Leverage Leadership: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: October 9th, 2012 by bobmorris

Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools
Paul Bambrick-Santoyo
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2012)

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
 Derek Bok

This book is best viewed as an operations manual with a toolkit for those directly involved in public school education in the U.S. at a time when, on average, administrators spend about 10% of their time on “day-to-day instruction”; as for classroom teachers, their average is less than 40%.  Various research studies suggest that exceptional schools are produced by great leaders who do everything humanly possible to facilitate and support great teaching. There are countless examples of schools with almost unlimited resources that are ineffective or, at best, mediocre, and countless other examples of schools with relatively few resources (and located within impoverished socio-eco0nomic conditions) that are effective, and in several instances where learning is outstanding.

With contributions from Brett Peiser, Paul Bambrick-Santoyo poses and then responds to a series of questions such as these:

o   “What concrete actions does an excellent school leader take at each moment to make his or her school exceptional?”
o   “What are the actions that lead not just to somewhat effective learning, but to phenomenal results?”
o   “What do these leaders prioritize on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis?”
o   “What has anyone done in a replicable way, moving away from the ‘Superman’ model of outstanding schools?”

In his previous book, Driven by Data, Bambrick-Santoyo focused on one critical lever of leadership: data-driven instruction. In this book, he focuses on seven: four “Instruction Levers” that include data-driven instruction (“Define the roadmap for rigor and adapt teaching to meet student needs”), observation and feedback (“Give all teachers professional, one-on-one coaching that increases their effectiveness as instructors”), instructional planning (“Guarantee every student well-structured lessons that teach the right content”), and professional development (“Strengthen both culture and instruction with hands-on training that sticks”). There are three “Cultural Levers”: student culture (“Create a strong culture where learning thrives”), staff culture (“Build and support the right team for your school”), and managing school leadership teams (“Train instructional leaders to expand your impact across the school”). I have no quarrel or quibble with these seven levers for executing quality instruction and culture. On the contrary, I think they are eminently sensible, indeed admirable.

However, with all due respect to the value of information, insights, and recommendations that Bambrick-Santoyo provides in this volume, the transformation that is needed in public school education must include (a) the process by which school administrators are formally and informally prepared for the duties yet to be assumed and (c) a separate but related process by which teachers are formally and informally prepared before they become classroom teachers. It is a sobering thought to realize that more than 90% of those now in the classroom will be there in 20 years so Bambrick-Santoyo’s great emphasis on in-service training is obviously appropriate.

I appreciate the provision of a DVD whose substantial content supplements material within the four-part narrative. There are “heads-ups” strategically placed that suggest which video clips to watch. I also appreciate the material in Part IV: five “Professional Development Workshops” on observation and feedback, leading planning, leading professional development, student culture, and finding the time.

As for further reading suggestions, here are five: the aforementioned Driven by Data as well as Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed, Daniel Siegel’s Mindsight and The Whole-Brain Child, Doug Lemov’s Practice Perfect, and Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators.

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