Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
In the second volume of an eight‐volume series, The Soul of Educational Leadership, Houston, Blankstein and Cole, present a well‐crafted edited book entitled Out‐of‐the‐Box Leadership. Comprised of eight chapters, this volume draws on the experience and research from leading experts to address both pragmatic and theoretical challenges facing today's school leaders. Paul Houston's assertion that today's schools “have [only] been making incremental progress in an exponential environment” (p. 2) begs the question of how systematic educational improvement is best undertaken. The linchpin role that educational leadership – a leadership that is transformative in nature and “out‐of‐the‐box” – plays in the improvement of our educational system provides the impetus for this text. The authors provide strong theoretical frameworks and explicit instructions for pre‐school‐university leaders to follow when seeking to get “out of the box” and develop the leadership style necessary to improve the educational system.
In the introductory chapter, Houston cogently posits that the USA “should compete at what it has always done best: being the innovative engine that drives the rest of the world economy” (p. 4). According to Houston, leadership is central to the educational system's ability to foster innovation and creativity necessary to maintain our global standing. However, there aren't opportunities, either at the university or district level, for leaders to learn to “get‐out‐of‐the box” (p. 2).
In chapter two, “What it means to be an outside‐the‐box leader”, Dennis Sparks presents five specific actions that leaders can take in order to create a school culture that “opens itself to virtually limitless possibilities for staff performance and student learning” (p. 12). A central tenet of this chapter – also evident throughout the book – is the urgent need to implement opportunities for leaders to develop and hone their transformative leadership skills. This recommendation is mirrored later on in chapter six, “Out‐of‐the‐box leadership: a reflection on leading educational transformation”. Jane Kendrick, a P‐12 principal and consultant to a large‐city school district, describes a series of professional development activities that enabled her to break out‐of‐the‐box. The programs Kendrick outline serve as a model for districts seeking to implement transformative professional development opportunities for district and school leaders– “one of the school systems most important responsibilities” (p. 26).
In chapter four, “An epistemological problem, what if we have the wrong theory?” Thomas Sergiovanni establishes the need for educational leaders at all levels to question the validity of established theories. As Sergiovanni aptly posits, “no matter how good our intentions, and no matter how hard we try to change things for the better, wrong theories equal wrong practices” (p. 51). Referencing seminal research, Sergiovanni cautions that viewing school systems as formal organizations leads to the application of wrong types of knowledge, which does little to aid leaders trying to ameliorate the educational problems faced today. Sergiovanni further goes on to state “if you want to improve the school, use the theories and practices that apply to social organizations” (p. 56).
Few would argue that collaboration skills are essential to leadership in the twenty‐first century. In chapter seven, “Through others eyes: a collaborative model of leadership”, Hank Rubin frankly states, “education's leaders simply don't have an option: we are either collaborative leaders or we are not truly effective leaders at all” (p. 112). Implementation of Rubin's collaborative lifecycle model enables leaders to develop and assess collaborative endeavors. In conjunction with the authors in this other in the book Rubin notes that strong interpersonal skills and empathy are “elemental” to effective school leaders.
Contributors to Out‐of‐Box‐Leadership provide readers with frank and personal reflections illustrating that “leadership is rooted in … humanity … ” (p. 81). This humanity is brought to the forefront by Jerome Murphy, Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In chapter eight, “Embracing the enemy: moving beyond the pain of leadership” Murphy's frank and daring discussion of the “taboo topic” [the pain experienced by many of today's leaders] is laudable. Murphy asserts that leaders “persist in seeing pain as an absolute enemy because they believe that feeling pain is a sign that they are doing something wrong” and encourages leaders rethink how they view pain” (p. 82). Central to Murphy's strategy for assuaging pain is development of the ability to relinquish efforts to eliminate pain, and acknowledge that leadership is painful. This chapter is a significant addition to the extant body of literature specific to leadership pain and implores researchers and practitioners to identify effective approaches for assisting leaders in pain.
This volume presents a well articulated argument that “out‐of‐the‐box leadership” is imperative if schools are to be truly innovative, bridge the achievement gap and teach our students to compete as leaders in a global market. The various perspectives and voices these authors bring to this collective work serve to establish a well‐grounded theoretical framework that relies on both research findings and anecdotal evidence. Readers are left with a variety of strategies that they can employ to truly rethink, reshape and transform their current leadership style into one that is “out‐of‐the‐box.”
This text is ideal for current leaders at the school site level, district level and university level who seek not only inspiration and courage, but also key strategies to augment their existing leadership abilities. The book is particularly well suited for future leaders attending a university or district leadership preparation program designed to hone leadership potential. Professors using this book as a supplemental text will find value in its ability to stimulate dialogue leading to the identification of solutions to varied difficulties common to emergent school leaders. The concluding chapters are particularly relevant to university leaders seeking to enhance collaborative skills and allay the pain associated with transformative “out‐of‐the‐box leadership.”