Book Review

The Art of School Leadership

by Thomas R. Hoerr, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, Va., 2005, 217 pp., $27.95 paperback

“Welcome to my world,” says Thomas R. Hoerr in The Art of School Leadership, and welcome us he does! Hoerr, head of the New City School in St. Louis, Mo., since 1981, gives us a powerful glimpse of a consummate principal doing a 24/7 job in an urban setting with humility, passion and candor.

It is rare that a leader can be reflective in a way that gives voice to her or his work. It is more unusual that such a leader can write in a way that gives others the power to find in their own work new meaning and insight.

Roland Barth, author of many books on school leadership, says in the book’s forward: “Some dream. Some enact the dreams of others. Very few dream and then follow those dreams. Even fewer write about this.”

What Hoerr offers is an understanding of his world, the world of a principal who has 350 students from diverse backgrounds, who has found a way to deal with the myriad of problems with which all principals deal (academic challenges, motivational challenges, mistakes and self-criticism, conflict among faculty, staff, students, parents and external groups) and at the same time reflect, grow, connect research to practice and enjoy life. Wow!

Hoerr’s work is not perfect. He tells us this. He focuses on a style of leadership that is all about relationships. That’s right-minded but very difficult, sometimes ambiguous and frustrating. Nevertheless, Hoerr’s work is inspiring, solidly research based, and, most importantly in my opinion, transferable to other settings.

When I finished reading this book I liked Hoerr and agreed with most of what he recommends to those who wish to learn about and practice the art of school leadership. More than that, I imagined myself working in the New City School, a school that really values diversity, that challenges everyone to grow and develop as a teacher, leader and person.

Reviewed by Perry Berkowitz, assistant professor of education leadership, College of Saint Rose, Albany, N.Y.