Reading & Resources

School Administrator, December 2018

Book Reviews
Build an A-Team: Play to Their Strengths and Lead Them Up the Learning Curve
by Whitney Johnson,
Harvard Business Review Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2018, 194 pp. with index, $28 hardcover

Do you want to be a superintendent that your employees and stakeholders love, while increasing student learning? Do you want to have a high-performing team moving toward greatness, even in the face of uncertainty?

Of course. 

In Building an A-Team, Whitney Johnson, a CEO coach and author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, provides her take on how to accomplish these feats. Essentially, the process is focused on playing to individuals’ distinctive strengths and leading them up their S-shaped learning curves.

Johnson maintains that, if roles are designed thoughtfully, staff members will move up the curve, from being an uncomfortable novice to experiencing the joy of mastery. But, here is the key: At just the right time, superintendents must supply a new and personalized trajectory-changing experience for top staff members to tackle, lest they become too confident and complacent or seek new challenges elsewhere.

While the examples are not from education, they are transferable. Counter to some traditional wisdom, Johnson suggests that the district benefits the most when its short-term needs are placed second in the superintendent’s planning to the long-term growth needs of its top employees. 

This kind of thinking rings true and results in a leadership team and a district that can thrive, no matter what the future holds.

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

Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters
by Kylene Beers
and Robert E. Probst, Scholastic, New York, N.Y., 2017, 176 pp., $34.99 softcover

Reading is fundamental. How often have we heard this adage and just accepted it as truth without really looking at the underlying concepts of how we read and teach reading? Authors Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst in the book Disrupting Thinking: Why How We Read Matters provide a strong background on the way we teach reading and how this is not meeting the needs of our students. 

Kylene Beers is a former middle school teacher and university professor who is currently senior reading advisor to secondary schools at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Robert E. Probst is professor emeritus of English education at Georgia State University. Both authors are nationally and internationally known consultants who speak and write about issues of literacy.

As a retired superintendent and current university professor, I found the book fascinating on several fronts. As educators, we are constantly searching for ways to help our students and staff be more successful. Reading is fundamental to our profession. How well we read, understand and apply information may be the determining factor in our success as educational leaders. This book will provide you with new insights to multiple areas.

In Disrupting Thinking, the authors show us how to help ourselves and others read more deeply, more responsibly and just read more. In today’s world of “fake news” and so many diverse opinions, it is essential that we are responsible readers. The quote from the authors that had a compelling impact on me was: “We need to recognize that reading ought to change us. Reading ought to lead to thinking that is disrupting, that shakes us up, that makes us wonder, that challenges us. Such thinking sets us on a path to change, if not the world, then at least ourselves.” 

If you are a practicing educator or just want to improve yourself, Disrupting Thinking will provide you with the research and experience to make a difference in your life. Reading is fundamental, yet there is nothing fundamental in the approach to reading and teaching reading effectively. 

Reviewed by Jim Hattabaugh, educational consultant, Fort Smith, Ark.

The Drive to Learn: What the East Asian Experience Tells Us About Raising Students Who Excel 
by Cornelius N. Grove,
Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2017, 182 pp., $25 softcover

Due to the consistent comparison of public education in America to the education of students in other nations, test results have been known to identify Chinese, Japanese and Korean educational practices to be superior. The Drive to Learn is a book written by Cornelius N. Grove, managing partner of Grovewell, that explores why the students in these countries demonstrate high dedication to educational attainment.

The book takes on a different perspective from most books that identify reasons for the decline in educational performance of students in America. Most research studies the practices of educators or teachers. The author of this book studies the personalities and perspectives of students to understand the learning outcomes and create theories to improve student achievement and performance.

Each chapter is based around a question to be answered based on observations of East Asian students and cultures of learning. For example, the chapter entitled “Exploring Motivations” attempts to answer the question, “What motivates students in East Asia to persevere in studying?” After dissecting each topic, the book includes a chapter on how to move forward with transitioning students to become more driven to learn.

As a superintendent, it is always necessary to research high performing districts and nations to emulate and utilize strategies that will increase student achievement.

This book provides high expectations and mindsets that are simple to implement. I would recommend this book to any educator or parent in need of effective strategies and practices to improve student attitudes towards the importance of education.

Reviewed by Xandra Brooks-Keys, Clarksdale, Miss.

The Mind of the Leader: How to Lead Yourself, Your People, and Your Organization for Extraordinary Results
by Rasmus Hougaard
and Jacqueline Carter, Harvard Business Review Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2018, 234 pp. with index, $30 hardcover

The Mind of the Leader is an extremely difficult book to read. Nevertheless, if one has time, free of distraction, it can provide useful information. The principal concepts presented are: mindfulness, selflessness and compassion. Leadership, the authors contend, is not a set of skills or strategies. Rather it is “internal drivers—such as meaningful engagement, connectedness, and feeling valued—that can engage employees on the deeper level needed for long-term commitment and productivity.”

The state of the leader’s mind, particularly the controlling values, determines effective leadership. As defined in the book: “Successful leaders in the future will be the ones who can facilitate ‘true happiness’ for the people.”

Mindfulness “is learning to manage your attention. When you learn how to manage your attention, you learn how to manage your thoughts.” The authors, Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, cite substantial research to show that mindfulness increases one’s ability “to think rationally and solve problems.” Mindfulness is acquired through “careful focus on our thoughts and control over the mind’s natural tendency to wander.”

Selflessness is the ability to control your ego and focus on unleashing “the natural flow of energy that people bring to work.” Selflessness combines strong self-confidence “with a humble intention to be of service” to the people whom one wishes to lead. Selflessness is acquired by concentrating on the well-being of people and the organization. Effective leaders are not driven by their own interests, but focus on enabling others to “perform and shine.” Paying less attention to oneself increases the ability to attend to the needs of others.

Compassion is the quality of “being of service to other people’s happiness and desire to alleviate their problems.” Compassion is not empathy. Empathy is experiencing the stress of others; compassion is the desire to alleviate the stress of others. To acquire compassion, it “requires courage and hard work.” It is based on an analysis of self and the concentration on the needs of others.

The Mind of the Leader is both a physiological examination of the brain, which exhibits the true qualities of leadership and the psychological effects it has on people. The authors support their position with extensive research (both pure and in practice) that leadership that centers on the mind produces extraordinary results. The world would be much better if we had more of that kind of leadership, especially as superintendents of schools.

Reviewed by M. Donald Thomas,
president, School Management Services, South Salt Lake City, Utah

Now We’re Talking!: 21 Days to High-Performance Instructional Leadership
by Justin Baeder,
Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, Ind., 2018, 187 pp., $29.95, softcover

Justin Baeder, author of Now We’re Talking!: 21 Days to High-Performance Instructional Leadership, is a former teacher and principal in Seattle Public Schools, national speaker and, presently, the director of The Principal Center. The book was developed as a result of an international online exercise called the 21-Day Instructional Leadership Challenge, in which The Principal Center prompted administrators to increase classroom visibility and efficiency with daily responsibilities to allow greater time devoted to instructional leadership, provide substantive feedback to teachers on a regular basis and increase individual teacher and school improvement efforts.  

The book’s title advertises a 21-day challenge so the book is divided into 21 chapters. Each chapter provides background information and concludes with action items related to workload management, increasing productivity or classroom visits. This regimen provides an actionable plan for the reader to develop a cycle of classroom visits and ultimately realize meaningful and productive conversations with teachers about instructional practice.

The author provides a succinct rationale for instructional leadership and underscores the importance of classroom visits to gain decisional information – information that instructional leaders use to assess curriculum, make budgetary decisions related to the best ways to support teachers and understand student needs. Of course, the collateral benefits of classroom visibility are many, including increased professional and collegial relationships with staff and opportunities for professional development for both teacher and observer.

A section of the book is devoted to time management skills, including the prioritization of work and minimizing interruptions. While these tips may be redundant for veteran administrators, they can serve as important reminders.

The author provides the reader with helpful information about having productive, collaborative and nonconfrontational conversations with teachers centered around a shared instructional framework. The author stresses the importance of evaluating practice as opposed to evaluating lessons. This is a reminder that he helpfully integrates throughout the book.

This book will help the reader grow a practice of visiting three classrooms a day for five to 10 minutes each, conversing with teachers to learn more about their instructional practices and then using accumulated knowledge to be a better instructional leader. The book is geared to building principals and building administrative teams, but could also serve as a collaborative book study for central office leadership and building principals to elevate instructional leadership practices throughout a district.   

Reviewed by Marilyn King, deputy superintendent of instruction, Bozeman Public Schools, Bozeman, Mont.

Positive School Leadership: Building Capacity and Strengthening Relationships
by Joseph F. Murphy
and Karen Seashore Louis, Teachers College Press, New York, N.Y., 2018, 205 pp. with index, $44.95 softcover

Positive School Leadership: Building Capacity and Strengthening Relationships is a collaborative effort by Joseph F. Murphy, chair of education and associate dean at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education, and Karen Seashore Louis, chair in the department of organizational policy, leadership and development at the University of Minnesota.

The authors defend an asset-based model of leadership, which focuses on building upon strengths, rather than the more common deficit model of remediating weaknesses. They cite over 500 references and, while most are recent, many date back a couple of decades or more.

The book identifies nine principles of positive school leadership: asset-based, value-centered, virtue-based, transcendent, relationally grounded, means-focused, growth-based, authentic and service-grounded. The highlight of the book is the support around the importance of building relationships, which the authors call “the heart of Positive School Leadership.”

The primary audience is principals, and the book appears to be aimed toward graduate students. As such, it succeeds, but many practicing administrators may prefer books that provide more specific “how-to” strategies. There is little to argue about in terms of content and the book does not dwell entirely in the theoretical, but when it gets to the practical, it lays out recommendations without much in the way of practical tools to support the work.

The third part of the book, titled “The Effects of Positive School Leadership,” comes closest. There is helpful information and advice on building teams, culture and an important closing caveat—that building a positive school culture has a “spillover effect” into the community at large.

Reviewed by David Moyer, superintendent, Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205, Elmhurst, Ill.

Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies
by Paul J. Zak,
AMACOM, New York, N.Y., 2017, 256 pp. with index, $24 hardcover

In his book, Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies, Paul J. Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, lays out the eight elements research shows are necessary to actively design and manage a high-trust culture.

Zak measured the brain activity of thousands of people at work, uncovering the connection between the release of the feel-good neurochemical oxytocin and the experience of being trusted. 

The research revealed eight elements that create a high-trust culture: ovation, expectation, yield, transfer, openness, caring, invest and natural. These elements involve celebrating members, creating difficult but achievable goals, letting employees control their work, letting employees decide their teams, being transparent, caring, investing in employees’ careers and personal growth, and seeing vulnerability and honesty as strengths.

The author also outlines his research from companies with high-trust cultures such as The Container Store, CarMax, Dell, Disney, Google, Spotify and Zappos, where he administered the Ofactor™ survey with company employees to gather further data around the trust factors that make the company a great employer in the eyes of the employee.

School leaders moving into a new position could benefit from reading this book in order to gain insights on how cutting-edge businesses are able to attract and retain quality employees.  

Reviewed by William A. Clark, executive director, Bollinger Enterprises, Inc., Warren, Pa.

Wildflowers: A School Superintendent’s Challenge to America
by Jonathan P. Raymond,
Stuart Foundation Press, San Francisco, Calif., 2018, 156 pp., $29.99 softcover

In Wildflowers, A School Superintendent’s Challenge to America, author Jonathan Raymond, former Sacramento City School District superintendent, makes the case for educating the “whole child.” 

He considers the whole child to be much more than what traditional educators have thought and would have us believe that everything the child lives in and comes into contact with becomes the whole child. He includes family, teachers, community, school board members, school advocates and even politicians in his concept of the whole child and directs the message in the book to them.

Raymond shows us that the account of superintendents sharing their experiences need not be boring and stale. He admits his failures, but he is enthusiastic about his successes. He presents failures and successes in a way that lessons can be learned by the reader.

The Sacramento Bee reported that the author was a “hard- charging leader.” He admits that he ruffled some feathers dealing with employees and unions who would not change and politicians who cut funding, but he witnessed a graduation rate that went from 68 percent to 85 percent. He related many successes with teachers, administrators, and student.

In these days of cutting budgets and programs in schools it is encouraging to see that Raymond makes the case for teaching music, the arts and hands-on activities. Again, his emphasis is on the whole child.

Every child is a wildflower. Each child is exceptional and unique. The educator needs to create optimal conditions for growth of the whole child.

Reviewed by Darroll Hargraves, a private management consultant in Wasilla, Alaska, and former executive director of the Alaska Association of School Administrators

Why I Wrote this Book ...

“Nine years ago, in the early days of Twitter, I heard about two very out-of-the-box thinkers who tweeted, blogged and often argued online with each other about educational theories. Those two educators came to work with me, then became my co-authors. … We wanted to write a narrative of our process, of how we came together and began to truly ‘deep map’ what our schools were like. That let us merge pragmatism with real ‘zero-based thinking.’”

Pam Moran (executive director, Virginia School Consortium for Learning, Charlottesville, Va., and AASA member since 2005), on writing (with two co-authors) Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-based Thinking Change Schools (Jossey-Bass, 2018)


Gender Perceptions
Both men and women acknowledge that barriers exist for aspiring superintendents, but women perceive the barriers to be greater and more intense, according to a 2018 dissertation by Maureen Cassidy for her Ed.D. at Northern Illinois University.

Cassidy surveyed 85 school leaders. She found women perceived up to 12 barriers to pursuing the superintendency compared to men, who averaged four obstacles.

Barriers include the existence of a “buddy system” in which men refer other men for jobs, doubt about women’s long-term career commitment, exclusion from informal socialization through the “Good Old Boy Network” and the belief women must be better qualified than men to obtain top-level administrative positions.

“Gender Differences in Perceived Barriers of Aspiring Superintendents” is accessible from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or


PreK-8 Principals

Among the top student-related concerns of preK through 8th-grade principals are social-emotional learning, mental health and student poverty, according to the ninth study in a series from the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Teacher Leadership
The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching has released a new, on-site training solution to help teacher leaders master instruction and data management, build partnerships and advocate for education.

Mental Health
A meta-analyses study in Prevention Science found preventative mental health interventions for young people aged 5 to 18 helped increase knowledge, but that did not always correlate strongly with actual behavior.

Parental Involvement
The most promising parental involvement variables in the academic achievement of children are reading at home, holding high expectations, communication, and encouragement and support for learning, according to an article in Educational Research Review.

Computer Use
Lower- and higher-performing students differ in how often they use computers for practicing and building academic skills in the classroom, according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Credit Recovery
A new report from the American Enterprise Institute evaluated credit recovery programs and found that, if not done well, these programs lower expectations for the most disadvantaged students.

Journal Reviewers
The AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice seeks reviewers for its editorial team. Qualifications include an earned doctorate with evidence of experience in research, publications and practice, specifically related to school and district leadership, ideally with a focus on the superintendency.

Those interested in serving as reviewers should forward a resume to editor Kenneth Mitchell at He is associate professor of educational leadership at Manhattan College in Purchase, N.Y.

Early Learning Cases
Three school districts with successful models of early learning environments are highlighted in a new series of case studies developed by AASA’s Early Learning Cohort, along with Head Start, National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Waterford Research Institute. The districts are Ann Arbor, Mich.; Wichita Falls, Texas; and Yakima, Wash.