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The Power of Protocols: An Educator's Guide to Better Practice, Third Edition

reviewed by Kelly Kolodny - January 12, 2015

coverTitle: The Power of Protocols: An Educator's Guide to Better Practice, Third Edition
Author(s): Joseph P. McDonald, Nancy Mohr, Alan Dichter, & Elizabeth C. McDonald
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807754595, Pages: 144, Year: 2013
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The Power of Protocols: An Educator’s Guide to Better Practice was updated and released as a third edition in 2013. The book focuses on the use of protocols—regulations or agreements that are formally utilized to help facilitate operations—in educational settings. By and large a practical book, The Power of Protocols weaves in examples of when and how specific protocols are used. Whereas other studies have explored change leaders, learning from practice, and professional development (Lawrence, Santiago, Zamora, Bertani, and Bocchino, 2008; Portis and Garcia, 2007), the significance of The Power of Protocols is clearly found in the careful details on protocols.

The first chapter explores basic practices. In this chapter, the authors examine three influential protocols that have been deemed worthwhile by considerable numbers of individuals with whom the authors have worked. These protocols focus on giving and receiving honest feedback, analyzing complex problems, and grounding interpretations of complex texts. The authors acknowledge that these protocols may seem artificial to novice protocol users, but urge readers to try them nonetheless. The authors believe that these protocols help individuals imagine alternatives to ordinary habits of working together.

In Chapter Two, “Facilitating,” the authors suggest that “at its heart, facilitating is about promoting participation, ensuring equity, and building trust” (p. 11). They believe that through participation, we learn from others; we build openness to others’ perspectives, hear all voices, and foster empathetic listening. To ensure equity, the facilitator “must make room not only for difference of viewpoint, but also difference in life experience, derived, for example, from race, ethnicity, class background, sexual orientation, ability/disability, age and so on” (p. 13). Building trust, another key practice that is discussed in this chapter, is based on the idea that facilitators will help foster honesty, insight, and trust to do the work at hand. In this chapter, the authors also include information about how a facilitator opens, intervenes, and closes a protocol. Specific types of protocols are examined, including postcards, all-purpose go around, clearing, pair-share, and reflection on a word.

In the third chapter, the authors explore problems of practice. They acknowledge that professional educators must solve problems of practice continually. They acknowledge that “one day’s wise move may be another day’s foolish one, and that either day’s move may come to seem either wise or foolish given a certain shift of context” (p. 27). Here the authors describe eight protocols that they believe may “help educators sustain courage in the face of predictably chronic problems” (p. 27).

The fourth chapter of the book focuses on working toward change. The protocols described in this chapter “work toward change in the context of real practice and real constraints on practice” (p. 48). One protocol that is described in detail is the Standards in Practice (SIP). The purpose of the SIP protocol is to increase the rigor of teacher assignments by aligning them with standards aimed at increasing student learning. Another protocol that is described is the Minnesota Slice, which is used to study student work. The term slice suggests that the “student work to be studied is a broad but ... limited swath of work” (p. 54).

The fifth chapter of the book, “Working with Texts,” broadly defines texts to include statistical tables, verbal narratives, photographs, video, and audio, among others. The authors suggest that making sense of texts is central to the professional work of educators. They explore key issues, including how to extract what is needed from texts, how to read collaboratively to harness multiple perspectives, and how to apply our best reading skills to data texts, nonverbal texts, and multimedia texts.

In the final chapter of the book, the authors describe protocols that are used to draw attention to and address inequities in education. They suggest that well-facilitated protocols foster frank talk, thoughtful listening, and difficult learning (p. 97). They also acknowledge that a sense of creativity and boldness is often needed when utilizing protocols aimed at addressing inequities. Protocols described in this chapter include diversity rounds, the constructivist listening dyad, and the cosmopolitan protocol.

The Power of Protocols is a hands-on, useful book. Throughout the book, protocols are described in acute detail. Logistical information is included, such as how many people are needed for particular types of protocols, as well as specific facilitation tips. Step-by-step protocol directions are included in many cases. The authors advocate for transparency when using protocols—“premised on the idea that educators gain cognitive and ethical leverage when they make the effort to reveal their intentions” (p. 7). The authors also support self-education when using protocols. This is a helpful text for PreK-12 educators and higher education faculty who wish to formalize some of the practices surrounding their professional meetings and work. The protocols described throughout the book can lead to positive and productive change in educational settings, as well as increased professional relationships. I believe this is one of the key aspirations of the authors of The Power of Protocols.


Lawrence, M., Santiago, H., Zamora, K., Bertani, A., Bocchino, R. (2008). Practice as performance: Honing your Craft. Principal Leadership, 9(4), 32–38.

Portis, C., Garcia, M. (2007). The superintendent as change leader. School administrator, 64(3), 1–8.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 12, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17817, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 6:31:50 AM

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About the Author
  • Kelly Kolodny
    Framingham State University
    E-mail Author
    KELLY KOLODNY, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Education at Framingham State University. Her book, Normalites: The First Professionally Prepared Teachers in the United States, was published in 2014 by Information Age Publishing. She teaches Foundations of Education and works with Early Childhood and Elementary Education student teachers.
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