The Essentials of School Leadership
Time was when the extent of our appreciation of what successful headteachers did was to discuss whether it was essential that they continue teaching. And if they did, how best to do it. (Friday magazine talks to teaching secondary heads next week.) Now there's a daunting literature on school leadership and even a well-funded national college. It's almost impossible to pick a sensible route through the dense forest of research, books, articles, courses and advice. That's where this book comes in. First and foremost it's a simple guide to the busy practitioner. But it's more than that, as you would expect of Brent Davies. He has commissioned from practitioners, researchers and trainers a comprehensive and coherent range of essays on all aspects of school leadership. Here you can see the desirability of "distributed" or "shared" leadership. There are chapters on "invitational" leadership (the sort that's open to ideas from all involved), on "transformational" and "ethical" leadership, and even an intriguing one on "poetical and political" leadership. All chapters carefully interweave theory with practice, with useful examples.
The one jarring note was the chapter on "emotional" leadership. The welcome vignettes of first-hand evidence are spoiled by the language of the writer, who seems to be thinking more of her academic peer group than a wider audience. What, for example, is one to make of the following passage:
"Traditional prototypes of leadership and professional territorialism generate personas of separateness and certainty, decisiveness and pseudo-objectivity. Those who allow their authentic selves to become hidden and inaccessible in the process represent the greater danger that denies openness to multiple perspectives and cripples possibilities for a mutually respectful and relationally connected community of learners of all ages."
The jewels in the book are the opening and closing chapters by Brent and Barbara Davies on "strategic" leadership, and by Andy Hargreaves on "sustainable" leadership. The book is worth buying for those alone, and for Geoff Southworth's reflective, practical piece on "learning-centred" leadership. It's in this chapter that we come close to finding the answer to the generations-old question of whether heads should teach. I am in no doubt, as I believe Geoff Southworth is too, that they should. That doesn't mean regular timetabled slots, which can often be disrupted by a crisis, but planned intensive immersions, for example taking over a colleague's lessons for a day. These can enable the head to experience, and be seen to experience, the current realities of the classroom.
But as Southworth points out, heads' most important gift to the school is the example they set as learners: always reading, always listening and asking questions, and continually raising people's eyes to the horizon.
This is one for the staffroom library.