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Pathways to Teacher Leadership

Emerging Models, Changing Roles

Book Review - Pathways to Teacher Leadership

by Marya R. Levenson. Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2014, 164 pp. with index, $24.95 softcover

Marya Levenson has given us an eye-opening and intriguing view of teacher leadership in her new book, Pathways to Teacher Leadership. She has excellent insight into the subject of leadership having been a successful teacher leader, school principal and school superintendent in urban and suburban settings in Massachusetts and New York Currently she is professor of the practice in education and the Harry S. Levitan Director of Education at Brandeis University.

Levenson makes it abundantly clear that schools desperately need to support “bright and dedicated teachers who want to improve their schools.” Formal and informal leadership collaboratives set in authentic learning communities are needed for this to happen. In the foreword to the book, written by Ann Lieberman of Stanford University, we are told that “Levenson guides us through a thicket of social, political and educational issues … never romanticizing teacher leadership, but rather offering an important alternative to the current ‘shame and blame’ game,” a game that in my opinion has virtually demonized teachers and school leaders over the past dozen years.”

The book gives voice to a number of teachers and school leaders working in alternative urban schools, charter schools and suburban schools and lets us see how important the balance between learning to teach, learning to lead and supporting teacher leaders is for those who wish to take school reform seriously. We read stories about different teachers in instructional leadership roles and, in my view just as importantly, in institutional leadership activities. We learn about their successful and not so successful ventures.

Research for the book involved three groups of teachers and principals: eight urban and suburban schools and charter schools, 17 teacher participants in the Brandeis/CETE (Consortium for Excellence in Teacher Education) summer 2011 and 2012 institutes, and a group of the author’s “colleagues who have been supporting and/or researching teacher leaders.” The book brings practice and theory together. It can be used by school superintendents and principals to stimulate serious discussions about applying the lessons in the book to improve teaching and learning.

Levenson is a scholar/practitioner and this book is written for those who see themselves in that same mold. I found the book enjoyable and eye-opening. The author hits those who would reduce teachers to automatons hampered by top-down edicts and a de-emphasis on collaboration, teacher creativity and teacher-led action. As she points out in the books’ conclusion, “we will not be able to educate all of our children so that they become productive citizens in our democracy unless passionate and smart teachers in our schools gain more agency and power to solve problems.” I couldn’t agree more.

Reviewed by Perry Berkowitz, associate professor and education leadership programs coordinator, College of Saint Rose, Albany, N.Y.

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