All this talk of vision and passion is a definite turn-off

1st February 2013 at 00:00
We can offer overseas visitors more than rhetoric and ensure they leave with something truly memorable

If we are all saying the same thing, are we are all right? Or have we swallowed the same message and regurgitated it simultaneously?

I recently met a group of Indian educationalists visiting Scotland. I enjoy meeting teachers from other countries. I've visited schools and education departments in Ireland, Germany, Austria and South Africa and always discovered different perspectives on similar problems as well as recognising issues that are distinct and shaped by local circumstances.

This time I was intrigued but concerned. The Indian visitors had identified four issues to explore in Scotland. These were school leadership models, inclusive education, improving learning and teaching and teachers' professional development. The coincidence of these with the current debates in Scottish education made me gasp and then pause.

My problem is that the leadership rhetoric has become the stock-in-trade of the great and the good in Scottish education. Increasingly woolly, abstract concepts are trotted out as defining leadership: from integrity to creativity, to confidence, to empathy, to vision and to passion.

The last two annoy me especially. It was put to me recently by a contemporary that when we started teaching 40 years ago, anyone claiming to have "vision" would have been assumed to be mentally ill, have delusions of sainthood or be using illicit substances; certainly not be heading for promotion. Passion was also problematic: it was reserved for one's private life, was not to be confused with professional commitment or dedication and was not a route to leadership.

Unfortunately, many who today speak most loudly about leadership, are among the worst examples of the craft. Take one senior local authority official as an example. When chided that his latest cost-cutting proposal was unethical, he replied that he was interested in budgets, not ethics.

During my school career, I knew several excellent leaders. They imbibed leadership skills from others, in education and elsewhere. They had professional and intellectual values that they defended rigorously. They did not enter conflicts lightly but when the system, in the shape of the local authority, government or HMIs threatened, they came together and stood by their principles.

I hope our Indian guests meet these leaders in Scottish schools. They might then take more than mere rhetoric back to India and they may offer their own wisdom and experience to those they meet.

Alex Wood works at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration.

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