J. Michael Wilhelm has written a very different, very practical, and very important addition to the professional bookshelf for educational leaders on problem solving in organizations. Using a concept borrowed from clinical therapists and professional mediators, Wilhelm has created an alternative approach to the traditional step-by-rational-step technique for problem solving used in most organizational behavior literature. He notes that humans create and use stories and story telling – narratives - to make sense of their world and the challenges within them, and that in a complex organization peoples’ stories may vary from one another. Wilhelm borrows from the concept of narrative therapy to explain how any educational leader can use it to view an organizational problem that faces her as a complex story with several possible narratives. He then offers a series of twelve stories developed from actual incidents in school settings from the classroom to the school board to the wider community itself. Each story involves multiple actors in conflict over what has gone “wrong;” and the actors hold differing ideas about how the leader should make it “right.” Wilhelm does not offer a “right” answer, but through the use of guiding questions for each story based on the constructs of narrative therapy, helps the reader construct his own means of resolving the problem. As I read through the stories, I recognized several that resonated with similar problems from my own past, and I winced, knowing that if I could have a “do over” with Wilhelm’s guiding questions to help my leadership team and me, we could have achieved better outcomes for our school communities!
Books on school leadership all too often present the work of leaders too neatly and simplistically, leaving the reader wondering why her or his own experience is so different and, often, resistant to solutions described in those books. Mike Wilhelm’s volume will feel like home to practicing leaders, and particularly to central office and school board leaders. Its twelve stories are a pleasure to read: their characters come alive in the narrative; the core parts of each leadership challenge are made plain; and the reader is invited inside the problem-solving process to engage in deeper thinking about resolution. Wilhelm’s descriptions, drawing on his own long experience as superintendent, will resonate with readers’ own stories. Discussing them with colleagues offers powerful opportunities for leaders – whether practicing or aspiring – to make sense of the very real challenges of their work. This book is a much-needed resource that district-level leaders and professional learning programs, whether pre-service or in-service, will find engaging, provocative, and extraordinarily helpful in practice.
Everyone loves a good story. Veteran superintendent, Mike Wilhelm has captured the essence of a day in the life of a School Superintendent. Through 12 relevant and timely case studies, Mike dives into the complexity of the role of a School Superintendent and the myriad of issues they face ranging from relationships with School Boards, Administration, policy development and current issues such as the perennial presence of technology in our schools. Easy to read, and easier to relate to; the case studies provide real life issues of running a district which are followed by essential questions to provide the reader with the opportunity to explore similar situations they may face in their own districts, with a better understanding of the social and emotional context that underline many of the issues Superintendents face.
A great deal of prior theory on educational leadership has relied upon linear thinking and objective problem solving. Author and former superintendent Mike Wilhelm provides a very intriguing and necessarily helpful approach to exploring situations that present themselves on a regular basis to superintendents and school board members alike. Mike’s approach is inclusive. It is reflective. It can be collaborative. Today’s schools bring with them complex issues. School district leadership today requires skills and practices to successfully navigate through choppy waters. Mike provides such an approach. This is a must read and reference for school district leaders. It won’t stay on the shelf.
My career in education has spanned over 50 years, with thirty of them as a Superintendent of schools. As I reflect on this book, it’s familiar stories and interesting process of problem solving, I have considered the decisions I have made, the methods I used to resolve them, and the resulting impact. Had I been familiar with and used the narrative approach to problem solving, I feel my decisions would have been better and that the results would have been contributive to the betterment of the whole organization. This book needs to be read by all leaders, veteran and emerging. It should be a part of a leadership development program.