Principal’s Bookshelf: September/October 2013

The 6 Keys to Teacher Engagement: Unlocking the Doors to Top Teacher Performance.
Cathie E. West.
Eye on Education, 2013, 113 pages.

With the role of the principal continually evolving, it is critical that school leaders possess the knowledge and skills to engage a school team through successes, as well as through challenges. In The 6 Keys to Teacher Engagement, author Cathie E. West provides insight into ways to develop a motivated faculty. She begins with the importance of creating a culture that engages all stakeholders in the learning process. She suggests culture-building strategies to cultivate teacher buy-in and increase performance, including sharing the vision, nurturing collaboration, banishing fears, and celebrating successes. The book includes exercises for staff development and authentic examples, as well as connections to relevant research.

The 6 Keys to Teacher Engagement reminds principals that leading with vision is “an ongoing, multi-faceted journey.” The book presents valuable guidance when it comes to leading transformation in schools and managing transitions, which proves to be especially relevant during this changing time in education. The “keys” to teacher engagement focus on simple, yet deliberate, actions principals can take to boost teacher performance. Each key is addressed in the book’s six chapters: creating a culture of engagement, getting organizationally engaged, engineering engagement, zeroing in on best practices, tapping into teacher leaders, and confronting change challengers. The organization of these chapters provides a useful framework that principals can use to successfully engage teachers. Within each key, West highlights a successful educational leader, including background information, accomplishments, and leadership challenges. These snippets provide real-world leadership examples that practicing principals can readily apply to their daily work.

Emphasizing the importance of principals as school leaders, the author implores readers to make conscious decisions to orchestrate engagement within their schools. Each chapter ends with a review of key concepts, best strategies, and steps to success, providing direction for principals. Whether navigating system-wide change or making improvements within an individual school, this book offers a reader-friendly approach to effective school leadership.

Reviewed by Jacie Maslyk, principal, Crafton Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Collaborative School Leadership: Practical Strategies for Principals.
Ron Nash and Kathleen Hwang.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013, 149 pages.

In Collaborative School Leadership: Practical Strategies for Principals, Ron Nash and Kathleen Hwang outline the basic practices that are foundational for success as a school principal. Throughout the book, the authors provide persuasive support for concepts such as engaging students, developing faculty, building credibility and trust, and creating a collaborative team synergy—all of which need to be on an administrator’s radar for positive achievement to take place.

The authors effectively highlight the roles of the principal: sometimes a leader, sometimes a member of the team, and even occasionally a follower.

“Principals, in our opinion, should not lead from the top or guide from the side in moving the school forward; rather, they should lead from within a vibrant, collaborative process that actively involves and engages those with a stake in the progress students should be making,” they write.

They establish, in detail, when these roles should be used to bring initiatives to fruition and to promote the principal’s role as educational leader. Each chapter examines different strategies for school improvement, and what principals should do—and avoid—as leaders. Effective and engaging classroom instruction, identifying and removing barriers, and harnessing the power of formative support are just a few of the topics covered.

What the book does not bring is a new or fresh perspective. For the neophyte administrator, the concepts outlined in the book are useful, and they can serve as excellent guides. For the veteran administrator, however, Collaborative School Leadership is just another addition to a plethora of leadership publications that reworks common themes and successful educational leadership practices. There is nothing new, unique, or exceptional about Nash and Hwang’s version of established, time-tested, and proven best-practices for school leaders.

Still, even with that caveat, Nash and Hwang consistently focus on the idea of “intentional leaders” who act in a timely, proactive manner, rather than a reactive one. The authors present a consistent thread of valuable information throughout this easy-to-read publication. The book is interspersed with personal experiences, useful appendices, and an undeniable logic toward successful school building leadership.

Reviewed by Don Sternberg, a retired principal in Wantagh, New York.


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