Review - Books - Practical guide to raising the bar

29th April 2011 at 01:00
A review of High Performers: The Secrets of Successful Schools by Alastair Smith

High Performers: The Secrets of Successful Schools

By Alistair Smith

Crown House


Alistair Smith has been described as "the UK's leading trainer in modern learning methods". His latest book is meant as a practical "how to" guide but with an emphasis on giving advice to all levels of teaching staff - from classroom practitioners to senior leaders. Its aim is to teach you how to succeed - individually and as a team. In theory, it should show readers how to make their schools high-performing and successful, based on the 20 top performers that Mr Smith visited and studied to produce this guide.

Most will appreciate his articulate and intelligent approach to self- improvement. Indeed, many teachers and headteachers will already be familiar with the author as an inspirational speaker with none of the usual "magic formulas", but rather a genuinely insightful take on what outstanding schools, their leaders and teachers actually practice and preach.

In the introduction, there is a simple comparison of leadership to a famous team of successful "high wires" which sets the tone for Smith's clear and practical analysis throughout the book.

This study is informative, concise and covers a range of thoroughly explained examples of what successful schools do to become high performers.

Yet, to use a footballing analogy, anyone could tell you why, for example, David Beckham is an excellent footballer. They could point out what his skills are, what he achieves with them and when he delivers them. But to become like Beckham, you would need to know "how" he learnt his skills and what steps he took to become such a talented footballer. Indeed, a lack of focus on the "how" may be a gap in this otherwise extremely thought- provoking study.

Nevertheless, the 10x10 project, which Smith conceived and undertook and which he outlines at the end of the book, does offer detailed descriptions of the practice in these high-performing schools and attempts to explain how this contributes to their success. Indeed, it is this section in particular that makes the book a worthwhile read for anyone involved in educational leadership.

Smith has a proven track record of success, established over a number of years, and his latest book should not be consigned to the bookshelf of unread self-help guides. On the contrary, this clear and accessible guide may help to inspire excellence in the places where it is needed most.

The verdict: 710


Alistair Smith is a consultant, author and trainer. He has spoken to tens of thousands of teachers across the world and has written a number of books, including The Brain's Behind It - New Knowledge about the Brain and Learning.

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