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Educational Leadership: Building Bridges Among Ideas, Schools, and Nations

reviewed by Morgaen L. Donaldson - September 06, 2013

coverTitle: Educational Leadership: Building Bridges Among Ideas, Schools, and Nations
Author(s): Christa Boske (ed.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617359890, Pages: 408, Year: 2012
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In the foreword to Educational Leadership: Building Bridges Among Ideas, Schools, and Nations, Michael Dantley argues for the importance of “bridge-building” for schools. He writes, “Certainly schools are one of the places within the community where the educational rituals and practices are implemented, but a bridge building conceptualization celebrates the existence of other spaces external to the school as mutual resources for operationalizing the teaching/learning process” (p. xiii).  Throughout the remainder of Christa Boske’s edited volume, a range of authors examine the extent to which schools build bridges with various external entities, and explore how these connections might be deepened and expanded to yield greater benefits for children. Boske identifies the audience for the volume as university faculty and K-12 school leaders who, she argues, must work to understand “other worlds, personal histories, and journeys” (p. xxvi).  Moreover, Boske underscores the moral aspect of her volume’s mission, asserting that “Faculty and school leaders are morally responsible for inviting children and families who live on the margins to engage in meaningful bridge building” (p. xxvi).

Educational Leadership is organized into four sections. In Section 1, Christa Boske and Azadeh F. Osanloo consider the larger historical, cultural, and political contexts for bridge building. In her chapter, Boske presents a working definition of bridge leadership as “an epistemology in which all school community members (i.e., children, families, community members, teachers, and school leaders) understand communal work as being rooted in authentic, meaningful storied connections between people and the spaces in which they live” (p. 8). Onsanloo builds an argument for the use of social justice curricula and, more broadly, human rights education in schools. Based on participatory action research conducted with 3rd graders from the Las Cruces, New Mexico public schools, Onsaloo presents important perspectives on how these students learn social justice and human rights material best and how educational leaders can facilitate this learning.

In Section II, authors examine how building bridges can empower marginalized school communities. In one chapter, Javier Diez-Palomar, Marta Civil, and Silvia Molina Roldán examine how families in Tucson, Arizona, USA and Barcelona, Spain experience participation in school mathematics. This fascinating study highlights the similarities and differences in how parents in these two settings access and interact with their children’s schools. In a second piece, Carlos McCray, Cosette Grant, and Floyd Beacham examine the current and potential influence of the Black Church on African American students’ engagement and success in schools. This important chapter considers a critical issue: how bridge building between schools and the Church might benefit students, especially those who “have seemingly fallen through the cracks” (p. 69). The authors conclude their piece with practical, sensible recommendations for practice.  

The third chapter in this section, an examination of how bridges can be built to address gender issues, is also excellent.  Authors Jennifer Curry and Laura Choate present a thorough review of research on obstacles to girls’ academic, career, and personal development and then outline the ethical and legal imperatives for school leaders to intervene to disrupt this troubling erosion of girls’ opportunities. This chapter concludes by describing promising interventions that school leaders may undertake as well as broader, systemic interventions aimed at better supporting girls’ development.  In the fourth chapter in this section, Dana Christman explores how Native American doctoral students build bridges with communities. This important chapter presents a short history of Native Americans’ experiences with public education juxtaposed against key information about how Native Americans learn about and understand the world. Christman then investigates the role that bridge building played in Native American doctoral students’ progress towards completing their doctoral work. In the last chapter of this section, Teresa Wasonga draws heavily on her on experience to examine what she calls the “invisible bridges” among African immigrants in the United States.

Section III addresses how school leaders should be prepared for building bridges in their school communities.  Noelle Witherspoon Arnold uses the notion of bridge building to examine the “everyday process of thinking about engaging in social justice” (p. 162). Arnold presents research conducted by students in her master’s-level educational leadership class in which they took and analyzed photographs of school spaces.  Christa Boske then examines how a sample of aspiring school leaders conceived of social justice. Based on interviews with 48 individuals, Boske concludes that the participants viewed the “creation and recreation of bridges” as “positive, powerful, and empowering ways to develop authentic relationships” (p. 207). Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Cooper also address the role of social justice in principal preparation and introduce the notion of social capital, which, they assert, is rarely associated with social justice. Alvarado and Cooper offer three strategies for implementing authentic collaborative leadership in urban environments. These include articulating authentic goals, adopting an asset-based framing of communities, and building sites for democratic learning. Cooper and Moses Chikwe’s subsequent chapter asks how schools can build a culture of care. Cooper and Chikwe make the important but all-too-rare assertion that “Institutional caring must be a vital part of the school environment” (p. 237).  

In Section IV, authors present profiles of bridge builders. For example, in his chapter, Mariel Sallee examines what it means to be a Black man. In a second chapter, George Theoharis and Deborah Capri present a compelling story of how one rural district committed to building an inclusive environment.  Taken in total, the chapters in Section IV illustrate a number of different avenues and arenas in which educational leaders can engage in bridge building.

Overall, Educational Leadership offers a collection of thought-provoking research and personal narratives on the broad topic of social justice leadership and the narrower focus of bridge building. Chapters that balance theory, research, and practical recommendations, such as those by McCray, Grant, and Beacham on the role of the Black Church and Curry and Choate on gender, are especially powerful. And Section IV will likely prove useful to aspiring school leaders. The collection might have been stronger if it had engaged more directly with the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of bridge building. For example, Martin Buber’s work seems especially relevant to this concept, but authors did not discuss it. A deeper theoretical and philosophical base would have strengthened this book.  Despite this fact, Boske’s volume has much to offer educational leaders and those who prepare them and is likely to be widely read.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 06, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17239, Date Accessed: 10/22/2021 3:16:24 PM

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About the Author
  • Morgaen Donaldson
    University of Connecticut
    E-mail Author
    MORGAEN L. DONALDSON is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, a research affiliate at the university’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, and a research associate at the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at Harvard University. She teaches courses and conducts research focused on policies and practices related to teacher quality, educator evaluation, school and district human capital development, and teachers unions.
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