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Taking Charge: Leading With Passion and Purpose in the Principalship.

reviewed by Richard Sorenson - July 06, 2012

coverTitle: Taking Charge: Leading With Passion and Purpose in the Principalship.
Author(s): Paul L. Shaw
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807752908, Pages: 256, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

Keeping your purpose in the forefront assists you in judging your own motives and assessing your own behavior. Words and actions chosen with a purpose in mind are rarely regretted. (Joe L. Cope, contributing author, in The Principals Guide to Managing School Personnel, 2009, pgs. 92-93).

Taking Charge: Leading With Passion and Purpose in the Principalship by Paul L. Shaw is an easy-to-read book that captures the essence of what principals encounter in the school leadership role during their first 15 months of service. The book is a practical guide to the essential and relevant skills necessary to lead effective schools. Craft knowledge is imparted to the reader from the vantage point of four differing but pertinent leader roles, each reenacted in written scenarios: 1) an inexperienced principal (Conestoga Public School K-3); 2) a more experienced principal with four years of know-how (Cloverdale Public School K-6); 3) a school reformer (Lancewood Public School K-8); and 4) an educational facilitator/consultant (Sutton Heights Secondary School). These roles, as encapsulated in four case studies, serve to identify numerous indispensable leadership traits and skills essential to improving schools. From these elemental narratives, Shaw is able to impart four guiding principles, or what he labels pillars, that underscore the importance of participatory leadership in collaborative-oriented and high-performing schools:


Know the student well.


Develop strong inclusive professional relationships.


Continuously develop intellectual capital.


Ensure that powerful and cohesive pedagogical responsiveness in teaching is occurring in all classrooms.

Additionally, the author details numerous lessons learned across the schools, including:


Focus the work of the school as related to teaching and learning.


Identify and address obstacles.


Document the experiences of students across classes, subjects, and the school.


Build relationships.


Develop a great sense of urgency.


Dont delegate capacitate (involve colleagues in the processes of reform and change).

The foreword of the text is written by Michael Fullan, who reveals a very important point about the author a crucial detail for the reader: Paul Shaw served as a school principal! Fullan notes, from both a personal and professional relationship with the author, that Shaw has practiced what he preaches:

Paul has modeled and led the learning agenda himself in diverse settings a small rural school that badly needed a wake-up call; a large urban school in a rough neighborhood that had a hard time attracting teachers; and a highly diverse school in which he helped develop a collaborative staff skilled at tackling the intricacies of language and literacy among new immigrant non-English-speaking students (p. xi).

Why is this important? Simply, Paul Shaw has been there and done that! In other words, his work as a school leader lends a high level of scholarly credence and practical credibility to his written word. He has actually been taking charge of schools for years, and he has been effective in leading with passion and purpose. Paul Shaw knows the ropes, and even more important, he knows how to bring about school improvement. Even better, he has been able to interweave throughout the book his understanding of effective leadership skills, along with his passion for excellence in schools. Taking Charge is a desk-reference guide, a how-to approach to leading, a book which details appropriate methods and approaches to aid any principal through the intricacies of serving members of a learning community with a high level of administrative and instructional expertise. Basically, Paul Shaw, the master teacher/leader, reveals how to effectively and appropriately transform a school!

Through vivid portraits, the author presents specific and strategic actions for implementation   first as an inexperienced principal, second as an experienced principal, then as a reform-minded leader, and finally as an educational facilitator/consultant. Moreover, each chapter, with relevant portraits/scenarios, seeks to demonstrate the critical importance of principals taking decisive and prompt action at the site level. For example:

Chapter 1 is all about developing purpose and passion in the leadership role whereby the reader can begin the process of realizing that effective principals take charge by uncovering the morally compelling purpose of education by building commitment, fostering ownership, and working with colleagues, pupils, and community. As the opening quote to this review reveals, keeping your purpose in the forefront is a key to leadership success.

Chapter 2 relates to the principal role in curriculum development and renewal. In this chapter, the reader understands the necessity of challenging underlying assumptions relative to curriculum, recognizes how to reframe curriculum to better help students learn, and most importantly, determines students intentions or interests as the basis for developing curriculum to meet the academic needs of all students. This chapter readily relates to The Principals Guide to Curriculum Leadership (2011) in which Sorenson, Goldsmith, Méndez, and Maxwell propose how principals must monitor the curriculum process through the initial development of a curriculum platform, through the deliberation phase of curriculum design and development, and through the campus implementation stages of essential curriculum revision and reform.

The mid-section of the book (Chapters 3-5) is all about capacity-building, accountability, understanding students and faculty, and professional learning and development. Of particular interest is the section in Chapter 3 entitled Four Practical Strategies for Uncovering Learning Accomplishments. Far too often, principals fail to understand that effective teaching is all about effective learning. The best way to determine if effective learning, and thus teaching, is occurring: a principal must shadow the students (classroom observations), look at the student-oriented artifacts (journaling, interviewing, etc.), gather data, and examine student and teacher work to include but not limited to demonstrations, applications, and plans.

Chapter 6 could very easily be described as the heart and soul of the book where strategic thought and measured actions are showcased as a means of how to lead school improvement. The four case studies, previously examined in minor detail in this review, reveal to the reader how vision, purpose, creativity, informed decision-making and problem-solving, as well as systemic methods direct school improvement.

The final section of the book (Chapters 7 and 8) details the need for a culture of participation a teaching, learning, and leading atmosphere whereby team-building, trust-development, and courageous-leadership must be organizational norms for student and faculty growth and development.

Each chapter exemplifies how principals must lead. This must lead approach is the active ingredient in bringing about increased student achievement and organizational success.

The book is a worthy read that must be added to a principals desk set of valuable how-to texts. Andy Hargreaves, in the Afterword, surmises best:

Paul Shaw is a leader among leaders who writes from within the leaders own perspective without being hidebound by it (p. 209). He provides a moral and ethical spur to leaders efforts to remember that amid all the disturbance, there are children to serve, improvements to be made, and things to be done to the highest standard possible, in spite of the obstacles (p. 211). For too long, educational leaders have been at the receiving end of pious sermons and perorations from academics who have little experience of school leadership themselves, and sometimes no experience of working in schools at all. Paul Shaw shows that the answer to this is not a set of disconnected anecdotes or pithy homilies, nor even an effort to play academics at their own game by supporting every statement by endless references. . . . He makes practice into a powerful platform, not a defensive enclave. Paul Shaw gives dignity to leadership practice as a form of knowledge craft knowledge, as he calls it that has power and value in its own right (p. 212).

Andy is right! Pick up a copy of Taking Charge: Leading With Passion and Purpose in the Principalship. You wont be disappointed!


Sorenson, R. D., & Goldsmith, L. M. (2009). The principals guide to school managing personnel. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Sorenson, R. D., Goldsmith, L. M., Mendez, Z. Y., & Maxwell, K. T. (2011). The principals guide to curriculum leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 06, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16819, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 8:32:13 PM

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About the Author
  • Richard Sorenson
    The University of Texas at El Paso
    E-mail Author
    DR. RICHARD SORENSON is chairperson for the Educational Leadership and Foundations Department at The University of Texas at El Paso, as well as the Director of the Principal Preparation Program. He served public schools for 25 years as a teacher, principal, and associate superintendent. Dr. Sorenson is the lead author of three textbooks – The Principal’s Guide to School Budgeting (2013-2nd edition); The Principal’s Guide to Curriculum Leadership (2011); and The Principal’s Guide to Managing School Personnel (2009) – all Corwin publications. Currently, he is working on a book regarding “boundaries” – unethical, immoral, and illegal issues and practices that educators must avoid.
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