Harvard Educational Review
  1. Examining Effective Teacher Leadership

    A Case Study Approach

    Sara Ray Stoelinga and Melinda M. Mangin

    New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2010. 208 pp. $29.95.

    As part of instructional reform efforts to improve human capital in schools, teachers increasingly assume leadership positions that move them outside traditional classroom instruction and into coordinating, facilitating, or coaching roles. In Examining Effective Teacher Leadership, Stoelinga and Mangin argue that discussions about such teacher leadership roles lack clear definitions, a common language, and consistent applications of research-based frameworks. In response, they present a series of cases about elementary school teachers in formal leadership roles, demonstrating the complex and context-specific work of teacher leadership while providing the field with the needed definitions, language, and frameworks to further the discussion.

    In this collection, the teaching cases present in-depth scenarios around central protagonists who face decisions for which there are multiple viable solutions. Stoelinga and Mangin’s cases honor the interactions between individuals, schools, and the greater social contexts in education, and they highlight the “lived experiences of real instructional teacher leaders from diverse settings” (p. 2). The target audiences for this book are practitioners—schoolbased administrators or teacher leaders looking for a structure to guide staff meeting conversations—and postsecondary educators working with students aspiring to these roles. As a “signature pedagogy” in education (p. 9), teaching a case requires guiding students through a balance of thoughtful analysis and action. In this tradition, Stoelinga and Mangin scaffold their cases by providing detailed teaching notes that propose an analytic structure and relevant discussion questions.

    Stoelinga and Mangin begin by establishing a brief history and context for the emergence of differentiated roles for teachers. They critically note that previous work has positioned teacher leadership as a response to calls for teacher professionalism, rather than a necessary factor in instructional improvement. To address this gap, Stoelinga and Mangin’s cases are firmly grounded in the realm of instruction, presenting detailed stories of teacher leaders struggling with content knowledge, curriculum implementation, lesson demonstrations, and facilitating instructional conversations. One common theme across cases is how teacher leaders might navigate norms of egalitarianism with colleagues
    and perceptions of hierarchy with principals.

    The book is divided into three distinct parts. The first section presents nine short vignettes establishing the potential range of work for instructional leaders, and the second is a series of five cases that highlight common predicaments leaders often encounter. The third section delves deeply into three longer case studies of schools or districts from multiple perspectives to underscore how the work of teacher leadership is “situated in complex contexts” that depend on the actions of many people working in a specific school environment (p. 10).

    The connection between research, theory, and practice is strongest in the second section, in which Stoelinga and Mangin present the reader with several suggestions for further reading to provide appropriate “interpretive lenses” for each case under analysis (p. 152). For example, the authors ask readers to examine the first case in this section from the standpoint of “sociocultural adult learning theory,” using studies that propose elements of effective adult learning environments (p. 50). The next two frameworks have a “professional communities and leadership” focus, which considers conditions that support learning communities and common obstacles that undermine them (pp. 58–59), followed by a “micropolitics of education and theories of relational trust” framework (p. 62), which involves thinking about interest groups, conflicting values, and developing social trust between stakeholders.

    In attempting to create a practitioner resource, Stoelinga and Mangin are transparent about the book’s limitations. They explain their choice to focus on “formal,” rather than “informal,” teacher leadership roles given the importance of formal roles in school reform, but they carefully point out that the
    success of formal leadership relies on all teachers demonstrating informal leadership through participation or support. Nevertheless, this collection is mostly silent on how to develop and sustain informal leadership roles, such as experienced teachers taking on an unprompted mentoring role for a novice colleague. Furthermore, some may find that the imposition of featured frameworks feels overly canonical or restrictive, but others will benefit from the clear guidance and structure. Finally, the book is limited to elementary school cases given the authors’ previous work and expertise.

    Woven throughout the book is the theme of situated problem solving in teacher leadership, which is apparent in both the work of leaders, who must negotiate hybrid roles, and in the work of readers, who must piece together the contextual variables as they consider problems and solutions in each case. Pedagogically, the case approach is well suited for the study of instructional leadership, because readers are likely to develop flexibility of thought and a balanced approach to analysis and action—the same habits of mind required of instructional leaders.

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    Book Notes

    Whistling Vivaldi
    Claude M. Steele

    Crossing the Finish Line
    William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos, and Michael S. McPherson

    Examining Effective Teacher Leadership
    Sara Ray Stoelinga and Melinda M. Mangin

    The Boy on the Beach:
    by Vivian Gussin Paley