‘Taking Charge: Leading With Passion and Purpose in the Principalship’
Taking Charge: Leading With Passion And Purpose In The Principalship
By Paul L. Shaw
Published by Teachers College Press: 2011, New York and London: 228pp
Pity the school principal. Buffeted by pressures from politicians, parents and teachers, and confronted by unyielding, highly public expectations to improve student performance, principals have a demanding, almost impossible role to fulfill in many school communities. The grind of administrative responsibilities can blunt principals’ enthusiasm for whatever big-picture vision they once entertained for their school.
Rekindling that spark, for the good of students and teachers, is one of the goals of this book. Paul L. Shaw, the author, is a former principal who knows exactly what it’s like to walk the halls of a school, observe teachers in a classroom and engage with students. For him, leadership starts with identifying a higher moral purpose that suffuses whatever practices are put in place to improve what he calls “life chances” for students: ultimately leading to success in work, relationships and their respective communities.
As a researcher and educational consultant, Shaw draws upon a variety of school settings and leadership examples to build his practical, eminently useful book. It’s not about offering one style or strategy; rather, he urges principals to focus on specific aspects of leadership that can be embraced and adopted no matter what particular challenges they face.
He advocates strong, take-charge leadership, where successful principals develop a school that actively encourages leadership learning for all, where collaboration defines the culture, and where principals are unafraid to take action.
Shaw acknowledges that the relentless barrage of mandates and new standards can undermine teachers’ willingness to embrace change (or, conversely, can lead to teachers who innovate new programs merely for the sake of novelty). When school leaders can effectively communicate why programs need to be implemented or adopted, there’s a greater likelihood that stakeholders will join in.
Some of the strategies Shaw suggests include: knowing students well, developing a culture of inquiry, working with data from many sources, supporting teachers as they continue their own lifelong learning, encouraging participation and — as the principal — modeling these values. Principals shouldn’t try to be “head teachers” as much as “head learners.”
As Shaw writes, “In today’s climate, educational leaders can easily become overwhelmed in a veritable tsunami of agendas and pressures and fall back on a ‘management’ stance that will safely see them through the day but, in doing so, diminish the opportunity of improving the learning experiences and life chances of students and teachers in the future.”
So, be brave. Cultivate your own passions, fearlessness, risk-taking and tenacity, for the good of your school. #