Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders (3rd Edition)
Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller
Corwin Press (June 2009)
Reviewed by Nancy Flanagan, NBCT
Teacher Leaders Network
The second edition of Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders sits on a shelf above my workspace, its spine cracked and tattered. Text is highlighted — in three colors — and the volume is awash in sticky tabs, margin comments and random scraps of paper bearing quotes and additional book recommendations. I have assigned the book twice as a text for a graduate course I teach called "Teacher as Change Agent" and consider it a seminal work in the field of teacher leadership, my personal passion.
To be a useful source of ideas for positive change over time, updates to any education book must be significant, and content must have lasting value and importance. Teacher leadership is a rapidly evolving theme in the broader field of educational leadership. Books that once represented cutting-edge thinking are eclipsed as new research, conceptual frameworks and tools emerge. Works that once had great relevance and utility for practitioners are reexamined in the cool light of collected and analyzed data. Major policy shifts re-prioritize educational goals, and technology modifies leadership practice.
When Katzenmeyer and Moller published the first edition of Sleeping Giant, in 1996, the concept of teacher leadership was neither well-known nor clearly defined. Over the 13 years between the first and third editions, many national organizations and educational thinkers have attempted to identify critical characteristics of practitioner expertise and influence, and develop models, standards and structures for advancing teacher leadership. The new edition of Awakening the Sleeping Giant keeps pace with these developments. It continues to stand as a practical and effective foundation for the work of developing leadership in teachers — a kind of primer around the basic rationale for paying attention to teachers' craft and collegial knowledge, and a self-help plan for teachers interested in building their own leadership skills.
Revisions in the third edition were carefully incorporated; one of the nicest is the replacement of "expert" quotes at the beginning of each chapter with quotes from real teacher leaders. New self- and system-assessment tools have been added, and Katzenmeyer and Moller include updated thinking on the long-range career development of teachers who lead, generational differences in teacher expectations, and a range of new insights garnered from recent research. While each new edition has grown by approximately 40 pages, the authors have also judiciously removed or modified outdated or less-useful sections. The Resources section includes a well-chosen collection of important books and organizations, and the References list is comprehensive and thorough, a great launching pad for anyone interested in studying teachers as leaders. Moller and Katzenmeyer also generously acknowledge many teacher leadership initiatives, communities and authors in the text, including the Teacher Leaders Network.
The first two chapters of the book provide a framework for understanding the multiple definitions and kinds of teacher leadership and offer a well-researched justification for promoting leadership in teachers. Plainly, there are clear benefits to empowering teachers, beginning with increased student learning, accountability, creativity, retention, teacher satisfaction, and sustainable improvements in practice. In Chapter Three, the authors make a case for intentional development of leadership capacity in all teachers, beginning in pre-service teacher preparation and continuing with experiences in sharing expertise, building learning communities, and changing roles over the span of a career.
Chapters Four through Six describe an interactive, three-part model of leadership development: Personal assessment, changing school cultures to utilize teacher expertise, and cultivating individual leadership strategies and skills. The pieces of this model are interdependent — and the most exciting and progressive examples of teacher leadership happen when teachers understand their own strengths, fill their leadership tool bags, and work in an environment where adults can and do collaborate.
Katzenmeyer and Moller debunk the myth of the single charismatic school leader and offer hope to teachers whose school cultures seem inhospitable to the influence of teachers with good ideas. They provide a number of research-supported suggestions for reaching out to formal school leaders with evidence that distributing leadership tasks makes organizational sense and leads to more effective teaching and learning.
Chapters Seven and Eight examine some of the emerging challenges to new conceptions of teacher leadership, and the authors sketch a template for ongoing scholarship and structures to continue building knowledge and leadership models. Again — "teacher leadership" was virtually unrecognized in the educational leadership literature two decades ago. As teachers step forward to be change agents, eager to take responsibility for improving instruction and taking control of their own work, the path is not likely to be smooth. Moller and Katzenmeyer offer a persuasive rationale for pursuing the goals of teacher leadership in spite of obstacles and setbacks.
While the authors provide conclusions and recommendations in each chapter for principals, district administrators and university professors — and most teacher leaders would love to have their superintendents and graduate advisors reading and endorsing the ideas presented in the book — Sleeping Giant's natural audience and greatest impact is likely to be with practitioners. Well-researched and full of useful citations, the volume is less a scholarly investigation of changes in the practices of teacher leaders than a guide to developing and advocating for leadership from the classroom.
A teacher colleague, currently a graduate student at a local university, confessed that she found the book eminently useful in her own thinking and personal growth as a leader —— but said she had been discouraged from using it as a resource in developing a framework for her dissertation research on teacher leadership. She was told that Sleeping Giant was a "practitioner book," full of self-assessment surveys, tools, resources, and concrete (non-academic) language. She described the text as "leadership code switching for teachers" — turning significant and complex educational concepts into constructive, accessible suggestions for teachers.
This strikes me as both true and a ringing endorsement for the third edition of Awakening the Sleeping Giant. I seldom buy a new edition of a volume I already own, but I'm making an exception with this book.
Nancy Flanagan is a 30-year teaching veteran, a former Michigan state teacher of the year, and a consultant specializing in teacher leadership and virtual professional communities. She blogs at Teacher in a Strange Land.