Different strokes for different folks

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
Change Forces with a Vengeance, By Michael Fullan; RoutledgeFalmer pound;12.99

The Moral Imperative of School Leadership, By Michael Fullan Sage Publications pound;16.99 pbk, pound;43 hdbk

A Practical Guide to New School Leaders

By John Daresh and Trevor Arrowsmith

Paul Chapman Publishing pound;16.99pbk, pound;60 hdbk

My respect for Michael Fullan and his work over the years makes me dangerously close to being classified as a groupie. I always try to catch at least one of his talks when he's in the UK. His two latest books illustrate his long-recognised and enviable skills as a writer with the capacity to clarify issues we've dimly known about, and bring them into startlingly clear focus.

But groupies don't necessarily make the best reviewers. So let me start by stating two reservations eminent sociologists express about Fullan. The first is that he's so in demand as a consultant and, sometimes, as what researchers might call a "soft evaluator" (school districts and states in the United States and Canada; the Government and local education authorities in the UK) that he's in danger of losing his objectivity because, the argument runs, he becomes so involved. The second is that he's too generous to the second-rate in his field.

He answers the first charge by his reflections on the "literacy" and "numeracy" strategies of the UK, exploring their weaknesses and limitations as well as their strengths. But on the second - and is it so culpable to be generous to others who perhaps don't deserve it? - the jury will be still out after his neutral comments in Change Forces with a Vengeance on the extraordinary offering from Hay Group Management in 2002 No Barriers, No Boundaries: breakthrough leadership that transforms schools. This study of UK headteachers offered a counter-intuitive and unhelpfully misleading call to heads to make enemies, operate as isolates, spend time out of school and not get hung up on spending time on learning and teaching.

Fullan examines the publication seriously as though it were based on sound research methods rather than a few visits using unstated and unquantified criteria of the authors' view of a "successful" school. With typical kindness, he uses it to underline the valid point that different contexts demand different interventions - a view urban school reformers haven't sufficiently recognised. Change Forces with a Vengeance is the final book in a trilogy that has been showing us more of the factors that can make change successful whether at the level of the school, the district (LEA) or the state - and, importantly, how they articulate with one another.

The Moral Imperative of School Leadership is a sequel to what many heads consider Fullan's best and most practical book, Leading in a Culture of Change. Here he follows up moral purpose, brought into sharp relief in individual schools. Without moral purpose, nothing of value is achieved. We learn how it is deployed effectively and Fullan makes the difficult but important case that truly moral school leadership recognises its obligations to the wider community and other schools, an argument that those of us pushing for collegiates will welcome.

I read both Fullan's books at a gulp: they are written in a style and of a length (about 100 pages) to make that possible. If you are a head of department, a deputy, a head, an LEA officer or adviser or a DfES official, buy both.

A Practical Guide to New School Leaders covers the same territory but is pitched differently, dealing with hypothetical but practical realities and crises in leadership. It's a book for working heads and deputies, with overviews, case studies and, like a workbook, room for notes and reflections.

It touches the expectations of others, of leaders, the ever present self-doubt, our values base, the mutual impact of the culture of the school on the head and the deputy, the skills required, and the need for coaching, mentoring and continual learning.

It will be appreciated by those taking up new posts as head or deputy and should be part of their personal collections. The Fullan books will be in the staff library.

Tim Brighouse is commissioner for London schools. Michael Fullan is touring the UK and the Republic of Ireland until May 23. For details see www.michaelfullan.ca

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