Repositioning Educational Leadership: Practitioners Leading from an Inquiry Stance
reviewed by Olajumoke "Beulah" Adigun - January 24, 2019
Title: Repositioning Educational Leadership: Practitioners Leading from an Inquiry Stance
Author(s): James H. Lytle, Susan L. Lytle, Michael C. Johanek, & Kathy J. Rho (Eds.)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807759228, Pages: 192, Year: 2018
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Repositioning Educational Leadership: Practitioners Leading from An Inquiry Stance is a timely addition to the leadership literature. It introduces a welcome disruption by constructively challenging the positionality of the leader. Through accounts of different leadership roles, the book builds a solid case for how inquiry fits into varied leadership functions.
A foremost strength of this book is its organization, which lends itself to easy readership and appropriation of content. Another strong feature is the range of the authors educational expertise, assortment of author ideologies and career trajectories, and diversity of author backgrounds with respect to race and gender. The book presents a strong model for inclusiveness in author collaboration, thereby making the content potentially more applicable to a wider audience. In terms of positionality, the book was written by people who are actually doing the work of leading in educational institutions. Altogether, the editors have provided a strong set of proverbial shoulders upon which current and aspiring practitioners can stand in order to break new ground in educational leadership.
The book is skillfully crafted to describe three pivotal positions of leadership from an inquiry stance: (a) Learning From and With Students, (b) Collaborating with Teachers and the School Community, and (c) Leading System-Level Inquiry.
In Learning From and With Students, readers are introduced into the leadership journeys of the head of school at a French international high school, the principal at a public elementary school, the coordinator of academic advising and educational support at a 200-year-old institution enrolling students from 36 countries and 38 states, and an independent educator, researcher, writer, and consultant who leads an award-winning alternative education program. In all these accounts, the authors shed light on the importance of sharing inquiry with students, inquiring into the nature and outcome of feedback, and recognizing the idiosyncrasies of diversity. Each narrative uniquely shows how a learning leader can use the posture of inquiry to drive inclusion and engagement in deep and contextually meaningful ways.
The second section, Collaborating with Teachers and the School Community, shows how leading is not a one-person show. It presents leading from an inquiry stance as a collaborative process that delivers value by design. In his chapter titled School as a Community of Inquiry, Noah Tennant discusses how his advisory team of teacher leaders became a sounding board for their colleagues and were instrumental in helping to plan whole-faculty discussions and workshops. He makes a sound argument for why leadership is not performance-based, but effectiveness-based. Effectiveness in listening, building trust, learning, seeking help, and understanding the uniqueness of identities. All the authors in this section show how leading from an inquiry stance through collaboration with teachers and the school community creates an atmosphere where learning is for everyone, thereby removing from leadership the pressure to perform.
The third section, Leading System-Level Inquiry, brings into perspective other non-academic aspects of educational leadership that are just as important for a high-functioning system. Narratives come from a deputy chief of finance and operations in a school district, an assistant superintendent serving in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, an executive director for secondary and collegiate programs, and an educational consultant with a background as an assistant superintendent. In his chapter titled Braking and Entering: A New Chief Financial Officers Transition into a K-12 Urban School District, David Trautenberg describes how he had to recalibrate his expectations and accept that things in the school system work differently than they had in his previous career on Wall Street. He talks about how his listening, caring, and inclusion of other members of the school were important in helping him to be successful in his role. In a tangible way, David portrays how a CFO, through inquiry, can serve as an effective co-creator and partner in school management.
Overall, leading in the education arena is such an arduous task due to the dynamic nature of each environment. Nevertheless, the constant press for accountability and results does not give room for excuses. Through each narrative in Repositioning Educational Leadership, openness and vulnerability on the part of leaders has proven to be a useful way of driving effectiveness and creating systemic involvement in the change process. The diversity of author backgrounds and leadership positions in the text helps readers know that they are not alone in their questioning while also giving them tools for using inquiry to navigate problems and seek solutions.
The primary audience of this book would appear to be practitioner-leaders, and the framing of the text is most fitting for this group. The questions asked in this book also set a valuable direction for future research and bring to the attention of policymakers some consequential aspects of school leadership. In closing, I enthusiastically recommend the book for school administrators, researchers, policymakers, and anyone in a leadership position.