A Review: The Intelligent, Responsive Leader


The powerhouse trio of authors,  Steve Katz (@Stevekatz), Lisa Ain Dack and John Malloy (@malloy_john),  attempt to address the widening gulf between top-down initiatives and what teachers are actually looking to do in their classroom. As educators’ days become more and more challenging with meeting various learner needs and increasing accountability, there comes a time when the pressure from the “top” can be viewed in opposition to their urgent needs or professional judgment and this tension becomes the last straw for many educators; which ultimately impacts all our learners. This resource is intended to support school leaders navigating the thin line between top-down expectations and learner needs while developing their leadership to effectively drive the learning and shift the culture to support student success.

What I liked best about this resource is summed up with this line: “The school is where the intelligent and the responsive meet” (p. 21).  I think that line allows everyone to take a breath, respects our individual learning spaces, and our professional judgment so that we can truly focus on the learners we serve.

It is the school leader’s responsibility to blend the top-down expectations with the urgent, professional needs of the learners in the building and this resource provides a clear path on how to navigate that bumpy path. I may be oversimplifying, but the authors are providing us with the tools to “work smarter, not harder”. We know educators at all levels do not have time to reinvent the wheel with all their other professional and personal obligations, and by implementing these known, effective practices, our energies can be better focused on the unique challenges that we face and that require more of our emotional and professional energies. It is this new learning that will truly have a permanent change on current practice for the benefit of our students.

By refocusing our energies on the issues that matter most, we can support a shift in thinking and culture in our learning spaces (perhaps the most difficult challenge for school leaders than the actual learning!) By shifting our mindset, engaging in meaningful inquiries and being open to new learning we have the opportunity to make professional, adaptive decisions based on our students’, and thus our, learning needs.


The book challenged me on a personal level around the topic of goal setting and documentation. When it comes to my purposeful practice  I see this as a challenge. Although the learning is there, the process for formalizing can be another stressor. Perhaps this is where my critical friends will have the greatest impact.  The authors provide great support in the area of documenting your learning and for breaking down the collaborative inquiry process so that learning can be measured in small, meaningful steps that both celebrate the success and drive the permanent changes that lead to our new learning. I appreciated just how small and simple the measure of successes can be that keep us moving forward.

The entire book is directed at leaders who as always, have their students at the centre of all they do:

“If, as we explained, a student learning need drives a teacher learning need, and a teacher learning need drives a leader learning need, then determining  a leader learning need must be traceable back to the students.” (93)

If we can streamline all that we do around what has already proven to be effective (intelligent response) with the new learning challenges (responsive) needs of all our learners while keeping our students at the centre, anything is possible. This is another great read for those who are trying to lead learning and change in their school while balancing the specific tensions of those we serve.



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