Developing Effective Principals through Collaborative Inquiry

Julie Seguin (California State University, Dominguez Hills, Carson, California, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 9 May 2008



Seguin, J. (2008), "Developing Effective Principals through Collaborative Inquiry", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 46 No. 3, pp. 416-418.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

How‐to books for facilitators are always difficult to position: direct the book at the beginning facilitator and you risk miring yourself in the endless detail of the art of sensitivity to the members of the group being facilitated; write for the experienced facilitator and you need an outline of content, not a book on how to facilitate. Monica Byrne‐Jimenez and Margaret Terry Orr face this challenge in their book Developing Effective Principals through Collaborative Inquiry by aiming somewhere in the mid‐range of facilitator experience. Byrne‐Jimenez uses her years of experience at Hofstra University where she has focused on leadership development of district and school level administrators. Orr, teaching at Bank Street College where she directs the Future School Leaders Academy, also founded a school improvement initiative in New York City. Both authors spend their careers studying and developing interventions for education leaders. One of the results of their work is this book on developing collaboration skills.

The organization of Developing Effective Principals through Collaborative Inquiry is drawn from the greater view of leadership development and the use of collaborative inquiry as a means of developing leadership to the detail of running a workshop. Each chapter moves to a more detailed view of bringing principals together in a workshop format to address problems or challenges being faced by new principals to how the decision‐making process leads to the development of their leadership skills.

The book contains five chapters beginning with an overview of the challenges that today's new school principals face having covered the traditional ways in which principals are trained at universities and in their districts to meet these challenges and to lead their faculty and staff. The authors demonstrate the collaborative inquiry method as a superior means to finding various solutions to problems, comparing the solutions to determine which may fit the current situation the best and then deciding how to implement the solution. Byrne‐Jimenez and Orr are focused on the urban principal although the techniques could be used in any business or education environment. To ground the reader in realistic situations, chapter 2 offers a recurring scenario that develops as the use of collaborative inquiry is applied to the scenario. In addition to the scenario are figures that quickly summarize information, making the book accessible for the reader without time to read or as a quick reference for finding more detailed information in the chapter.

Chapter 3 details the process of inviting participants to initiating the process, to what they term the “duration,” in which the bulk of the work of the group is conducted, and then on to the conclusion of the work of the group. There is an amazing level of detail in this chapter to make the new facilitator more comfortable about knowing what to do and when to do it. The part that is missing for facilitators is the sensitivity to the participants that the facilitator must bring to the situation. This of course is the difficult part of facilitating and really should not be addressed in this book. Further, the authors have wisely been vague about the content of the workshops: each workshop group needs to determine the content for their own group. The use of extensive sample content would lead the less confidant facilitator to an over‐reliance on the book for content, defeating the purpose of the group process supported by these authors. This is a difficult line to draw: neither too much information, but not so little information that the book is unhelpful. The authors give a great amount of detail on the process of collaborative inquiry without ruining their own premise.

Chapter 4 expands into specific issues in‐group dynamics that can be uncomfortable or could block the process of teambuilding. This is a very concrete chapter and especially good for the new or developing facilitator who is shy in dealing with conflict. For the more experienced facilitator this chapter could be skipped or glanced at but due to the number of inexperienced group facilitators this is a chapter that is essential to include in the book. Further detail on the collaborative inquiry process is presented in chapter 5 as the facilitator makes decisions as to how to position him/herself as the dynamics of the group evolve. Thoughts on dangers and opportunities in the dynamics are offered throughout this chapter as the facilitator decides to remain separate as a facilitator or joining the group as a “co‐inquirer.” Chapter 6 draws the book to conclusion as Byrne‐Jimenez and Orr present their conclusions of how to incorporate their process into on‐going district decision making. At the end of the book the authors include three appendices: Appendix A includes myriad vignettes for the new facilitator to use to prepare for likely issues for group development; Appendix B focuses on the “nitty‐gritty” of time frames for different topics, types of “problem‐exploration” questions, what to plan for each seminar as it develops over the year; Appendix C explains how to use collaborative inquiry in order to conduct qualitative research within the district.

In Developing Effective Principals through Collaborative Inquiry Byrne‐Jimenez and Orr set out to provide direction to facilitators or those responsible for the leadership development of school principals using collaborative inquiry as a technique while workshop participants provide the content on which the workshop will focus. The challenge of a how‐to book is to find an audience that is at the same developmental level as the book. Byrne‐Jimenez and Orr started on this journey for a broad audience of group facilitators. As the authors got deeper into the detail of running a workshop its focus wobbled between highly experienced facilitators who would know how to manage the human dynamics of an intense workgroup without basic instruction in the process, to less experiences facilitators who need the detail of how to plan a meeting without mysteriously needing the much more difficult information on reading the needs of the workshop members, resolving conflict among members or bringing reluctant or quiet members into the process. Chapter 4 especially vacillates among new and experienced facilitators as well as perhaps being addressed to workshop members themselves. Despite this minor lapse, the chapters have a wonderful level of detail that really works for many. Certainly the ability to collaborate is essential in the current body of leadership techniques that a principal needs to bring to her faculty. Using collaboration as a means to inquire into how to define problems, how to discover solutions and how to review alternative solutions expands any principal's leadership and problem‐solving skills. The process continues as members of the group collaboratively discover how to implement a selected solution but with the knowledge that group members will have colleagues to whom to return to discuss and receive feedback about how well the implementation is going and additional steps improve the implementation.

This is a good resource for the facilitator looking for a new concept to use in developing leadership capacity. While the book is a highly recommended volume for school leaders, district personnel, teachers, and policy makers there is no reason to restrict the workshops to these stakeholders. Rather, the concept of using collaborative inquiry can be used to find solutions to any school or business problems. Inquiry seems an academic concept until it is turned loose on problem solving. Inquiry opens a leader to possibilities; collaboration gives the leader a safe place to explore with a supportive group of colleagues.

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