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Positive School Leadership: Building Capacity and Strengthening Relationships

reviewed by Jennifer K. Clayton - October 11, 2018

coverTitle: Positive School Leadership: Building Capacity and Strengthening Relationships
Author(s): Joseph F. Murphy & Karen Seashore Louis
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807759031, Pages: 216, Year: 2018
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Educational leaders, faculty in leadership preparation programs, and educational researchers will find useful and compelling the theory of positive school leadership presented in Positive School Leadership: Building Capacity and Strengthening Relationships by Joseph F. Murphy and Karen Seashore Louis. The compilation of chapters collectively provides a unique lens through which to view school leadership, offering an asset-based perspective on leaders and organizations. Murphy and Louis challenge us to reconsider the extant body of leadership theory, much of which presumes deficits in an organization that leadership approaches are meant to fix. Instead, Murphy and Louis put forth a model that considers the assets of both organizations and leaders with the premise that leadership is for the common good. Importantly, the theory not only considers practice, but prioritizes it. As such, those who read this book will find practical connections that allow its theories to be enacted.


The authors divide the book into three sections that address the origins of positive school leadership, how it can be and is enacted, and the effects of its use. There is no mystery as to how the authors engaged in the work of developing this perspective as they transparently and clearly report on the other theories they considered, critically address the individual and collective merits and deficiencies of these theories, and discuss how each theory contributed to positive school leadership. The authors then develop a model with an asset orientation that focuses on relationship-building, and also discuss how this approach can be adapted to the individual leader and his/her preparation and mindset, as well as the context of the organization where he/she will lead.


The first three chapters focus on what the authors name “the DNA of positive school leadership” (p. vii). In Chapter One, the authors systematically take time to explain each theory considered, the model of positive school leadership, and its potential impact on the organization. Chapter Two provides a description of the dimensions of positive school leadership, including positive orientation, moral orientation, relational orientation, and spiritual stewardship orientation. Importantly, each dimension is grounded in research that the authors cite thoroughly. It is not clear how the gestalt of all four dimensions together will hold up in varied contexts, or how leaders who might show propensity for some but not all of the four dimensions will mitigate their difficulties in certain areas. The collection, however, does provide a unique mechanism for examining leader mindsets pre-service, in service, and as leaders continue through their careers.

The next set of chapters focuses on how positive leadership is enacted through member exchange interactions, positive leadership through authenticity, supporting and modeling behaviors, and understanding how leaders assess the status of their organization in terms of positive emotions and the feelings of individuals. Chapter Four thoroughly discusses existing theories, including leader-member exchange theory, but importantly, the authors highlight the need for a leader to engage in empowering behaviors that harness the collective commitment of the school community to achieve at the highest levels academically and non-academically. Chapter Five furthers our understanding of enactment by considering specific behavioral approaches to enact positive school leadership. This chapter emerges as the most impactful in the book. The authors provide examples of specific behaviors for supporting and modeling individual growth within the school community. By knowing the culture of the organization and the needs and talents of individuals, the authors suggest leaders can use authenticity and modeling to enact positive school leadership. Lastly, in Chapter Six, the authors provide a mechanism for considering how individuals within the organization must be assessed and valued. They challenge leaders to consider how the individual growth mindset and the needs of individual students, teachers, and staff contribute to a sense of collective self-efficacy.


The final section of the book examines the effects of positive school leadership. Given our need to focus as a field on successful student outcomes, this is a necessary and important final aspect of the model presented. Chapters Seven and Eight focus on how leaders work within and among teams while concurrently assessing the culture and climate of their organizations. In doing so, the authors remind us that we must consider the appropriate use and monitoring of team functionality. Additionally, they offer the research base to demonstrate the impact of positive school leadership on organizational outcomes. While some of the inputs of positive school leadership seem as though they should be intuitive, this framework allows those developing and growing leaders to draw from research as opposed to anecdotes. The final chapter, Chapter Nine, allows us to consider the larger benefits of this model and provides a rationale for the need for such an approach.


This book would benefit from additional case studies from leaders to illustrate certain aspects of the model, though that may be more appropriate for a follow-up edition. Unquestionably, this book and model are well-grounded in research, and the authors have made a conscientious effort to share the foundations of their thought. As a professor in a leadership preparation program, I have already suggested this book to students, colleagues, and practicing administrators in both leadership and other fields.





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 11, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22529, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 8:04:14 AM

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About the Author
  • Jennifer Clayton
    The George Washington University
    E-mail Author
    JENNIFER K. CLAYTON is Associate Professor in Educational Leadership and director of the Educational Leadership and Administration program at The George Washington University. Prior to joining The George Washington University, she served as Visiting Assistant Professor at Old Dominion University. Dr. Clayton is a career educator and has taught at the middle and high school levels. She also served as a curriculum developer and evaluator, testing coordinator, and new teacher mentor. Dr. Clayton has held several roles in higher education including supervisor of student teachers, graduate teaching assistant, and adjunct instructor. She earned her PhD in Educational Leadership at Old Dominion University, Masterís of Education in Educational Administration at Rutgers University, and Bachelor of Arts at James Madison University. Her research interests include leadership development, including identification, preparation, induction, and mentoring. She is currently engaged with several school districts on design-based research projects that examine how equity mindsets and practices are enacted by school leaders and their teams.
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