Reading & Resources

School Administrator, March 2020

Book Reviews
Culturally Responsive School Leadership
by Muhammad Khalifa,
Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2018, 217 pp. with index, $32 softcover

In Culturally Responsive School Leadership, author Muhammad Khalifa reminds us of the significant ethical responsibility school leaders have to eradicate deficit-based narratives and strategically focus on serving minoritized students.

Khalifa asserts that by placing emphasis on minoritization, school leaders can focus on the structural and historical processes that marginalize and oppress group members. He provides examples of how an effective principal who is intentional and strategic, redefines the context of leadership, including breaking away from a “schoolcentric” mode (situated in colonial schooling) and toward a more humanizing, community-based approach.   

Throughout the book, Khalifa embeds multiple strategies and practices that highlight the core work of culturally responsive leaders including: critical self-reflection; the development of culturally responsive teachers; the promotion of anti-oppressive school environments; and engagement with students’ indigenous contexts. 

Content rich and packed with extensive illustrations, informative charts, activities, checklists and numerous questions for self-reflection and discussion, the book is an excellent resource for personal and collective leadership development. In addition to serving as a catalyst for powerful personal learning and reflection, the book also provides an invaluable framework for the ongoing, essential work of embedding culturally responsive leadership practices in our schools.

Reviewed by Mary B. Herrmann, clinical associate professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.
by Brené Brown,
Penguin Random House LLC, New York, N.Y., 2018, 298 pp. with index, $28 hardcover

In Dare to Lead, author Brené Brown provides a refreshing candor and authentic examples of leadership in today’s critical world. Current leaders will read the book with eye-popping clarity and appreciate the “keepin’ it real” and sometimes humorous examples, and find themselves nodding their heads in agreement. Future leaders will read the book with eye-popping disbelief at the description of what may actually take place over the course of a leader’s tenure in any organization. As a licensed master social worker, author and University of Houston research professor, Brown assists leaders in learning how to manage themselves so they may engage in the work of leadership.  

Throughout the book, Brown refers to her earlier publications and often provides a brief explanation of the concept or practice to which she refers. However, it is not necessary to have read her earlier books in order to understand the point she is attempting to illustrate. 

Brown provides authentic examples and perspectives encompassing various leadership roles.  CEOs, organization presidents, school leaders and district leaders alike will connect and quickly visualize the scene when placed in similar situations.  

Self-reflection and growth mindset are hugely exemplified and the book proves helpful in navigating one’s reflection about how an individual’s thinking can impact personal and professional relationships and self concept. Vulnerability and trust are values shared by every human being and openness to sharing them is essential to connecting with those in our charge. The ability to take the risk will ultimately lead to a greater sense of self, a greater understanding of the work with which we engage and the ability to connect, on a deeper level, to those with whom we spend our work days.  

Reviewed by Lisa M. Antunes, assistant superintendent, Hillsborough Township School District, Hillsborough, N.J.

Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios
by David Niguidula,
ASCD, Alexandria, Va., 2019, 200 pp., with index, $29.95 softcover

In the world’s current global economy, educators at all levels are asked to include “future ready skills” into their daily teaching routine. Teachers are expected to provide students with career readiness and technology skills, in addition to personalizing goals to demonstrate student growth and mastery of state-required academic standards.   

Educators seek ways to make the learning experience one that is relevant and enjoyable for each student to demonstrate academic growth based on personal discovery and interest. In Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, David Niguidula, founder of Ideas Consulting and advocate for educational technology, outlines a framework for using digital badges and portfolios to incorporate personalized learning to demonstrate academic competencies.   

In his book, Niguidula walks the reader through a process to transform current practices and projects onto a technological platform. The author focuses on the creation of student portfolios based upon best teaching practices. The book begins with “Setting the Vision” to have the reader clarify the goals of the portfolio, which leads into defining the badges and specifying the requirements of the portfolio. Niguidula encourages teachers to use established task/assignments to create portfolio-worthy items. The portfolio is designed to showcase personal and academic student growth. The use of rubrics and effective feedback is emphasized in chapter 4 so that the work and process support the “whole child.”   

Chapter 5 is titled “Tours,” and Niguidula outlines the long-range goal of portfolio creation — keeping students on track, growing as learners and preparing for presentations, or tours, for others demonstrating their growth.  

The book concludes by emphasizing that portfolios should be structured as a way to enrich personalized learning and incorporate the standards into academic tasks in a unique way. Furthermore, digital badges and portfolios communicate student growth and serve as a reflection and presentation tool.   

Niguidula encourages incorporating technology into the educational process, but not at the expense of learning. There are a variety of suggestions within the book on ways to incorporate digital badges and portfolios into a school’s learning practices. Niguidula is sensitive to the unique dynamic of schools and encourages gradual incorporation of portfolios and digital badges in a way that meets the organization’s needs and comfort level. This book is helpful to educational leaders who want to expand purposeful and real-world use of technology. 

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

Instructional Leadership: Knowledge and Skills for K-12 Success
edited by Frank S. Del Favero,
Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2019, 94 pp., $25 softcover

The primary burden on school leaders in public education today is student achievement. With schools being compared most notably on the basis of student test scores, the need for deep understanding of instruction and assessment has become paramount.

Contained within Instructional Leadership are separate chapters, brought together by editor Frank S. Del Favero, that probe the various aspects of achievement, including assessment and data, curriculum and instruction, and school culture itself. Of these chapters, the most noteworthy are the ones written by Del Favero himself, which focus on school data and assessment. The second chapter provides the best explanation of root cause analysis I have ever read. The editor also delves into the concept of perception data, invaluable for school administrators to take into account as they seek to change a school's culture or address the current perception of a school or district, from the outside, or within.

In general, Instructional Leadership serves well as a primer for emerging school leaders. But well-versed and experienced school administrators will find value in its pages as well as they seek to move their organizations forward.  

Reviewed by Marc Space, retired superintendent, Grants, N.M.


Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives
by Jennifer Abrams,
Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, Ind., 2019, 83 pp. with index, $29.95 softcover

If you ever wanted a roadmap for changing our 19th-century educational format to one that meets the needs of our 21st-century students, then Jennifer Abrams has a deal for you!

In her book, Swimming in the Deep End: Four Foundational Skills for Leading Successful School Initiatives, Abrams lays the groundwork and questions to ask for diving into the deep end of our profession. She is an international educational and communications consultant for public and independent schools, hospitals, universities and nonprofits. Her extensive experience in professional development in effective instruction, equity, leadership and peer coaching has formed her views of the many challenges we face as educators. 

Her creativeness and deep thinking about the educational process is based on four foundational deep-end skills that we all should endeavor to hone. These four cornerstones are: thinking before you speak; preempting resistance; responding to resistance; and managing ourselves through change and resistance.

These four concepts are broken down into cognitive resources for developing our problem-solving expertise with a step-by-step process of how to identify articulate principals, develop solutions process, emotional conditions, and have foresight for future consequences. Social resources deal with emotions of self and others, the ability to manage these emotions and to act appropriately. Psychological resources include topics of optimism, self-efficacy, resilience and proactivity. 

The first tenet of leadership is to understand self. This is a lifelong experience for many of us and we tend to get off message from time to time due to many of the things discussed in this book. The addition of appendices for websites that inspire and support resilience and other background will certainly help in discerning your success. 

If you are looking for a guide for this journey, then you will want to buy this book, read and reread it with many highlights and underlines.  

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

Why I Wrote this Book ...

“Every institution in America is facing a reset. Our schools no longer can educate today’s students for tomorrow’s opportunities with yesterday’s practices. Educators are being implored to reimagine learning in a world where knowledge and information is available, anytime, anywhere, and at any speed. Our graduates need more than glowing test scores and impressive GPAs. … The four touchstones aim to tilt conversations away from adult interests and desires toward student interests and desires.”

Suzette Lovely, education consultant in San Clemente, Calif., and retired superintendent, on writing Ready for Anything: Four Touchstones for Future-Focused Learning (Solution Tree, 2020)


Longevity in Leadership
Literature suggests that superintendents need five years or more in their role to make an impact on a school system, while the average tenure of a superintendent is 3.2 years.

Eight superintendents who have been in their jobs five years or more discussed their experiences regarding longevity in a doctoral dissertation completed by Rani Goyal for an Ed.D. in 2019 at Capella University in Minneapolis, Minn.

Goyal found organizational empowerment as a common thread running through the experiences of the superintendents.

Copies of “An Experiential Journey of the Superintendency for Sustained Leadership” are available from or 800-521-0600.


Growth Mindset
An MDRC evaluation of a growth mindset intervention was found to have a positive impact on students’ grade point averages and changed students’ self-reported mindset beliefs, attitudes and views on academic challenges.

Homeschoolers’ Experiences
A new publication from the National Center for Education Statistics provides data about homeschooled students’ experiences, in­clud­ing topics such as the reasons for homeschool-ing, teaching styles and subject areas.

Professional Development
A Campbell systematic review found there was no effect of professional development on social and emotional or language and literacy development interventions on student academic outcomes.

Continuing professional development, or CPD, aims to improve outcomes for young people with whom educational and welfare professionals work.

Conference Recap
If you wonder what you missed at AASA’s national conference in San Diego, you can access a comprehensive recap through Conference Daily Online. You’ll find summaries of key-note speakers’ remarks, award announcements, short video clips, blog postings by superintendents, photos and more.

School Breakfast
The AASA Children’s Programs Department has published “Leaders Matter: Superintendent Leadership for School Breakfast,” supported by the Walmart Foundation. The publication features four superintendents’ thoughts on the impact of school breakfast on student performance.

Leadership Training
AASA’s 2020 National Women’s Leadership Consortium has a wellness theme — Women Educators Leading Learning (#AASAWELL) with its next conference May 6-8 at the Marriott Evergreen Resort in Stone Mountain, Ga. To apply, visit

In addition, AASA’s Aspiring Superintendents Academy® for Female Leaders will deliver networking and stimulating growth through a faculty of school systems leaders led by Candace Singh and Suzette Lovely. AASA accepts applications through September 2020 at