________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 4 . . . . October 13, 2006


The Principal Difference: Key Issues in School Leadership and How to Deal With Them Successfully.

Susan Church.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2005.
114 pp., pbk., $23.95.
ISBN 1-55138-193-1.

Subject Headings:
School principals.
School management and organization.


Review by Jeannette Timmerman.

**** /4


When principals bring values and ethics to the centre of their work, they continually reflect upon the beliefs that underlie educational practice, relationships, school culture, and decision making.


Susan Church, educator, researcher, author, and consultant, based The Principal Difference on her recent doctoral studies research and personal case studies. Church has "nearly three decades of experience in public education, as a teacher and administrator...". In her book, she sets out the complexities facing school administrators in their dual role as educational leaders and effective resource managers, offering thoughtful insights and practical steps to follow.

     Each of the six chapters explores a specific topic: Professional Learning Communities; Students, Parents, and the Wider Community; Schools as Diverse Multicultural Communities; Gender and Schooling; Making Sense of Accountability; and Managing to Lead.

     Church sees professional learning communities as "living, changing entities" responding to internal and external events. The cornerstone of building such communities is establishing trust built on leaders beginning by example in both words and actions. Chapter 2 addresses these issues with respect to students, parents and the community at large. Church contends that principals need to make their voices heard. This chapter includes questionnaires on school self-evaluation with respect to parent and community involvement, principal's questionnaires for students, parents, and community members, and a sign-up form for community members wishing to become involved with the school.

     Chapters 3 and 4 look at a school's diverse multicultural make-up and the issues of gender and schooling. Once again, Church uses research and practicality to look at these aspects.

     Chapter 5 is concerned with accountability, an issue that cannot be ignored. The chapter explores the use of classroom assessment as it affects learning and components such as purpose, use, reporting, criteria, communication to students, and student involvement. Church also thoughtfully looks at large-scale assessments by standardized tests and criterion-referenced assessments and discusses the impact on schools and the scope of usefulness these assessments provide. The need for teacher professional development in evaluation processes is presented as well. Church says "Through developing a wide range of criteria and collecting many forms of evidence, schools can tell much richer stories about their work than are reflected in test results or external evaluations."

     Chapter 6 discusses the management role of principals with all the paperwork, fiscal and operational responsibilities. Church once again gives practical insights into this aspect of an administrator's role. She suggests that "The conception of leadership as values-led and contingent on the specifics of diverse contexts proves a way around the question of whether the emphasis should be on managing or leading."

     The book has an introduction and a conclusion section, an extensive bibliography, and further reading suggestions for each chapter. Teachers who are contemplating applying for vice-principal or principal positions, administrators fairly new to their roles, and those working as principals for many years should find this current book one that engenders thoughtful reflection. In my view, it would be impossible to concentrate fully on all areas outlined in this book at the same time. However, being cognizant of the total picture should allow emphasis on one area while the other aspects can begin to be looked at in beginning ways. The Principal Difference is a short book that sets the stage for further reading on a particular topic.     

Highly Recommended.

Jeannette Timmerman spent 27 years as a teacher, consultant and principal in a Winnipeg, MB school division.


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