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Educational Leadership and Music


reviewed by Adrian Barnes & Lisa Vernon-Dotson

coverTitle: Educational Leadership and Music
Author(s): Terri N. Watson, Jeffrey S. Brooks, & Floyd D. Beachum (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681238551, Pages: 320, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

“The notion that music may provide lessons for educational leadership is a powerful one and offers rich possibilities for school leaders willing to think in creative ways about their practice” (p. xi).


This opening line of Robinson’s foreword to Educational Leadership and Music: Lessons for Tomorrow’s School Leaders provides insight into and a premise for the convergence of these seemingly unrelated topics. The editors and contributors creatively weave together various aspects of music with the work of school and educational leaders. This book truly has something for everyone. Music connections are made through (a) musical genres ranging from classical and gospel to heavy metal and rap; (b) renowned instrumentalists such as saxophonist Sonny Rollins and drummer Obed Calvaire; (c) song lyrics by Big Daddy Kane, Jill Scott, Matisyahu, and Lauryn Hill; and (d) singers and bands including Sister Sledge, U2, Kendrick Lamar, The Beatles, and Jasiri X, to name a few.


Through music, the 25 chapters connect the reader to various theoretical frameworks of leadership (e.g., servant leadership, critical race theory, transformational leadership, distributed leadership). Also discussed are issues that leaders must address within their roles, such as mentorship, self-care, identity, collaboration, and reflective practice. Three themes that surface repeatedly throughout the book are social justice and equity, resiliency, and the conflict between Eurocentric pedagogy and communities of color.


One strength of this book is its focus on social justice and equity in schools, which appears as an overarching theme throughout all 25 chapters. In Chapter One, “Leadership as Jazz: Critical Servant Leadership and the Music of John Coltrane,” Alston makes the connection between jazz and higher education leadership by postulating that certain characteristics found in Jazz (e.g., care, justice, conviction, responsibility) are also found in leadership, and are skills that every leader should have. John Coltrane’s role as the leader of the ensemble in A Love Supreme, Resolution, and Meditations is used as an example of how to be a successful, socially just leader.


In Chapter Four, “Which Song Do You Hear: Using Music as Artmaking to Explore Social Justice and Equity in Schools,” Boske and Liedel discuss artmaking as a tool to engage young students who they describe as “disenfranchised.” They also describe the case of an artist who became deeply engaged in social justice issues by working with young students diagnosed with emotional and behavioral challenges. The artist demonstrated how students’ stories can be used not only to create art, but to tell stories of injustice.


In Chapter Twenty, The Making of Matisyahu: Music Laying the Foundation for Re-Inspiring Social Justice Work in Education, Osanloo walks the reader through the religious and spiritual conflict dealt with by singer-songwriter Matisyahu. As Matisyahu reflects upon his Jewish upbringing, he questions how his religious beliefs intertwine with his divine purpose as well as the intersectionality of religion, culture, and politics. This is expressed in his music, which is considered eclectic due to its hip-hop and reggae influences and religious undertones. Osanloo describes Matisyahu’s struggle with finding purpose as similar to those who use their position in education as a means to become active in issues of social justice. Further, Osanloo alludes to the idea that, while not musicians, leaders in higher education are also in search of their divine purpose and feel similar emotions of weakness, loneliness, and pain as they attempt to make change in the lives of the disenfranchised.


Another prominent theme that the editors address is that of resilience. Resilience is a process that allows people to push through challenging situations while overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In Chapter Nineteen, “Mahalia Jackson Exemplifies Leadership through Gospel Music and Negro Spirituals,” Normore and Jean-Marie reflect on the life of famed Gospel artist and activist Mahalia Jackson to demonstrate how her life, music, and work in social justice serve as a framework for resiliency in leadership. Normore and Jean-Marie frame resilience as a quality that a leader must have and that is often developed under oppressive circumstances. As an African American woman born in the Jim Crow South, Jackson had to show immense resilience to deal with the social injustices of her time. Through her music, Jackson sang songs of triumph, patience, and overcoming, ideas often found in African American gospel music. It is this level of resilience that Normore and Jean-Marie insist educators must have to become transformative leaders and endure the challenges within the field of education.


Continuing with the theme of resilience in Chapter Twenty-Two, “Lessons in Leadership from the ‘Thunder God,’” the authors discuss Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen and the car accident that changed his life. Many would assume that after losing an arm, an essential appendage for a percussionist, a drummer would be forced to change their career. This was not the case for Rick Allen. Instead of giving up, Allen learned to play the drums with one arm. The authors believe that Allen’s ability to persevere in spite of his impairment, adjust his approach, and continue to experience great success is a story that educators should admire.


Throughout Educational Leadership and Music, conflict between Eurocentric pedagogy and communities of color is a prominent topic. In Chapter Nine, “Insights From the Flow of the Teacha’: Considering Hip-Hop in Education,” Dickerson, Salaam, and Anthony discuss KRS One’s socially conscious approach to hip-hop. In KRS One’s “Overcoming Self-Destruction,” he addressesses violence and other ills within the black community, ideas which were not welcomed by powerful record industry executives who preferred the more glamorized messages found in rap. It is in this same spirit of rebellion that Dickerson, Salaam, and Anthony encourage educators to break away from the hegemonic, Eurocentric ideas within education and provide a culturally conscious and responsive education.


In Chapter Twenty-One, “Interrogating Punishment through Race, Raptivism, and Youth Leadership of Jasiri X,” Prier provides another example of resilience as it relates to the “culture of punishment on Black males” (p. 228). Jasiri is a prominent hip-hop artist and political activist who in 2016 served as a professor in the School of Education at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During that time, he spoke and performed at a youth conference where he met with and taught hundreds of urban youth new leadership skills. The primary message shared by Prier is that educational leaders must disrupt the punishment of black youth that prevails in schools (and in our larger society) by hearing and recognizing the discourse communicated through hip-hop and learning how black youth make sense of their own communities.


Although the editors and contributors attempt to make connections between school leadership and music, many of the chapters fall short of making concrete connections to leadership theory, research, or practice. Further, the organization of the book into sections by musical genre or leadership topic (e.g., leadership identity, self-care, educational theory, school management) would have been useful. With that said, the authors do succeed at incorporating and addressing the topics of social justice and equity throughout the book. This aligns with DeMatthews and Coviello’s assertion in Chapter Eight that “organizational effectiveness and student learning outcomes are not sufficient leadership goals. There must be a larger, more socially conscious set of aims that school leaders adopt” (p. 85).


In conclusion, Watson, Brooks, and Beacham provide an undeniably interesting read that accomplishes their goal of “break[ing] down academic silos and forg[ing] meaningful connections between seemingly disparate disciplines” (p. xviii). The book, or any of its chapters, would appropriately serve as highly recommended reading in school leadership courses, a book study, or a topical discussion for professional development for educational leaders. This book fits nicely as a volume within Information Age Publishing’s series, “New Directions in Educational Leadership: Innovations in Research, Teaching, and Learning.” Our sentiment is aligned to Douglas’ statement in the Epilogue: “One cannot read this text and not reflect on his/her own musical journey” (p. 287).


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22355, Date Accessed: 10/18/2018 12:22:53 AM

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