School leaders have to respond in dramatically different ways to the variety of circumstances they may face. But books on school management and the new National Professional Qualification for Headship are one-dimensional and neglect the realities of leadership - the need to respond to the complexity and turbulent demands of schools.
Who says? Professor Tim Brighouse, vice-chairman of the Government's standards task force, talking to the fifth TESKeele seminar on school leadership.
Tim Brighouse, former professor of education at Keele and now chief education officer for Birmingham, said: "Of all the fields in which to attempt leadership, the school must be the most demanding."
Most studies of educational leadership make little allowance for the speed of changing circumstances in schools dealing with challenging adolescents, changing teams of teachers and increasing external expectations, he told an audience of heads, deputies and academics last week.
"Classes and groups can be different and need different leadership at different times," he said. This was often apparent to heads who took up a headship in a second school. "To lead or teach successfully in a socially advantaged school is not necessarily a guide to success in a challenging urban environment or vice versa."
Leaders might need to act quite differently depending on whether the school or department was working well or was organisationally dysfunctional or facing a real crisis. Even schools or departments in apparently similar circumstances could be plunged into unforeseen difficulties if a successful staff team disintegrated through promotion or illness.
Some aspects of leadership were the same whatever the circumstances, he said, but others needed to be tailored to the situation. "The overriding concern of leaders of educational ventures is to create curiosity and energy among staff and pupils... The leader needs to provide a constant example of learning.
"Learning occurs where people are equipped to ask questions...In a crisis, however, when three members of staff have gone and only temporary replacements are in place, the Socratic dialogue must be modified."
Professor Brighouse listed some of the characteristics of leadership important for the organisational climate in a school: characteristics to be maintained whatever the circumstances. These included: l infectious optimism: people have to feel better after speaking to their leader; how leaders say something is as important as what they say; * commitment beyond the call of duty is necessary or others in the school would doubt its worth; * being a good listener: heads who don't listen aren't heard; * taking the blame and celebrating success: leaders should not be greedy; they should accept blame rather than dishing it out and share the fruits of success; * having a clear philosophy: if the leader is confused, staff do not understand what aims they are expected to pursue.
But other ways in which leaders set the climate in a school depended upon the situation they faced. And Professor Brighouse suggested three different approaches to management that affected the organisational climate.
In the problem-solving model, needs or deficiencies were identified, causes analysed, solutions brainstormed and action plans developed.
The model he called appreciative enquiry involved identifying the best of "what is" in the school; envisioning "what might be"; developing new knowledge and theory about "what should be" and creating the vision of "what will be".
The four steps of the third model, ensuring compliance, Professor Brighouse described as "Describe what is right; promulgate single solutions; regulate and inspect; punish in public deviants and inadequates.
"Any organisation is trying to balance these approaches. A dysfunctional one will need more appreciative enquiry and less problem solving whereas when things are going well, more of the problems can be tackled as a result of the banks of energy available."
Schools in crisis needed to identify just one or two major problems to be solved - probably to do with organisation, communication or confused responsibilities, with the leader writing the first draft of actions and plans. But they also needed appreciative enquiry too.
"If there is time - and there may not be - it will be wise to try to get some ownership and collective shaping of as many of the answers as possible rather than prescribe.
"Leaders need to know enough about the constants of behaviour and the variables of the role if they are to sustain schoolsuccess."
Among the essential leadership tasks was the ability to create energy in schools by learning from and with staff; encouraging "what if?" speculation; being fussy about appointing new "energy creators" to the staff and involving colleagues in the process; ensuring job descriptions include shared leadership roles. Unexpected acts of thoughtfulness and appreciation; inspiring staff by "walking and talking the job" were also important "energy creators".
"Some have described one necessary part of leadership as 'helicoptering'. By this they mean the capacity to hover overhead to see the whole of the organisation. Probably a better analogy for schools, built close as they were to the factory, are the works where the boss was in an office above the shop floor. This allowed the boss to see exactly what was going on.
"Neither the helicopter nor the factory quite conveys the immediacy the modern headteacher needs to display. Riding a pogo-stick might be better ... combining dealing with the crisis and the ability to see a broader picture moments later.
"Zebedee-like they bounce from issue to issue, often like Zebedee turning up where and when people least expect but most appreciate."
WHAT MAKES A GOOD LEADER
Leaders needed to build capacity by using all the experience and skills of staff; investing in staff development; creating task groups of new young staff and acting on their recommendations; taking a lesson to release a colleague to observe another.
* Good leaders seek and chart improvements through collective monitoring; encouraging a research and risk-taking culture and "benchmarking" and celebrating progress at awards evenings, governing bodies and staff meetings.
* They secure the environment by sharing leadership and profiling management strengths and weakness; maintaining a common database for comparative purposes; ensuring learning materials were well organised; minimising unproductive meetings; improving staff rooms and updating the staff handbook.
* Meeting and minimising crisis displaying unwarranted optimism, acknowledging mistakes and drawing on their own understanding of teaching and learning to plug gaps were also essential tasks for the leader, as was extending the vision of the organisation.
The final TESKeele Improving Schools Network seminar for 1998 will be held on Wednesday, October 14: Dame Pat Collarbone on Leading Leadership Centres.
For details, contact Dorothy Tyson on 01782 583126