About Cari Zall

Cari Zall has been a Social Sciences educator for over 12 years, in both brick & mortar and online environments. She currently works as the Curriculum and Instructional Support Manager for an online high school dropout recovery program, and is the Assignment Editor and a writer for The Educator’s Room, an online education magazine. Cari is certified in Gamification and has worked on several projects incorporating Gamification into online and traditional education environments. Her areas of expertise include Gamification and Student Resilience & Motivation; Conflict Resolution & Collaboration, and social justice education. Prior to her teaching career, Cari worked for 15 years in civil litigation and as a human rights activist in Northern Ireland and Washington, DC. She holds a BA in Conflict Analysis & Resolution, an Masters in Teaching, and an MA in Political Science. Cari is a James Madison Fellow, and is the author of the book, How to Finish the Test When Your Pencil Breaks: A Teacher Faces Layoff, Unemployment and a Career Shift. You can finder her on twitter at @teachacari.

Book: Insights into Action, by William Sterrett
Publisher: ASCD, 2011

Insights BookThe beginning of every school year is often fraught with non-stop action: getting those last minute lesson plans in place, meeting (and remembering the names of) new students, settling on a management system for your classroom, and getting used to standing most of the day again.  But amidst all the new-year-bustle, consider something new for yourself this year: challenge yourself with a leadership goal.  Teachers often miss a big-picture view of themselves within their profession and end up careening through the school year the same way they started: grasping for a few moments of calm and barely leaving their classroom.  There is much more out there for you as a professional, and it starts with becoming a teacher leader.

In Insights into Action, author William Sterrett takes on the practical challenges of school leadership.  Sterrett is especially well situated to discuss this issue, having been both a teacher and an award-winning principal, and because he continues to work with school leaders in their own environments every day.  Disclosure: I was privileged to meet Mr. Sterrett at the 2014 ASCD Conference in Los Angeles last March, and had the opportunity to engage in a really thoughtful conversation about how difficult it is for teachers to transition from their traditional classroom environments to taking the risk of engaging in leadership.

Insights starts with a description of the tools used by a successful school leader: Visibility, Availability, Consistency, and Follow Through. The author sets a pattern for the rest of the book in the first chapter by taking each concept and applying practical, daily tasks for school leaders to build their talents with those tools. Starting with PLCs, effective school leadership creates a collaborative environment, including a schedule that is built by teachers.  Empowering teachers is at the core of all successful school leadership.  And empowering teachers directly effects the successful learning of students.  That core idea means that school leaders must not only create an environment for teachers to grow professionally, but must give teachers themselves opportunities to lead.

Those opportunities start with practical, relevant professional development.  Every teacher groans at the thought of a required PD session – some new acronym to be introduced, some new system that will be enforced for perhaps a year or two and then discarded for something new.  This kind of repetitive non-practical nature of professional development discourages teachers from looking for opportunities to grow and lead.  The essence of changing this pattern is raising up the teachers themselves to lead professional development.

“Today’s teacher leaders and principals have much to contribute as voices in the field. …By merging theory and practice in a reflective and engaging manner…you will realize that you have a lot to share with and learn from colleagues.” (p.40)

One of the most significant aspects of this book is Sterrett’s emphasis on keeping student learning at the core of school leadership.  At the center of this idea is how teacher leaders and school leaders must shift from discipline-oriented practices to relationship building.  Research continues to produce results that show students in schools where social and emotional learning are part of the core fundamentals of the school achieve at higher levels. (p.59).  The chapter on building relationships provides a series of practical tools to add to your toolbox as you engage in leadership. There are even detailed suggestions on how to get learning out of the classroom. The essential pattern of the book aligns with its title: action. There are numerous suggestions for how educators can begin to take immediate action and engage in proven practices as leaders.  This book is a very good resource as you begin to consider your role beyond the classroom.

And please consider that role.  There is more to being a teacher than teaching in your classroom.  You have the unique opportunity to engage your colleagues and share your experiences and knowledge in the education environment. Begin to think about gathering resources and learning to read the latest research in education areas you are interested in.  “But I don’t have time!” I can hear you right now, protesting. Balancing leadership with teaching is what effective school leaders do every day.  And if teachers are to be the ones who lead the best reform ideas for schools, then they must take their skills outside the classroom and begin to lead.  That means setting aside a bit of time for yourself to begin to grow your leadership skills, knowledge and opportunities.  This book provides a great start: tools for not only those who already find themselves in school leadership, but for every teacher who works with leaders.

Because every educator is a leader, it’s time to consider how you can find leadership opportunities to further make your students’ learning experience richer.



Disclaimer: This book was provided to The Educator’s Room free of charge by the publisher.  However, neither The Educator’s Room nor the reviewer received any compensation for this review.  The opinions contained in this review are those of the reviewer alone and were written free of any obligation or agreement with the publisher.  If you have any questions regarding book reviews, see our full disclaimer or contact the Book Review Editor.

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