Reviewed by Laura Von Staden
Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas state that the purpose of their book is to “identify and describe the unique behaviors and characteristics . . . among excellent educators” (p. 197). They note that Start Right Now is not a step-by-step guide, “but an overall framework for achieving and sustaining excellence over time” (p.207).
As a frame, they outline four major tenets (standards, as they call them) that are key to being an excellent educator. They believe that “A leader is one who knows the way, shows the way, goes the way, and grows each day” (p. 7).
While the authors talk to both teachers and administrators (educators in identified leadership positions), both separately and together, they note that teachers are leaders in the classroom and within their schools and that the characteristics of an excellent educator are the same regardless of whether the educator’s primary role is leading a classroom, a school or a district.
Tenets of excellence
Each of the four main chapters begins with a definition of the “standard of excellence,” including a list of indicators seen in individuals that demonstrate the standard, and commentary on why the standard matters and what it looks like.
The “what it looks like” sections are sufficiently detailed (each of the main chapters is 45-50 pages) to address several related topics in the fulfillment of the core behavior.
Each chapter then concludes with “Teach 4, Lead 4, Learn 4,” where the authors reference four teachers that demonstrate the core behavior at a superior level, as well as four educators who hold identified leadership positions that demonstrate the core behavior at a superior level.
Each of these individuals has written a short piece (1 page or less) about how they feel they address that particular “standard.” The “Learn 4” element is a listing of four resources that can be used to help educators to increase their skills in the given standard.
For teachers and administrators
The authors note the need for these skills in all educators regardless of their title or “job role,” and each of the core behaviors are examined from a classroom teacher standpoint and how that looks, as well as from an identified leadership position (usually school based administration) and how that looks. They also take care to note that the best teachers are leaders even if they do not serve in an identified leadership job, and that their leadership is vital to school success. The authors also often make note of the sometimes small differences between good and great.
This book provides a clear framework to build upon, from recognized educational leaders – Whitaker, Zoul, and Casas – who use the Lao Tzu quote “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” to emphasize the importance of having a vision and taking the first step. And they urge you to: Start. Right. Now.
Dr. Laura Von Staden is a Middle School Special Education Lead Teacher in Tampa, Florida. She serves on numerous committees both at her school and within her district, and works closely with the local university where she is a Professional Practice Partner and master mentor. Dr. Von Staden also facilitates both online and face-to-face Professional Development for her school district.