Reading & Resources

School Administrator, August 2018

Book Reviews
Building Great School Board-Superintendent Teams: A Systematic Approach to Balancing Roles and Responsibilities
by Bradley V. Balch
and Michael T. Adamson, Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, Ind., 2017, 164 pp. with index, $29.95 softcover

Conditions influencing school district governance and leadership have become increasingly complex. Some high ranking public and private leaders seem intent on undermining the shared commitment to a free and effective public education. In such a time as this, Bradley Balch, a professor and dean emeritus at Indiana State University’s Bayh School of Education, and Michael Adamson, director of board services for the Indiana School Board Association, provide an interactive professional development guide for school board members and their superintendents in Building Great School Board-Superintendent Teams.

Balch and Adamson bring wisdom to the complex, vital importance of the board-superintendent partnership. They note that, when collaborative governance and leadership teams work together, they “greatly improve their odds of successfully working in the complex environment of board governance and district-level leader.”  This well-designed book provides both a rationale for building effective teams and web-augmented tools to engage boards and superintendents in practical professional growth for successful governance relationships. Each chapter includes excellent lesson plans for workshop discussions among these essential governance participants.

With a focus on the whole system, Balch and Adamson outline the historical context for local control, examine how to orient new members to the team, clarify roles and responsibilities, and identify effective communication processes. Additionally, they explore a framework and tools to help boards and districts amplify their work with clarity about core values and beliefs.

While advocating a strong commitment to open communication and transparency, Balch and Adamson understate the risks associated by out-of-meeting communication among board members and the superintendent. They suggest that in “conversations prior to meetings, to which the public is not privy, all board members generally have the liberty to casually ask questions and receive answers individually.” They do note that these are individual conversations and “most states have statutory language that, with few exceptions, does not allow school boards to meet privately.” Still, communication about policy actions creates a record that can and properly does enter the public square, especially in controversial decisions. 

Despite this need for caution about communication approaches, Building Great School Board-Superintendent Teams provides an easy-to-access, useful set of guidance and workshop structures to address the important skills for board members and superintendents.

Reviewed by Brian L. Benzel, former superintendent and current adjunct professor at Whitworth University, Spokane, Wash.

Differentiation in the Elementary Grades:  Strategies to Engage and Equip All Learners 
by Kristina J. Doubet
and Jessica A. Hockett, ASCD, Alexandria, Va., 2017, 348 pp. with index, $39.95 softcover

Differentiation in the Elementary Grades is not a primer or how-to book on the basics of classroom differentiation. Instead, the authors’ focus is on upgrading and refining the practices teachers use to address student differences within the same classroom.  

Kristina J. Doubet is a professor at James Madison University and a consultant who has worked with Jessica A. Hockett, also an educational consultant, on several books on improving the teaching-learning process. The authors have experience in coaching, and curriculum development and implementation.  This book presents a thoughtful approach to designing a differentiated classroom and related experiences for all types of learners. 

Elementary school classrooms are highly complex systems due to the differences in student development, school readiness, background knowledge, socio-economic status and other life experiences unique to each child. Some teachers thrive in this environment and easily meet individual student needs; however, others struggle because they believe that all students must be at the same place at the same time. 

The book is divided into eight chapters and each chapter is divided into two parts. The first section is on the philosophical and/or classroom management portion and the second half is referred to as the “tools and strategies,” and deals with implementation. Each chapter or topic can be read independently or as part of the whole, depending upon the needs and interest of the reader. In Chapter 6, “Differentiating According to Student Readiness,” the authors discuss developing tiered tasks based on assessment results. The process is deeply rooted in developing instructional practices based on individual student need and understanding the outcome desired for each student. The examples given throughout the book use actual standards and clearly demonstrate how to design a unit plan for varied levels of students. 

Differentiation in the Elementary Grades takes a comprehensive look at the typical practices used for differentiating instruction and seeks to raise the bar for the reader. This book would be a good starting point for a PLC on differentiation. Doubet and Hockett do not force strategies upon their readers; their tone is that of an encouraging personal development coach. Most educators have read the seminal texts by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Differentiation in the Elementary Grades would provide a next step in the learning cycle on this topic. The examples are numerous, thoughtful and easy to duplicate.  

Reviewed by Edythe B. Austermuhl, superintendent, Berlin Township School District, West Berlin, N.J.

Global Concepts for Young People: Stories, Lessons, and Activities to Teach Children About Our World
by Becky Hunt,
Routledge, New York, N.Y., 2017, 190 pp., $30 softcover

Our children live in a global world. Sometimes that world is filled with beauty and peace. Sometimes it is scary and confusing. Our children need to learn how to see what is beautiful, understand what is not and learn how they can make the world a better place for everyone. 

Global Concepts for Young People:  Stories, Lessons and Activities to Teach Children About Our World focuses on the importance of global education and provides resources to begin teaching it in elementary classrooms. The activities provide for student voice and choice, and could easily be integrated into the K-5 school day through social studies, English language arts or social-emotional learning. 

Author Becky Hunt is an international educator, consultant and children’s author who uses her experiences in Abu Dhabi and Malaysia to provide adults and children with experiences of many cultures.

The first and last chapters of this book are beneficial for superintendents who are interested in integrating global concepts into their vision for student success. The other five chapters and the appendices are filled with lessons, activities, readings and resources to guide the teaching of the five global concepts to children in grades K-2 and 3-5. There is a chapter addressing each of the Five Global Concepts: change, to make or become different over time; interdependence, that all things are connected; culture, the way of life of a group of people, which is learned; scarcity, balancing human needs and wants with the earth’s resources; power, the ability to control something or someone else.

If your school or district is looking to help children understand the world around them, this resource is a great way to get started.  

Reviewed by Nancy Wagner, superintendent, River Trails School District 26, Mt. Prospect, Ill.

How to Create the Conditions for Learning: Continuous Improvement in Classrooms, Schools, and Districts
by Ann Jaquith,
Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2017, 218 pp. with index, $31 softcover

In How to Create the Conditions for Learning, Ann Jaquith, the associate director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, presents a framework for understanding and building instructional capacity based on her original research in schools and districts, as well as insights drawn from adult learning literature.

Jaquith discusses the contextual conditions that permit four types of resources — knowledge, technology, relationships and structures — to be used effectively to increase adult and student learning.
The first few chapters outline her theory of an instructional capacity building framework and are appropriate for courses in instructional design or social learning. In the remainder of the book, Jaquith describes how superintendents can orchestrate lasting learning by teachers, principals and district staff.  Well-constructed case studies reinforce the key roles of principals’ supervisors (a neglected group until recently) and central office staff in facilitating or derailing the process.

The big take-aways from her work are familiar: develop specific learning goals for both adults and students, and identify ways to measure progress by each group; focus on the most important problems of practice; facilitate and require interdependent work, or it will not happen; and make sure there is a clear understanding of the purpose for every instructional change (what others have called focusing on the “why” before the “how” and the “what”).  

Her most important insight is another nail in the coffin of shiny, quick fixes with no lasting impact. Leaders must ensure that there is deep organizational learning by all actors, such as through “boundary spanners,” who make cross-level and cross-role connections. Otherwise, sustained improvement of practice and increased student learning will not occur.

Reviewed by Ronald S. Thomas, interim department chair, Instructional Leadership and Professional Development Department, Towson University, Baltimore, Md.

Leading Against the Grain: Lessons for Creating Just and Equitable Schools
edited by Jeffrey S. Brooks
and Anthony H. Normore, Teachers College Press, New York, N.Y., 2017, 164 pp. with index, $38.95 softcover

For decades, educators have grappled with the challenge of the achievement gap. However, solving this challenge becomes even more critical as the demographics of our nation change substantially and the need for equity increases. I read Leading Against the Grain: Lessons for Creating Just and Equitable Schools hoping to find strategies to assist our school system. Instead, I found a book that spurred reflective thinking about the power of leadership in achieving equity.

Jeffrey Brooks and Anthony Normore, distinguished professors in Australia and the United States, have collected a series of essays profiling outstanding leaders from across the globe who have fought for social justice and equity. Each profile includes a brief description of the leader’s experiences along with an analysis of what these experiences can teach contemporary school leaders. By including leaders from around the world, ideas crossing national and cultural boundaries are shared and the commonalities are striking.

Some well-known leaders, like Jimmy Carter and Golda Meir, are profiled, but always through the lens of equity. Most of the essays are about “ordinary” people whose passion, leadership and tenacity led to significant changes in the quest for equity in communities across the globe.

This is not a typical leadership book. As the editors note, this book is designed to “pique curiosity.” It succeeds. Not only did I learn about inspiring leaders, the essays drew connections to my work that sparked personal reflection and a renewed commitment. 

Reviewed by Theresa Alban, superintendent, Frederick County Public Schools, Frederick, Md.

Leading Personalized and Digital Learning: A Framework for Implementing School Change
by Mary Ann Wolf, Elizabeth Bobst
and Nancy Mangum, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2017, 175 pp., $30 softcover

In Leading Personalized and Digital Learning, authors Mary Ann Wolf, Elizabeth Bobst and Nancy Mangum identify eight Leadership Essentials to guide readers as they implement a personalized learning initiative. They readily acknowledge there is no “one-size fits all” framework and provide examples of what digital and personalized learning looks like.

The authors identify components school leaders should be aware of as they purposefully move from a teacher-centered to a student-centered learning environment. A focus on creating a united vision for teaching and learning is paramount, as is flattening leadership from a top-down management style to a distributed leadership model. 

Wolf, Bobst and Mangum address the need to build a culture of trust with examples from specific schools. They state that initiatives that truly change teaching and learning involve a culture of trust. Any initiative that pushes teachers to attempt new strategies should include staff in addressing the culture together. Evaluation and feedback are opportunities to redirect staff to the vision and mission of personalized learning and reinforce steps taken to create a personalized learning environment. Opportunities for meaningful feedback should be provided prior to formal observations.

In addition to personalizing instruction for the students, the authors discuss the value of personalizing professional development options for staff. Research supports job-embedded, ongoing and relevant professional development to the individual’s context. Divisions must make time for purposeful professional development and should ensure coaching and mentoring are available and supported. Staff should take advantage of peer to peer opportunities to include collegial observations, learning walks and site visits. 

Each chapter ends with ideas on how to implement the essential component identified in that chapter. The “Try It Now” sections summarize each chapter by providing options to apply the information shared. These options are not exhaustive, but provide examples of how to model each essential component within their division. 

Leading Personalized and Digital Learning provides examples of each of the eight Leadership Essentials to create a sustainable and adaptable move to personalized learning. 

Reviewed by Lisa Floyd,
deputy director of education, Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, Richmond, Va.

Understanding Key Education Issues: How We Got Here and Where We Go From Here
by Matthew Lynch,
Routledge, New York, N.Y., 2017, 141 pp., $34.95 softcover

Understanding Key Education Issues is a small book that deals with some very large issues in public education. The author has chosen a concise format to stimulate critical consideration of concepts at the heart of the delivery of learning to students.

Matthew Lynch is an advocate for change and brings focus to each of the major issues in this book by providing a brief historical account of development, discussing what he considers to be the shortfalls of the issue and then giving some potential solutions for consideration. 

Lynch begins with a condensed version of the history of the American education system. Here, he touches on how six key issues became a part of what is now accepted as the common fabric of public education. 

It is the author’s contention that year-round schooling would be a real asset to accommodating students for achievement in the modern world. He makes a plea for revision of assessment strategies utilizing technology and individual measurement of student differences. Recognizing the need to improve the achievement of black boys, Lynch recommends early intervention, teacher awareness of culture and the provision of significant role models through better recruitment.

In other chapters, Lynch discusses how he feels that public education has been diluted by anti-intellectualism in many forms and elaborates his concerns about social promotion and retention. He suggests some good supports for students not able to keep pace in the regular classroom. 

Understanding Key Education Issues concludes with a challenge to rethink school design and consider the potential of multiage classrooms as one way of improving the learning climate for many students.

Reviewed by Frank Kelly,
executive director, Council of Ontario Directors of Education, Oakville, Ontario, Canada

Why I Wrote this Book ...

“I wrote Leadership, According to Solomon out of a desire to share my knowledge and experience with leaders coming behind me. The lack of educational leadership books written by practitioners makes it difficult to find books about successful principals and superintendents. It saddens me to learn of school leaders who fail because of foolish mistakes. … My latest book unites my two passions — education and Bible literacy. It is not a traditional textbook.”

Jan Irons Harris, superintendent, Dade County Schools, Trenton, Ga., and AASA member since 2005, on writing Leadership, According to Solomon: A Story of One School Leader’s Quest for Wisdom (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)


Grit Attributes
Five grit attributes of superintendents in seven urban school districts were studied by Andrea Elena Arias at Pepperdine University in a doctoral dissertation.

Arias focused on courage, conscientiousness, endurance toward long-term goals, optimism and resilience, and excellence over perfection. She uncovered 15 practices of demonstrating grit.

Copies of “Grit Attributes Demonstrated by School Superintendents in California Urban School Settings” are accessible from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or


Teacher Spending

Almost all teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies without reimbursement, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Using data from the 2015-16 National Teacher and Principal Survey, the study shows that teachers spent an average of $479.

Parent Involvement
Using data from the 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey, the National Center for Education Statistics issued a report about services supporting parent involvement.

Fifty-one percent of public and private schools had a staff member assigned to work on parent involvement and 40 percent offered services for parents to support their involvement.

SEL Resource
The RAND Corporation has released a report on how the Every Student Succeeds Act supports social-emotional learning programs and identifies 60 programs meeting ESSA evidence standards for grades K-12.

Educator Effectiveness
Two new studies from the National Center for Education Evaluation compared the effects of providing educators with feedback on their performance for two years versus providing them with bonuses for four years based on their performance.

Digital Learning
A report by the National Center for Education Statistics found 94 percent of children ages 3 to 18 had a computer or smartphone at home and 61 percent had internet access at home.

The average National Assessment of Educational Progress reading scale score was higher for 8th graders who used a computer at home than for those who didn’t.

Crime and Safety
Detailed information on crime-related topics from the perspectives of schools and school practices related to prevention and reduction are provided by the National Center for Education Statistics.

NCES has also released the 20th in a series of annual publications on crime and safety at schools and on college campuses, including victimization, disciplinary actions and criminal incidents.

Screen Time
Can digital media bring families together? A research brief from Child Trends examines guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics to generate five ways screen time can benefit children and families.

AASA Publications Feted
AASA publications took two national honors in the 38th annual EXCEL Awards managed by the Association for Media & Publications.

School Administrator magazine was named one of three finalists in the feature article category for publications with circulation between 10,001 and 20,000 for the August 2017 article “Channeling Grief into Kindness” by Mark L. Adler, superintendent of the Ralston Public Schools in Ralston, Neb., about the suicide of his teenage son after repeated acts of cyberbullying by a classmate.

AASA’s Conference Daily Online was named one of the top three in the Online Convention Daily/digital category for its four-day multimedia newsletter at the 2018 National Conference on Education in Nashville in February.