Leadership Practices for High-Performing Schools

Five Critical Leadership Practices: The Secret to High-Performing Schools
By Ruth C. Ash and Pat H. Hodge
(Routledge/Eye On Education, 2016 – Learn more)

janovich mikeReviewed by Mike Janatovich

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there” (Lewis Carroll). Typically I am not one to quote Alice in Wonderland, but this is a great introductory quote for a book about leadership.

All too often in education people have no idea where they are going and choose a road because they think it might lead them to their destination. Unfortunately, this leadership approach may bring you to a place that is not conducive to student learning and will create an atmosphere of distrust.

5 critical leadership prac janatovichSome of you are leaders of a school that is on the correct road to student success but might need help navigating the roadblocks that you may incur along the way. Many of you may be leaders of a school that went down the wrong road at some point and needs to find focus.

Wherever you are in your school’s leadership journey, Five Critical Leadership Practices: The secret to high-performing schools by Ruth Ash and Pat Hodge can be the map that will help you become a leader for student success.

The Five Critical Leadership Practices

  1. Focus on Direction
  2. Build a Powerful Organization
  3. Ensure Student-Focused Vision and Action
  4. Give Life to Data
  5. Lead Learning

No silo solutions here

In Five Critical Leadership Practices, Ruth Ash and Pat Hodge do not leave you with a list of educational practices that are set in isolated silos. The book’s power comes from the authors’ ability to  weave each practice into an interconnected whole.

Most importantly, Ash and Hodge describe in detail success stories of schools that have utilized the practices to initiate change that led to enormous amounts of student growth.

It is empowering to read the success stories that Ash and Hodge highlight as examples of their five practices. Seeing these principles in action – in real schools – with real leaders who have real problems makes the reader feel like they are not alone and can lead for change and student success.

Five Critical Leadership Practices is a straightforward and extremely practical read. With all of the personal success stories of the schools and leaders described, it also an inspirational guide for leading change. As I read the book, many times I said to myself, “Why am I not doing this?” As I asked myself that question, Ash and Hodge offered ways that their leadership elements can be implemented quite simply. This simplicity allowed me to make changes to my own practice immediately and see growth as a result.

Quick, insightful Tips for Leaders

In each of the five sections of the book, Ash and Hodge provide standards and indicators for fully implementing their key elements. These indicators and standards connect the leadership practices and put them into action. As I read the book, the clarity of purpose for each of their practices continued to grow as each practice built upon the next.

One of the most helpful features is the Tips for Leaders section in each chapter. These thorough yet quick tips provide insights for leaders to reflect on and then take action to lead for change. With over 180+ Tips for Leaders, Ash and Hodge have created a go-t0 resource for leaders who are implementing the book’s five critical practices. Below are just three examples:

  • Encourage conversations about the effectiveness of school and district processes – with everyone everywhere.
  • Include students in discussing the effectiveness of processes.
  • When anyone requests a new program or resource, ask for a description of how it will enhance student learning and how it supports the vision for the school or district.

A book for leaders at every level

Five Critical Leadership Practices: The secret to high-performing schools is a valuable resource that is backed by true stories of success using the practices described in detail throughout the book. Ash and Hodge have been successful leaders at the school, district, state and collegiate levels and they bring that credibility to their advice.

This book is not just for leaders with titles. In our schools some of the most critical leaders are those without a leadership “title.” These might be teachers who are on interdisciplinary teams, PLC leaders, teaching mentors — key players who guide true change. Any teacher leader would gain from reading these ideas.

I would challenge schools to take the “5 Critical Leadership Practices Inventory” that is found in the appendix of the book to reflect on where your school lies. From there, let the book be the guide to put your vision into action.

Mike Janatovich is an Assistant Principal for Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio. Prior to becoming a middle level administrator, Mike spent 10 years serving middle level students as a 7th and 8th grade science and social studies teacher. As a middle level advocate, Mike believes that educating the whole child is critical in ensuring academic success. Mike is a member of the ASCD 2015 Class of Emerging Leaders. You can follow him @mjanatovich on Twitter.


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