Book Review                                     Online Exclusive

Meaningful Conversations

The Way to Comprehensive and Transformative School Improvement    


by Angela Webster-Smith, Shelly Albritton and Patricia Kohler-Evans, Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, Lanham, Md., 2012, 258 pp., $27.95 softcover.

Meaningful Conversations does not give you all the answers, but it does give you insightful conversation starters and reflective questions for self-examination that will allow leaders and their teams to address the key issues that can lead to transformative school improvement.

Each chapter targets a different area of school improvement and lays out specific questions and guidelines that assure that conversations begin with personal and group reflection and move on to team discussions that are “significant, purposeful, valuable, filled with intention, and results oriented.”

The authors cite character, courage, connection and competence as four keys to school success and then lay out challenging questions that will lead to deeper understanding. The process forces the reader to look below the surface and ask questions like “Can I be trusted and do I trust?“ “What evidence suggests that I am a courageous leader?” and “How do we know which parents and children are really engaged in the life of the school and which ones are not.” You can’t answer those questions without some honest soul searching, and you have to find evidence to support what you discover.

The authors understand that building what they call “hope-based” schools takes the “soft skills” necessary to build a nurturing school culture as well as the “hard skills” with clear expectations and consequences of an effective bureaucracy.

This is a book that will be most valuable if it is used by an inclusive leadership team working together to make the kind of transformative changes that take time, require broad ownership and deep understanding, but then can have lasting impact.

Reviewed by Bob Schultz, adjunct faculty member, educational leadership program, Brandman University, Davis, Calif.


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