Packer, C. (2011), "The Audacity to Teach! The Impact of Leadership, School Reform, and the Urban Context on Educational Innovations", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 49 No. 5, pp. 611-612. https://doi.org/10.1108/09578231111159566
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Since the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, American public schools have begun to experience a reform movement which involves restructuring the way districts work with teachers and how teachers work with students to produce a learning environment based on a teacher's capacity to adapt to individual needs. The book The Audacity to Teach! The Impact of Leadership, School Reform, and The Urban Context on Educational Innovations by Jacob Easley II explores the reconstitution efforts of Hillside Elementary School and how the leadership and teachers work together to make the necessary changes. Reconstitution is a part of NCLB in which incumbent school staff (teaching, administrative, and support staff) is removed and new staff hired for the new school year. The text approaches the study of the reconstitution through personal interviews with eight female teachers and the two principals of Hillside Elementary during the study. Easley recounts several personal interviews throughout the book to add clarity to his findings and to support his narrative.
The text is presented in seven chapters, each providing background information necessary to understand the context of the discussion or to explain the research findings. Chapter 1 provides a contemporary context of urban schools and the current reform movement in American public schools. In this chapter, Easley discusses the importance of professional development and the critical role it plays in the reconstitution efforts of many low‐achieving schools. The discussion in this chapter focuses on the idea of pedagogical capacity and the conditions which influence the teachers in educating their students. Chapter 2 describes Hillside Elementary School and contains interview findings from the first principal, Thachery and his replacement Abbey. Both Thachery and Abbey seek teachers who want to be at Hillside and are willing to be a part of the changes they are brining such as grade‐level teams, the use of data to drive instruction, infusing technology, and a systematic approach to teaching core content areas.
As a part of Hillside transformation, the reconstitution process is used to bring about change. The description of Hillside's reconstitution follows in Chapters 3 through 6. In Chapter 3, the teachers discuss how their own classrooms are innovative places where children can learn. Discussions on providing a warm and caring environment are related to the ethical and moral purpose with which these teachers approach their jobs. Chapter 4 explores the way in which change is implemented in a school as a part of a larger organization. The school reform of Hillside is compared to the traditional top‐down approach to instituting change. The teachers' responses tell the story of how they struggled to find a balance between being their duty to implement initiatives about which they had little input and the daily teaching modifications they made on a daily basis. Chapter 5 investigates the way the school was structured in order to allow teachers time to collaborate during the school day. The interviews recounted in this chapter provide insight into the teachers' views on where they find support within the school. Easley's (2011) research suggests that teachers feel policy makers and administrators have forgotten what it is like to be a classroom (p. 69). Because of the extended planning time provided by Thachery, teachers begin to build instructional capacity through collaboration. Chapter 6 recounts how differentiated instruction plays an integral role in the reconstitution of Hillside Elementary. Touching on discussions from earlier chapters, this chapter continues with the difficulties of implementing change when mandated from the top‐down. The district forces are mandating a standardized practice of differentiation and the teachers' capacity for instruction was being compromised because they were unable to use their professional judgment to meet the needs of their students. Striking the balance in this relationship – between administrators and teachers – is a continuous theme throughout these four chapters of the text.
The final chapter, Chapter 7, summarizes the findings from the research on building capacity within a school operating under a reconstitution model of instruction. To begin the chapter, Easley discusses the complexity of pedagogical capacity. He breaks down this capacity into the smallest levels of teaching (building level) and then reveals the differences and similarities throughout the district and public level. This chapter provides a summary of the findings and explains the daunting tasks teachers face when trying to reform a failing school into a successful one.
The same pattern of delivering information to the reader follows throughout the book. Each chapter provides an introduction into what will be discussed and why it is important to the overall explanation of the findings. The chapters explore the main ideas in detail using qualitative research to support that which is being explained. There are numerous teacher interview excerpts to engage the reader in the academic explanations the author provides. These interviews provide the most meaningful research the book has to offer.
This text is best suited for academics, policy makers, and school administrators who are investigating school reconstitution or other drastic changes to the structure of a traditional school. The text is written as an academic narrative of the author's experiences in interviewing teachers and analyzing the changes of Hillside Elementary School as a part of his dissertation research. It would be a good book to supplement large group or roundtable discussions in an educational leadership preparation class which focuses on leaders bringing about change in failing schools.