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March 1, 2019
Vol. 76
No. 6

Reader's Guide / Lessons in Leadership

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Instructional Strategies
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As a history buff, I was excited to learn that Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin will be a keynote speaker at ASCD's Empower19 conference this month in Chicago. The choice is particularly apt because Goodwin's latest book holds special interest for school leaders.
In Leadership: In Turbulent Times (Simon & Schuster, 2018), Goodwin examines the leadership development and characteristics of four major presidents—Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Goodwin's is a nuanced and in-depth study of different eras and complex national crises, and she doesn't aim to offer a simple formula for great or effective leadership. But she does note that the leadership traits of these very different presidents shared a "family resemblance," and she draws out a number of these qualities.
She explains, for example, that in young adulthood, each of these men exhibited "a fierce ambition, an inordinate drive to succeed." Equally notable, however, is that all of them suffered "dramatic reversals" at an early stage in their political rise—demoralizing setbacks or tragic events that "ruptured their sense of self and threatened to curtail their prospects." In responding to these adverse occurrences, these then-future presidents showed formative signs of their vaunted resilience. Significantly, they also allowed these experiences to "deepen" and shape them, to enlarge their perspectives.
Goodwin also argues that all these presidents were guided by a strong "sense of moral purpose," which enabled them, at key points, to "channel their ambitions" toward the greater good. Indeed, this is what enabled them to confront—and at least partially overcome—some of the greatest crises in U.S. history. As Goodwin writes in a short article:
<BQ> At moments of great challenge, all sought to heal divisions, to bring various parts of the country together, to summon the citizenry to a sense of common purpose. They were able to use their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others. </BQ>
Other leadership traits Goodwin has highlighted in discussing these four transformational presidents—some of them familiar from previous leadership studies—include empathy, openness to different perspectives and ideas, adept communication skills (including storytelling), and the ability to unwind and replenish their energy.

Presidential Qualities

Granted that leading a school is different from leading a nation, I don't think it would be out of line to reflect on some of these presidential traits as you read this issue of EL magazine on "The Power of Instructional Leadership." The issue explores how school leaders can effectively guide and support instructional quality across a school—what journalist Jennifer Gill calls the "greatest challenge facing principals today." Qualities like ambition, resiliency, and moral purpose—not to mention empathy, strong communication skills, and openness to different perspectives—form a definite undercurrent to the stories.
A number of the pieces look at the difficult decisions education leaders must make in order to pull their schools out of ruts or downward turns—for example, in addressing teachers' performance issues (Pete Hall), in zeroing in on key school-improvement priorities (Mike Schmoker), or in managing their time to better support teachers (Craig Hochbein). Others highlight the sometimes wrenching organizational and philosophical course corrections that may be needed to ensure that underserved students are given the opportunities and support they need to thrive (Charles Sampson, Jeff Moore, and Rachel Roegman; and Shane Safir)—or that leaders truly understand the impact of their decisions on classrooms (Jeffrey Benson). Finally, several articles examine the importance of strategic collaboration and creating nuanced support systems within schools (Paul Bambrick-Santoyo; Diane Sweeney and Ann Mausbach; Jennifer Gill)—of bringing people together and "enlarging the opportunities and lives of others," to use Goodwin's words.
All this requires deep leadership skills. As an educator, you may not be heading a nation. But like Goodwin's presidents, you are confronting "great necessities" of your time.

Guiding Questions

"The Instructional Leader's Most Difficult Job" by Pete Hall

› Do you recognize your instructional intervention style in any of the examples that Hall writes about? What might you do differently in the future?

› What does a highly effective teacher's performance look like at your school? Are those expectations communicated clearly and frequently to staff?

› Why do you think it's so difficult for leaders to directly address teachers' struggles in the classroom?

"Embracing the Power of Less" by Mike Schmoker

› For Principals: How might it change your job if you focused on just one or two instructional goals? How might your day-to-day schedule and tasks be different? Would you feel differently about your job?

› Consider the three focus areas Schmoker says are likely to have the most impact within any school. Which of these needs most attention at your school? Could you narrow your focus to that priority for the coming school year?

"Creating Powerful Principal and Coach Partnerships" by Diane Sweeney and Ann Mausbach

› How do you ensure your school's instructional coaching is aligned to both school improvement goals and individual teacher growth?

› How might you work as a faculty to develop "look-fors" for a specific instructional practice, and incorporate them into observations and coaching cycles?

› What's one way you can commit to improving the principal-coach relationship?

"Lean on Me" by Jennifer Gill

› As a school leader, would you be interested in having a dedicated mentor or supervisor? Why or why not?

› Why do you think more districts are turning to principal mentoring and supervision today?

› How could your school or district do a better job of providing on-the-ground support for instructional leaders?

› Do you agree with Benson that school leaders should continue to teach, at least part-time? How would this change the instructional culture in your school?

› If you are a school leader, what are the barriers to your going back to the classroom? How could they be addressed?

› In your experience, do school leaders tend to become removed from classroom realities? If yes, why do you think this happens?

End Notes

1 Goodwin, D. K. (2018, October 24). These are the essential traits a president needs, says Doris Kearns Goodwin. History Channel. Retrieved from

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