Good Intentions are not Enough, Transformative Leadership for Communities of Differences

Anthony H. Normore (College of Education, Florida International University, Florida, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 1 October 2004




Normore, A.H. (2004), "Good Intentions are not Enough, Transformative Leadership for Communities of Differences", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 42 No. 5, pp. 604-607.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

In her book, Good Intentions Are Not Enough, Transformative Leadership for Communities of Differences, Shields provides an in‐depth volume of a subject relevant to all schools. It deals with (p. x11) systemic marginalization and discrimination that are pervasive and communal in school settings. Shields intent is to provide knowledge and understanding about diversity that will help educators (p. xii) “create schools in which belonging is not equated with circumstances of birth…communities of difference‐school communities in which we value and respect one another as we learn how to live and work together”.

The book is divided into three parts. Each part deals with a particular concept relating to equity and social justice in schooling. The book begins with an introduction that identifies the issues currently in schools that cause them to be socially, economically and racially fragmented. Part I contains three chapters which are connected to relevant literature and data gathered by studies conducted by Shield's in Canada, United States, New Zealand and Fiji. These chapters demonstrate that indeed good intentions are not enough. Chapter one focuses on transformative cross‐cultural leadership by reviewing centuries of literature on leadership and connects it to what current research indicates. Shields introduces concepts that range from (p. 29) multiculturalism, transformational, transactional and transformative leadership to issues of power in both society and schools. Some of the key concepts (e.g. moral principles, clear vision, authenticity, values) are brought to light with the aid of “change” scenarios and experiences that add a great deal of credence to the chapter. Chapter two explores the concept of schools as (p. 32) “communities of differences”. Shields describes how diversity in schools is a reality. The chapter begins with a personal experience while visiting a school in New Zealand where she was introduced to a concept referred to as “language nests”. Language nests serve children from infancy to age five, whereby children enter school on the day of their fifth birthday and (p. 32) “progress at their own pace, while becoming socially whole”. The experience sets the tone for the remainder of the chapter as the author effectively examines how school leaders in North America might create a sense of in‐school community and how they can build on differences rather than eliminate them. Chapter three focuses on the criteria for excellence and social justice. Shields (2003, p. 74‐80) reiterates the importance for schools to promote justice, democracy, empathy and optimism where educational leaders become transformative in nature by enabling shared values, beliefs and norms. The chapter emphasizes some broad, yet significant purposes of education and suggests criteria to (p. 81) “assist educators achieve success – schools that are equitable, excellent, and socially just”.

Part two draws heavily on ten years of empirical work in the United States and Canada, as well as experience spent in schools elsewhere. Throughout part two Shields presents various narratives and experiences of educators as she brings the reader into schools and classrooms where challenges of inequities in the status quo face individuals daily. It is especially interesting to see how school leaders and teachers are struggling in search of answers to how schools can be more inclusive, respectful, open and just and their attempts to “tear down walls” and recreate schooling. Chapter four begins with practice. It provides an overview of a school, presents one educator's personal story, and capitalizes on a vignette of daily life. Shields focuses on the importance of making culture visible and meaningful. She explains how school leaders in two secondary schools represent the cultures of their students in the (p. 89) “physical appearance and structures of their buildings and to incorporate it in meaningful ways into the curriculum”. An enlightening point in this chapter is how Shields emphasizes the importance of transforming schools with moral outrage when empowerment is abused. She capitalizes on Thomas Sergiovanni's comment that (p. 114) “it is the leader's responsibility to be outraged when empowerment is abused and when purposes are ignored…all members of the school community are obliged to show outrage when the standards fall”. Chapter five focuses on identity crisis. It examines in detail the impact that schools can have on the children's self‐concepts and identities. Shields draws upon experiences of individuals and how individuals unknowingly engage in behaviors that exclude and marginalize the very people meant to be included. The author moves beyond good intentions to more equitable practices by discussing student educational experiences and how they have felt excluded due to educators (p. 129) “attempts to minimize, downplay or ignore differences in a well‐intentioned attempt to promote unity and harmony”. Some of the key concepts include: being color‐blind, class‐blind, class‐blind, differences in ability, sex, and gender differences. Chapter six explores strategies that involve new forms of school and community participation. Shields focuses on ways to disrupt and even break boundaries. She capitalizes on transforming school‐community relationships with emphasis on Joyce Epstein's six types of parental involvement (p. 174): parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision‐making, and collaborating with community.

Chapter seven focuses on new ways of thinking about relationships in schooling. The author highlights how theory and practice can be bridged to help educators visualize alternate models and conceptions of schooling. Shields draws on two different theoretical constructs: the Bakhtian notion of carnival, and critical multiculturalism. Both approaches help the reader understand many ways in which power operates to perpetuate inequalities in education. As Shields, (p. 181) states, “reflecting on carnival will help us find ways to move beyond the status quo to new images of schooling”. A secondary school is presented in vignette style to represent how school planning involves a series of innovative governance structures as well as teaching and learning so the needs of diverse learners are met. This school moves away from the typical factory model of organizational life and, thus, the vignette provides a discussion of power relations in schools and how individuals can understand and change them. Furthermore, Shields introduces the various approaches to multiculturalism: conservative, liberal, pluralist, essentialist, and critical. From a comprehensive discussion on cultural and structural components, the author makes it clear that educational communities need both reculturing and restructuring – that neither exists as a lone concept and must be treated as such for the transformative leader to understand and facilitate both types of change.

Chapter eight focuses on how structures in schools can inhibit or facilitate needed and sustainable change and become a catalyst for student learning. Shields discussion on the barriers that prevent equity in schools is crisp, clear and thought‐provoking. She examines barriers (i.e. physical, policy, organizational) by focusing on school vignettes and how these schools are impacted by these structures. Furthermore, Shields illustrates how these schools changed the structures and hence (p. 223) “changed the climate, the patterns of interaction and the motivation of teachers to improve instructional practice”.

In part three, Shields, (p. 241) revisits the criteria in a holistic way, considers some steps a school leader might take to “make it happen” and then reflects on ways to overcome some of the barriers to meaningful change in schools. Chapter nine synthesizes lessons learned and offers discussion on what a school of community difference might look like. While the lessons learned are very specific, educators will undoubtedly work with key concepts and apply them to their own contexts and settings. Chapter ten provides a comprehensive analysis of how transformative cross‐cultural leaders can use data and dialogue as tools for transforming their schools in order to turn visions into realities. Finally, in Chapter eleven, Shields presents a case study of a secondary school for school leaders to reflect on how one might approach educational change. Although the case is fictionalized it will be of much interest to the reader for understanding how transformative leadership may make it happen.

In reading this book it is imperative to bear in mind that diversity is not a new phenomenon. Schools have always been rich in diverse populations who have different beliefs, perspectives and value systems. However, (p. x11) “with shifting population patterns diversity seems heightened, more intense, more extensive”. This book, Good Intentions Are Not Enough, Transformative Leadership for Community Differences offers insight to educational leaders at all levels who are interested in creating school communities in which students are (p. xii) “compelled by respect and high expectations…to live and study together in peace and justice as they prepare for a diverse and global community beyond school”. It is very timely and well‐written for particular audiences. The book is a highly valuable, insightful and recommended volume, presented with great rigor and thought. In the hopes of removing the barriers and overcoming obstacles that divide people this book is a “must” for all educators to create more inclusive communities. It is especially recommended by the author of the paper for researchers and practitioners, school leaders, and policy makers who are interested in improving the quality of education that students receive by finding ways to promote equity and be flexible enough to encourage initiative. Finally, this book can be an invaluable resource for students and professors of educational leadership who may pave the way for understanding that school communities are places where differences are neither feared nor excluded, but understood and respected.


Shields, C.M. (2003), Good Intentions Are Not Enough, Transformative Leadership for Communities of Differences, The Scarecrow Press, Lanham, MD.

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