manner. Their CI model is informed by years of their research that tested and refined it. In addition, they present vignettes of courageous principals who engaged with their model to illustrate the landscape of personal learning and leadership development as developmental processes.

In stepping forward to meet the complex demands of twenty-first century leadership with courage and hope, Byrne-Jiménez and Orrs model will enable principals to support their own development toward increased student achievement and school improvement. This book emphasizes learning from leadership practice and fellow principals, as well as the need to create spaces and policies that support such urgent tasks.

I am delighted that Byrne-Jiménez and Orr wrote this book. As a professor and developmental psychologist who conducts research on adult development and leadership among K-12 school leaders, I dedicate myself to supporting the learning of educators. Through my work, I have learned that principals yearn to engage with colleagues, and that they feel that such dialogue will support their leadership development. Byrne-Jiménez and Orr present an effective model for doing this.

In Developing Effective Principals Through Collaborative Inquiry, the authors have mapped out the intricacies of their professional development model in a way that can be immediately translated to practice to support all principals growth. They detail how principals can use the model to enhance their capacities to develop their leadership, and in turn, improve practice together. While their Collaborative Inquiry Leadership Seminar model is based on research conducted with urban principals, it also applies to principals in other contexts. Their CI model extends Victoria Marsicks (2002) Action Learning Conversation model and Bray, Lee, Smith, and Yorks (2000) Collaborative-inquiry in Practice Process to school contexts, and is grounded in principles of adult learning. It pivots on the need to provide principals with opportunities to engage in structured conversations about the dilemmas of leadership practice. Throughout the book, the authors share lessons learned from deep experiences as CI facilitators, adding their expertise on education leadership and school improvement. They take on the challenging task of presenting a robust professional development model and carefully show readers how to create and implement CI groups for principals. As you will see, they describe important characteristics of the role of group facilitators, anticipate questions and situations that might arise, and point to potential outcomes of the CI model. The authors deliver on all they promise and in so doing they offer a guide for others.

Chapter One opens with a compelling scenario of an urban principals real life challenges in todays educational context. In this chapter the authors introduce their CI model and the research that informs it. They powerfully set the context by explaining that there have been dramatic changes in the role and responsibilities of the principalship. Chapter Two examines the process of the CI seminar and provides helpful real-life examples that enable readers to envision the structure and workings of the process. Through their descriptions and anticipation of questions that might arise, the authors carefully map the steps from beginning to end of implementation. At the models core, they explain, collaborative inquiry is a structured process for problem understanding and solution generation, with defined roles and pacing for questioning and solution suggestions (p. 19). The authors describe how the CI model works in each session and over time.

Chapter Three helps readers understand the theoretical underpinnings of how the structure and process of their CI model puts adult learning theory, socialization theory, and leadership development research into action. Chapter Four helps readers to understand the nitty-gritty details of facilitating CI meetings. The authors make good use of their own lived experiences and insights gained from implementing this model. They gently bring the four phases of the model to life, as well as the opportunities and challenges inherent in each phase and the roles and responsibilities of the convener. Their insights will enable readers to implement the CI model effectively, with attention to unique contextual resources and constraints.

Chapter Five devotes explicit attention to the role of group facilitator as both facilitator and co-inquirer. This Chapter is chock-full of insights and strategies for effective facilitation of the CI model. In the final chapter, the authors wisely address the benefits, potential uses of, and likely challenges that need to be cared for when implementing their CI model. Among the benefits, the authors point to the value of insights gained, as well as knowledge and skills for this models collegial, inquiry-based process, which centers on learning from and with colleagues through reflection, problem-solving, and structured conversation. They describe the different types of learning gained as well as the implications of how their CI model can be a mechanism for supporting principals learning and leadership development. Developing Effective Principals Through Collaborative Inquiry concludes with a set of very useful appendices illuminating detailed guidelines for how to implement this powerful model within districts.

Mónica Byrne-Jiménez and Margaret Terry Orr achieve their noble goals in writing this well-organized and accessible book. They teach us about the value of CI for individual principal leadership development as well as school and district improvement. This book not only enlightens our understanding of how to support principals learning and development in sensitive and robust ways, but it also provides a fertile plan for the work that lies ahead and practical guidance for building the educational world we desirethrough leadership. I encourage you to read this fine book and apply these insights.


Bray, J., Lee, J., Smith, L., & Yorks, L. (2000). Collaborative-inquiry in practice, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Marsick, V. J, (2002). Action learning conversation. Partners for Learning and Leadership. Retrieved on February 19, 2007 from www.partnersforlearning.com.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 25, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15037, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 2:38:55 PM

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About the Author
  • Eleanor Drago-Severson
    Columbia University’s Teachers College
    E-mail Author
    ELLIE DRAGO-SEVERSON is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Her research centers on school leadership for principal and teacher development, supporting adult growth in K-12 schools, ABE/ESOL and university contexts, and qualitative research. Drago-Severson has authored two recent books, Becoming Adult Learners: Principles and Practices for Adult Development (Teachers College Press, 2004) and Helping Teachers Learn: Principal Leadership for Adult Growth and Development (Corwin Press, Inc., 2004), which offer a new learning-oriented model for supporting adult growth in K-12 schools and other educational contexts. Helping Teachers Learn was awarded the 2004 National Staff Development Council’s Book of the Year Award. She is currently writing Leading Adult Learning (2008, Corwin Press).
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