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Summer reading: Leverage Leadership

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I always start the summer determined to improve myself. Although the drive to get back into 34in waisted trousers normally fails dismally, I usually get at least one book on teaching under my (strained) belt. Last year it was Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo.

I have shied away from management roles as I love teaching and never wanted to distance myself from the classroom. However, this guide to school improvement suggests that such distancing is not inevitable.

The premise is that in the most successful schools, leaders spend the vast majority of their time trying to improve teaching rather than on administrative or other tasks.

For leaders willing to embrace this philosophy, Bambrick-Santoyo provides everything needed, including example timetables and copious illustrative videos (on an accompanying DVD).

He bases the leverage leadership approach on the idea that there are seven “levers” that can be used for school improvement.

Three in particular stand out. First, data-driven instruction is key: teachers need to take the time (or be given it) to use summative assessments to discover what needs to be revisited. Planning should be adjusted accordingly.

Second, observation and feedback in most schools is based on a few formal observations each year, used solely for evaluation. Leverage leaders timetable weekly 15-minute observations, along with associated feedback, making it clear that the purpose is coaching and improvement, not evaluation.

Finally, Bambrick-Santoyo says that “in schools with strong cultures, students receive a continual message that nothing is as important – or engaging – as learning”.

He gives examples of the value of focusing on the minutiae of school life, with particular reference to breaktime and in-class routines.

Throughout the book, he emphasises that, in the best schools, “face-to-face communication is valued and has a priority”. Schools are highly complex, he says, but they are human organisations and even with the best systems in place, they need highly committed, personal and visible management.

I recommend this book for existing senior leaders, aspiring leaders, or teachers who just want to pick up ideas to improve their own classroom routines.

Simon Porter works for premium international schools organisation Nord Anglia Education

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