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Citation: Calkins, Lucy, & Pessah, Laurie. (2008). A Principal's Guide to Leadership in the Teaching of Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. (with DVD).

Title: A Principal's Guide to Leadership in the Teaching of Writing
Year: 2008
Publisher: Heinemann
City: Portsmouth, NH
Medium: Book with DVD
Author(s): Pessah, Laurie
Calkins, Lucy
Grades: Kindergarten to Fifth Grade
Category: Communicating with Families about Writing Launching Writing Workshop Developing Units of Study Units of Study for Writing Writing Workshop
Annotation: If you are a principal and want to support your school in transforming the teaching of writing, this should probably be on the very top of your stack of professional books to read. The good news is that it’s relatively short and an easy read. If you’re a literacy coach or teacher leader, you may want to read the book as well and give a copy of this book to your principal with a ribbon around it. Lucy Calkins is the Founding Director and Laurie Pessah is the Deputy Director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in New York. This book offers principals a month-by-month plan for implementing the Units of Study. What’s so brilliant is that the book begins in March! Their rationale is that if you want to make writing a priority, you need to have a clear vision about how you will provide time and resources and what forms of professional development will help with implementation. Lucy and Laurie even offer a guarantee: “I can promise you that if you make this decision, if your teachers use the Units of Study books, and if teachers make a commitment to teaching a writing workshop every day (or even just four days a week), and if they plan together and help each other, your children’s writing will astonish you” (p. 16).

As a principal, you will appreciate the detailed and very specific monthly advice in each chapter. Beginning in March and April, they suggest that you gather resources, talk to teachers and schedule next year’s upcoming professional development so that by August, you’re ready to roll. Here are the ten chapter titles to entice you to dip into this book:

1. March: Prioritizing Writing Instruction
2. April: Researching and Planning
3. May/June: Launching the New Initiative
4. July/August: Getting Ready for the Year
5. September: Launching Writing Workshop
6. October: Making and Meeting Expectations
7. November: Engaging with Parents
8. December: Engaging with Children
9. January/February: Engaging with Teachers
10. Into the Future: Building Reform into Your School’s Infrastructure

The DVD that comes with the book allows you glimpses into classrooms where writing flourishes and includes interviews with Lucy, Laurie and several principals. The good news is that you’re not alone. There are hundreds of schools that have already embarked on this journey, some of which are probably in your own back yard. You can contact other schools (or even go visit) by connecting with them through the Teachers College website ( (The authors write that they wish the book could include an airline ticket for you attached to the back cover!). It’s too exhausting for each teacher to plan and teach in isolation. The book is about traveling down this path as a whole staff so that everyone at your school can become an exemplary teacher of writing. They recommend forming grade-level cohorts to explore and implement the Units of Study: “There are few decisions that you and your teachers can make that are more important than the decision that classrooms will travel in sync through a year-long curriculum in the teaching of writing” (p. 41).

This book is more than a book about improving the teaching of writing. It’s about structuring your day as a principal so that you can be in classrooms and communicating with parents. It’s about supporting your teachers as they hone their craft. And it’s also about being an inspirational leader and making your own learning public. This book can become a guidebook for any aspect of school-wide reform since the process for implementing writing process and units of study can serve as a model for implementing change in any area of the curriculum.