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Cage-Busting Leadership

It is true, as would-be reformers often argue, that statutes, policies, rules, regulations, contracts, and case law make it tougher than it should be for school and system leaders to drive improvement and, well, lead. However, it is also the case that leaders have far more freedom to transform, reimagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling than is widely believed. In K–12 education, we have done a poor job of equipping school and system leaders to address challenges; squeeze the most value out of scarce funds; or to make the fullest use of 21st-century time, tools, talent, and money. The new book “Cage-Busting Leadership” is one modest attempt to help us — teachers, leaders, policymakers, and anyone with a stake in education — do better.

Coming Soon: Cage-Busting Teacher

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In their just-released white paper, “The most interesting school district in America?: Douglas County and the Pursuit of Suburban Reform,” Hess and Eden showcase Douglas County as the district that “provides a stark counterpoint to the conventional reform narrative.”

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School, system, and state leaders can do much more than they often realize but tend to be hindered by a “culture of can’t” in which urban legends, misinformation, and undue caution stop them from doing what they think will be best for students. What are some of these myths . . . and what’s the real story?

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For school leaders, the key is more brains and less bravado, says Rick Hess.

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By encouraging a single-minded focus on instructional leadership, the training, socializing, and mentoring of school leaders has unwittingly fostered a culture of caged leadership.

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“Cage-Busting Leadership” (Harvard Education Press, February 2013) is a new book and consequently, a small, growing movement for educators trying to take a machete to administrative red tape and contracts that tend to paralyze district leaders from doing what’s best and right for the students.

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Cage-busting helps create the conditions in which you can be the leader you want to be. The reward? The chance to create schools equal to your aspirations.

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I want to be clear about two things. First, I’m suggesting that almost the entire education leadership canon suffers from a giant blind spot. Second, I am not in any way, shape, or form dismissing the works that encourage instructional leadership. It has valuable things to say, but it only speaks to one half of the leadership equation. In ignoring the cage, leaders trap themselves within it.

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Where in the world is Rick Hess?

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“Hess’ book gives us inspiration and direction for ensuring that no child in America goes to a school governed by a culture of ‘can’t.'”

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A practical and entertaining volume, Cage-Busting Leadership will be of profound interest and value to school and district leaders — and to everyone with a stake in school improvement.

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