Leadership through Connected Relationships

Unconventional Leadership: Bridging the connected world with meaningful relationships 
By Jessica M. Cabeen
(Routledge/Eye On Education, 2020 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Becky Johnson

Capturing the multi-faceted and ever-demanding roles of principals in the 21st century, Jessica M. Cabeen brings a fresh view and “of the moment” ideas to her reader audience.

With plenty of storytelling, her own in-the-trenches experience, and multiple guest perspectives, she offers a literal smorgasbord of resources to help you become a more connected, collaborative, and creative leader.

Divided into six areas of focus, Uncoventional Leadership begins with the most important piece of the education puzzle – students. Cabeen’s mantra in this chapter, and throughout the entire book, is relationships, relationships, relationships. Forming a solid foundation of mutual respect and love with students is key, and she provides several examples of how to forge these relationships early, regularly, and genuinely.

From the micro viewpoint of student, Cabeen gradually builds her chapters through larger and larger circles of influence. Student expands to staff, staff builds to families, families extend to colleagues, and finally, community stakeholders bring her argument to the macro level. Regardless of the focus group, Cabeen offers thoughts and strategies for making the often-times cerebral and lonely job of leadership into one that is personal and invigorating.

To aid her unconventional leadership style, Cabeen draws from a vast variety of sources to build and sustain her philosophy. From Don Miguel Ruiz’s “four agreements” to Jim Collins’s Good to Great, to hundreds of social media influencers, bloggers, and principals from all corners of the country, there are innovative ideas and actionable steps to explore and put into practice.

A Twitter goldmine

One of the most immediately useful aspects of the book is Cabeen’s unbelievable number of suggested Twitter accounts and hashtags to follow, as well as her strong encouragement to engage with social media as a primary avenue to drive your understanding and practice forward.

It will feel overwhelming to the uninitiated, but I completely agree with her advice to latch onto Twitter and make it a regular part of your professional growth.

Like many will be, I was hesitant to add scrolling through a social media feed to my already loaded plate, but I have never learned more in such an easy and efficient way about what is trending in education. Ideas, resources, products, collaborations, and lessons are being swapped 24 hours a day (free of charge!), and now, I almost daily share a new idea discovered via Twitter with my colleagues.

In addition to following educational thinkers and practitioners, Cabeen encourages us to participate and share our own insights, stories, and thoughts. I am still building up to this part of the task myself, but I also agree that the more actively we participate as teachers and leaders, the more we stand to gain.

Leading beyond the office

Cabeen makes a thoughtful case for leaders to step out of their offices and engage with the people they serve and work with through conversation and action, both in person and in the virtual world. There are thousands of opportunities every week to strengthen school culture, improve the student experience, collaborate with families, advocate in the community, and elevate our own understanding. Let’s hope that what is considered “unconventional” now becomes expected and routine in the school leadership of the future.

Becky Johnson, MA, NBCT has been an educator for the past twenty years, serving in both public and independent school settings. She currently teaches Sixth Grade Social Studies and serves as her school’s Director of Professional Development. Becky earned her Master’s degree in Education from the University of Kentucky in 2000, and subsequently her National Board Certification in 2007, with renewal in 2017.

In addition to her classroom experience, she attends and presents at national and local conferences. Her most recent professional presentation was at the Independent School Association of the Central States annual conference, and she chairs the Kentucky Association of Independent Schools Teacher Services Committee. 

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