Education books

16th February 2001 at 00:00

In the Twenties, it was fashionable to say that some women had "It". The original "It Girl", indeed, was silent film star Clara Bow, aka "The Brooklyn Bonfire".

Sigmund Romberg and his bunch of lyricists tried to define the undefinable It in the 1927 musical The Desert Song. This has a comic duet which refers to "that improper fraction of vague attraction that gets the action somehow".

This works equally well as a definition of leadership -- a similarly elusive quality that many are content to judge simply on the basis that when it's there, good things happen. The relevance for schools is today's assumption that heads have to be good managers and good leaders.

With that in mind, Paul Taffinder's The Leadership Crash Course (Kogan Page pound;14.99) is a good introduction to the debate. Aimed at a general management audience, it neatly clarifies the issues, illustrating them with some good case studies from industry. It's called a "course" because the book contains activities and little tests. But it's still a good read if you don't do them.

The search for management and leadership role models can lead in unexpected directions. It took Simon Green to the teachings of Sun Tzu, a Chinese philosopher of the fourth century bc. The result is his The Art of War for Teachers (Teaching and Learning Publications pound;5.75 inc pamp;p. Email: uk).

Described as being "for all who do battle on a daily basis in the field of classroom conflict", it takes sayings of Sun Tzu, one by one, and expounds on them in the context of the classroom. So Sun Tzu's "All warfare is based on deception" is followed by some questions and answers.

"How does the wise teacher deceive honestly?" has an answer which begins: "Let the pupils see only the effect of your good teaching and not the small steps towards it."

If you can read beyond the assumption that the classroom is some sort of battlefield - and many will have problems with this - you will find plenty of wisdom here. As Simon Green shows, good leadership in school is not confined to the top corridor but starts in the classroom.

In Creating a Community of Learners using the Teacher as a Facilitator Model (National Dropout Prevention Centre, approx pound;13.50. Order on www.dropoutprevention. org ), editors Kathleen G Elam and Marty Duckenfield make this point in a series of contributions on what they call "the many teachers who seem to understand the most effective way of teaching".

They say such teachers "manage to excite their students in their learning and their classrooms are always alive with enthusiastic activity".

This book from the US-based centre (Clemson University, South Carolina) is unlike the standard collection of academic papers, and all the better for it. Some contributions are short and to the point.

Anna Sumner's "Answering a Question with a Question" brings its simple message alive and contains a valuable lesson for all teachers, not just those in training. Others, such as McLellan Hall's article, "The Native American Approach to Education", lead us to the conclusion that maybe schools don't really provide the best way to educate our children.

If you need confirmation of this, or at least if you want to question the connection between business management techniques and school leadership, try Managing Staff Selection and Assessment by Paul Iles (Open University Press pound;16.99). Also written for a wider management audience, it presents a daunting picture of the complexities of making the right choice in selecting staff. Push on with it, though, and you get some good insights into what makes various types of business tick (for which read types of school).

The language doesn't help, however. Phrases such as "the specification of dimensions of managerial effectiveness, in terms of future-oriented person specifications" drive you back, with relief, to "The Desert Song" and "You've either got, or you have not, that certain thing, that makes 'em cling."


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