Fearless Conversations School Leaders Have to Have


Irving C. Jones Sr. & Vera Blake

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  • Copyright


    This book is dedicated to Benson D. Blake and Jeannette G. Jones for their unwavering support, love, and encouragement from the beginning of this project to its conclusion. Their advice, suggestions, and insights were valued and appreciated as we collaborated on this endeavor.


    Leadership in education, as in every other sector of society, has always been important. However, today that leadership is both more important and more difficult than ever before. That is why Fearless Conversations About Leadership: How to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Really Help Kids is a must read for all existing and aspiring administrators and teacher leaders.

    To make this point, let me pose just one of many fearless conversations school leaders today need to lead. Today’s schools were designed to prepare students for success in the 20th century—a time when students needed to have a series of skills and knowledge that schools were well organized and focused on to teach. The technology/information-based society our students will now work and live in has changed many of the skills and knowledge they will need and, most important, how they will need to be used. Much of what we have traditionally taught and tested in our schools can now be Googled. Therefore, by way of example, we won’t let students use their technology when they take a test because they might Google the answer or share information with others via a text or e-mail. In other words, they might use resources or work with others—the two most basic skills needed for success in the world beyond school.

    This raises one of many questions school leaders need to confront. Are we trying to make technology conform to our 20th-century schools, or are we trying to transform our 20th-century schools to better prepare our students for success in the 21st century’s technology/information-based society in which they will live and work?

    The authors have a rich history in helping their colleagues address difficult issues such as these. Therefore, their suggestions in this book are not theoretical; they are proven strategies. From creating an environment that will have such thoughtful and soul-searching conversations to developing a vision-driven culture to frame the discussion, the authors provide great insights and also very practical strategies.

    As the authors so nicely lay out, fearless conversations can only be productive when they are thoughtfully planned and executed.

    Having personally watched the authors successfully lead their schools, it is a pleasure to now see them helping existing and aspiring school leaders to also benefit from their experiences and insights.

    Bill Daggett, Ed.D.Founder and Chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education


    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    Mary K. Culver, Clinical Professor, K–12 Educational Leadership

    Arizona University

    Flagstaff, Arizona

    Bill Daggett, Founder and Chairman

    International Center for Leadership in Education

    Rexford, New York

    Dr. Rich Hall, Director of Elementary Education

    Henrico County Public Schools

    Henrico, Virginia

    Kathryn Jones, Clinical Instructor in Educational Leadership

    Lamar University

    Beaumont, Texas

    Scott A. Miller, Middle School Educator

    The American School of Kinshasa

    Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

    Melinda Whittle, High School Vice Principal

    Arizona Preparatory Academy

    Phoenix, Arizona

    About the Authors

    Dr. Irving C. Jones, Sr. a native son of New York City’s South Bronx, spent 34 years in public education. Dr. Jones received his bachelor of arts degree from William Penn University, master’s of education degree in educational administration from the University of Virginia, and his doctoral degree in educational administration and policy studies from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Moving through the ranks from an English teacher to a high school principal and then an executive director, Dr. Jones has initiated a variety of mentorship programs for both students and teachers and developed partnerships among private industries, community colleges, universities, and high schools. Dr. Jones has been recognized as a leader on topics of educational leadership. Over the last 25 years, Dr. Jones has presented at international, national, state, and local conferences on topics including minority student achievement, dropout prevention, interdisciplinary instruction in the secondary school, supervision of instruction, teaching strategies that engage active learning, career pathways, creating collaborative teaching and learning environments in schools, students transitioning from alternative placements, the transition of ninth graders into high school, and leadership in an age of accountability. Dr. Jones was selected as the 2002 Outstanding High School Principal for Virginia. In October 2002 Dr. Jones was named the 2003 NASSP/MetLife National Principal of the Year. Additionally, for his dedication to education in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2003, he was awarded the Virginia Lottery’s Excellence in Education Award. Dr. Jones since 2013 has been the president of ICJ & Associates LTD. And, since 2009, he has served as a senior consultant for the International Center for Leadership in Education, a division of Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt. Dr. Jones currently serves on the board of trustees for William Penn University, and his hobbies include singing in his church choir, martial arts, reading, crossword puzzles, motorcycling, and swimming. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Jeannette, and they have one son, 25-year-old Irving Jr.

    Dr. Vera Blake president of VJ Blake and Associates, Inc., is currently an international consultant who is working as a leadership coach and professional developer for instructional improvement. Her work has included capacity-building coaching and consulting for school improvement in schools and districts nationwide, the US Virgin Islands, Istanbul, and the Middle East. This capacity-building work has included coaching K–12 school leaders, designing curriculum and instructional improvement seminars and workshops, and working as an adviser and coach to primary decision makers at school and district levels. She has extensive experience in integrating technology in curriculum design and student engagement strategies. In addition, she served as adjunct professor at the University of Virginia, George Mason University, Virginia Tech, and the University of the District of Columbia. As a retired high school and middle school principal from Fairfax County, Virginia, with a master’s degree from the University of Virginia and an Ed.D. from Vanderbilt University, she was Virginia Middle School Principal of the Year, Fairfax County Principal of the Year, and a Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leader. She was also a contributing author to the book Transforming Ourselves, Transforming Schools: Middle School Change and a coauthor of several academic articles touching on school-community partnership, diversity, student achievement, and school management.

  • Appendices

    Appendix A
    Daggett System for Effective Instruction Questionnaire

    Please complete the following readiness rubric as a team to effectively understand where your school or district is in terms of readiness to effectively act as a system to improve instruction.

    It is important to first complete this rubric as a team and then move to creating action plans based on the three segments of the Daggett System of Effective Instruction (DSEI). The action plans are provided and should be completed collaboratively based on the highest-need practice areas for each of the segments.

    If you need to refer to the DSEI white paper or element descriptors, you may access them at DSEI white paper (www.leadered.com/our-philosophy/dsei/questionnaire).

    KEY: Best Practices Descriptors
    • Firmly Established: The practice is long-standing, is deeply embedded in the district or school culture, and is embraced as a priority by all stakeholders.
    • Partially Established: The practice is in the beginning stages of implementation, and there is significant support for the practice among many stakeholders. However, the practice is not equally understood or valued among all groups. The practice is not implemented with fidelity across the system.
    • In Planning Stages: There is significant support for the practice across the system. It is seen as a high priority by many, and planning is underway to implement and/or pilot it.
    • Not Evident: The practice is not viewed as a high priority by many stakeholders, and there is no evidence of planning or implementation.
    Organizational Leadership Questionnaire

    Reflect on the following questions, and identify the level of readiness for each item.

    Instructional Leadership Questionnaire

    Reflect on the following questions, and identify the level of readiness for each item.

    Teaching Questionnaire

    Reflect on the following questions and identify the level of readiness for each item.

    Daggett, B. ( 2017 ). Daggett System for Effective Instruction (DSEI) Questionnaire. New York, NY: International Center for Leadership in Education. Retrieved from www.leadered.com/our-philosophy/dsei/questionnaire
    Appendix B
    An Invitation to Our Readers

    One of the challenges of improving as leaders is to disrupt our isolation from major sources of power—each other. We invite you to share your experiences, thoughts, stories, ideas, and problems to help us create a powerful volume of resourceful tools that can benefit others. Our follow-up plan includes sharing information from our readers in a manner that may provide support to them and others. Please use the following guidelines:

    School Name:

    Your Name/Position:



    • Please limit your submission to two (2) pages or less.
    • Please describe the pertinent demographics of your school or school district.
    • Describe how sharing this information, problem, situation, and so on may benefit others.
    • Submit your information electronically to ijones.depd@gmail.com or verajblake@gmail.com

    Submitting your ideas, stories, and so on constitute your giving permission for them to be used in future volumes. If your information is selected for inclusion in future sharing, names, school districts, and other identifiable information will be deleted and/or changed to preserve anonymity. Contributors will be acknowledged in the resource section of the book.


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