Champions, sheep and saboteurs

24th June 2005 at 01:00
LEADING CHANGE IN SCHOOLS: a practical handbook. By Sian Case. Network Educational Press pound;17.95

LEADING TEACHERS. By Helen Gunter. Continuum pound;18.99

IMPROVING SCHOOLS THROUGH COLLABORATIVE ENQUIRY. Edited by Hilary Street and Julie Temperley. Continuum pound;19.99

Leading Change in Schools does what it says on the cover. Sian Case has worked in education and business and draws on both areas to offer practical advice. The result is useful reading for anyone leading or involved in change in schools (meaning all of us). The book could be used by individuals, teams or whole schools and contains helpful pro formas with structured questions to take the reader through the change process.

Both the process and the advice are sensible and pertinent. We are reminded about the importance of engaging with the emotional reaction to change, and given suggestions about how to deal with common responses to ideas we have not ourselves proposed.

Some of the pro formas would be best dealt with in locked rooms and, once completed, eaten: for example, those which help you decide which of your colleagues needs to be informed, inspired, persuaded, influenced, cajoled or consulted; or who in the group affected by change are the champions, allies, disinterested, saboteurs, sheep, open opponents or dinosaurs.

Leading Teachers also deals with change, but rather differently. It is a more challenging book. Helen Gunter is a professor at the University of Manchester, though she still sees herself first and foremost as a teacher.

She thinks everyone in the educational hierarchy should identify themselves this way, including heads, and believes that heads who do not teach are not acceptable or credible.

The title of her book is deliberately ambiguous and could be consistent with the notion of teachers being led by others, though her focus is on another interpretation. She suggests that, because of pressures from the new Right and New Labour, we are in danger of losing sight of the educational leadership that is integral to learning processes and outcomes.

She believes teachers are leaders through their relationships with others and in their classrooms; that leadership has always been part of being a teacher and that we need to reclaim this notion to recapture vitality and validity. She advocates giving more opportunities for leading teachers to study philosophy, storytelling and policy-making in order to change the status quo rather than reinforce it, suggesting that some leadership development activities such as mentoring could simply serve to replicate existing power structures.

Gunter wants teachers to be encouraged to question existing practice and exercise judgment, though she recognises this is not easy in the current climate. She makes the salient point that it is impossible to control everything, much as some people would like to, so we need teachers who can respond to the unpredictable. Unlike Leading Change in Schools, this book will not help you decide what to do on Monday morning, but it will make you think.

Improving Schools Through Collaborative Enquiry might help you both to think and to decide what to do on Monday morning. The authors use the term "collaborative enquiry" to describe school-based research undertaken by individual practitioners working together. I suspect that almost everyone who reads this well written and accessible book will want to start practising collaborative enquiry if they are not doing so already. Of the six authors (including the two editors), three are involved in the National College for School Leadership's networked learning communities (NLC) initiative; the remaining three are more loosely connected, but familiar with strands of NLCs.

David Jackson and Hilary Street take us through a model that all NLCs have used: the three fields of knowledge and the six levels of learning. The three fields of knowledge are: what is known (knowledge from theory, research and best practice); what we know (practitioners' knowledge); and new knowledge (that created through the enquiry). The six interdependent levels of learning involve pupil learning, adult learning, school-wide learning, leadership for learning, school-to-school learning and network-to-network learning.

The authors make a case for involving many staff in leadership activities, on the assumption that there are more people in schools with leadership potential than there are formal roles. We are told what collaborative enquiry looks like and how important distributive leadership is towards its success. Julie Temperley and Julie McGrane show us real examples of the impact of collaborative enquiry through the use of case studies. Examples include researching what makes a good teacher, what makes a good lesson and students' role in successful learning.

Kate Myers is senior associate in leadership for learning at the University of Cambridge

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