Reflective Thinking for Leaders at All Stages
The Confident School Leader: 7 Keys to Influence and Implement Change
By Kara Knight
(Routledge/Eye On Education, 2022 – Learn more)
Reviewed by Beth Hassinger
“There’s no crying in baseball” is probably the most famous line said by Tom Hanks’ character in the movie A League of Their Own.
Within my educational leadership program, it has been impressed upon me to “never let them see you cry.” As a person who wears her heart on her sleeve, I have some trepidation about taking the next steps and moving into a leadership position. Reading this book was the salve to those fears.
Dr. Kara Knight believes that “to influence others you need to believe in yourself.” Her book is predicated on this belief and focuses on the following seven keys to “awaken the confidence within and validate the leader you already are.”
- Key 1: Lead with Authenticity
- Key 2: Understand Your Influence
- Key 3: Trust Your Gut
- Key 4: High Expectations, High Support
- Key 5: Be the Calm in the Storm
- Key 6: Stay on Your Path
- Key 7: Live in the Present, Visualize the Future
Readers may appreciate, as I did, that every chapter begins with a Before You Read. I found this box to be like objectives posted within a student’s view for each lesson.
From a reading specialist perspective, each bullet was helping the reader set a purpose for reading. Within each chapter, there was also a section called Confident School Leaders and a section titled Influence & Implement. The focus of these two sections was on characteristics that are aligned with the key for the chapter and/or reflective questions.
There were also quotes in boxes within the margins. While the messages within the quotes were valuable, I was a little confused as to why exactly they were there. My experience has been that often quotes in the margin are taken from the most important point(s) found on the page. That was not the case here.
At the conclusion of every chapter there are also three takeaways. I can imagine the busy administrator utilizing this takeaway section as a quick reminder or refresh in the future.
Social and emotional elements of leadership
What resonated with me the most as I was reading was Knight being forthcoming about the social emotional aspects within a leadership position. I am committed to my own mental well-being as well as the well-being of others. That self-interest has involved lots of reading of books and blogs, and/or listening to podcasts that focus on mental health and human psychology.
I found that Knight confirmed messages that I have encountered before. And while I have always believed that those messages about well-being would be of benefit to educators and leaders, they are not connected to what I envision when I think about leaders. Thanks to Knight I was affirmed in my thinking, and I am starting to see the potential in my own leadership journey.
Within the seven keys there were lots of positive attributes to discuss, such as growing confidence, failure-tolerant leadership (this term was new for me) and showing care and boundaries, among others. Yet Knight also addresses less desirable realities such as the underperforming leader, being a people pleaser, and going down a path that is wrong for you, to name a few.
Rethinking sweat equity
There was one place that my thinking/beliefs diverged from Knight’s. In Key 6: Set Your Own Path, under the subheading No Quick Fixes, Knight discusses sweat equity. The overall point may have been that it takes lots of hours invested in your growth to get to the point of being able to lead. Here is how sweat equity is defined in the text; sweat equity is a common term in the business world that speaks to the unpaid labor employees and entrepreneurs put into a project or work.
I have some issues with this sentiment. Will there be things that I do outside of my job that will contribute to the success of my employer? Absolutely! Writing this review is one example. I think of fifth grade teacher, Colby Sharp, and all the things he does on his own time to promote books and reading.
However, I don’t equate these two examples as sweat equity. Instead I consider them developing a passion and/or purpose. They have nothing to do with the employer and yet may very well benefit them.
Because of the autonomy in these examples, there is no resentment when an employer benefits. On the other hand, if an employer gives a directive or suggests that the employee do more, then they should be willing to pay for that. Perhaps Dr. Knight would agree.
For all leaders, including quiet ones
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I felt that my being (personality, thoughts, concerns) were being reflected back at me. As such, I could start to envision myself as an administrator. And while Knight mentions the role of principal the majority of the time, she also mentions other leadership roles that she has had, so the book would be valuable to various school and district leaders.
At only 140 pages, the book was a quick, informative read. Many of the references were from 2015 and beyond so the book feels “current.” Knight also mentions Covid-19 in several places so her message felt timely.
While I believe that any future or current leader could benefit from this book, I feel that the more sensitive, introverted, quiet leader would find special comfort in reading it.
Beth Hassinger works as a reading specialist at a K-5 building in a suburb North of Chicago, IL. She is currently working on a second Master’s in Educational Leadership. Having not read much as a child, she is continually looking for ways to engage readers and invite them to see the wonder reading is. You can find her on Twitter @SL_Reader.