Introspective Questions to Amplify Your Leadership

Is My School a Better School BECAUSE I Lead It?
By Baruti K. Kafele
(ASCD, 2018 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Frank J. Hagen

Is my school a better school because I lead it? This is a direct question that one might expect to be answered in the affirmative by many, if not all, current school leaders.

However, an affirmative response was unfortunately not the reaction received by Baruti Kafele as he traveled around the United States on a book promotional tour. He was instead greeted with silence by most of the principals when he asked the question.

In this 2018 book, which adopts his question as its title, veteran principal Kafele takes school leaders on a self-reflective journey to answer this question by asking 35 focused and intentional guiding questions.

The book revolves around three key focus areas as you ask yourself if your school is better because you are the leader: “Your contention, Your evidence, and Your staff’s perception.”

In all, the book is divided into seven chapters, each dealing with a critical dimension or fundamental essence of school leadership. The author does not fill the book with esoteric theory or quotes from research studies. It is direct and to the point and includes many of the lessons learned by the author in his years working as an urban school leader.

His passion for working with economically disadvantaged, at-risk children of color rings true in all of his anecdotal comments spread throughout the chapters. However, the self-reflection questions cut across all levels and types of schools. For example, when wrestling with the question “How does my leadership purpose drive my overall leadership and decision making?” Kafale lets the reader know that leadership is tough and one must stay true to your purpose for the sake of your students. The progress of the school needs to be continuously monitored in relation to your purpose.

As you read through this book, you must step “outside of yourself to scrutinize your own leadership style with a critical eye.” A self-reflective journey has no finish line because each step in the journey leads to another step as you “challenge yourself daily.” Ultimately, you come to realize that everything that happens in a school is linked to your leadership. The conclusion of the book alerts school leaders to the need to take care of yourself if you are going to lead a better school.

This is an easy-to-read book that cuts to the heart and mind of effective school leadership. As a retired school leader with 23 years as a principal and now teaching educational leadership courses to prospective school leaders, I find this book forces the reader to look at whether or not the reality of one’s school leadership does, in fact, make the school a better school!

When you finish reading this book, this journey through the essentials of a self-reflective practice begins leading to your renewal. The latter is critical for you to sustain perseverance in improving your school for students and staff.

Frank J. Hagen currently teaches educational leadership courses at Wilmington University. He is a retired school principal from Delaware and Maryland and has done consulting work for the Delaware Academy for School Leadership and McREL International in the areas of school leadership and principal coaching and development. In 1993 he was the State of Delaware Principal of the Year and has presented at numerous national professional conferences including NASSP, High Schools That Work, and NCGE in the areas of school leadership and teacher observations. Throughout his educational career, Hagen has held educational leadership positions at the state and local levels.

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