Book Review                                     Online Exclusive

Becoming a Strong

Instructional Leader  

Saying No to Business as Usual

by Alan C. Jones, Teachers College Press, New York, N.Y., 224 pp., $68 hardcover, $29.95 softcover


Alan C. Jones draws on his experience as a teacher and school administrator in elementary and secondary schools over 35 years to write Becoming a Strong Instructional Leader: Saying No to Business as Usual.

Jones describes in great detail what is wrong with business as usual in K-12 education. He challenges firmly held views about school governance in an effort to describe what should be done by principals who want to be strong instructional leaders. He is a proponent of leaders developing a shared belief system with their staffs that can serve as a coherent instructional worldview. Through a system of theories and practices, the author shows how these views can be manifested through strong instructional leadership.

As associate professor of educational administration for Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Jones is decisive in his description of the problem. Ordinary schools have principals who are only instructional managers. These leaders follow guidelines, state mandates and mainstream theories about school improvement.

Instructional managers simply oversee schools. They trust in an aligned curriculum with consistent models of instruction. He sees these schools and their leaders as constantly looking for a silver bullet. These are institutions that value conformity instead of creativity and passive compliance rather than engagement, where the emphasis is on earning credits over mastery.

Jones urges school leaders to move conversations from how to raise test scores to how to raise student engagement. He wants principals to develop an appreciation for developing a knowledge organization. He doesn’t advocate for walk-through observations as a way to evaluate instruction.

Rather, Jones sees administrators translating vague educational ideals into specific classroom practices through the use of vocabularies, analogies, metaphors and stories forming a pedagogical framework. He describes this as a reflective instructional environment, and he sees this as the essence of instructional leadership.

The reader can almost feel the contempt Jones has for the central office as well as directives from state and national origins. His view is that mandates from above are diversions that can lead a principal to lose focus on what is important — teaching and learning. This book is iconoclastic in that it condemns most current strategies of school reform. Many of the references Jones uses are dated to 30 years ago, giving perspective to his philosophy.

Becoming a Strong Instructional Leader is clearly written from a principal’s point of view. There is little acknowledgement for what it takes to move groups of schools in alignment on a larger scale. However, Jones writes with a passion and urgency that is compelling. His resolute confidence in his worldview of strong instructional leadership is a perspective worth considering.


Reviewed by Jeff Smith, superintendent, Balsz Elementary School District, Phoenix, Ariz.


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