Off the Shelf

28th June 1996 at 01:00
It seems to be increasingly common for schools to assess students and newly qualified teachers in terms of their ability to work in teams. The revolution in whole-school planning brought about by the national curriculum and the need to put up a unified front for OFSTED inspection has brought this about, and the idea of the classroom as a closed and secret place is rapidly disappearing. Thus have the government's own reforms brought about a level of co-operation and dialogue that the feared progressives of earlier times could only write and dream about.

Forming a team is one thing, though. Giving it purpose and direction is quite another. As Edie L Holcomb has it in Asking the Right Questions (Corwin Press Pounds 15.50) "Unfortunately, too many school leadership teams look like the ramblers - 'All packed up and no place to go.'" This author focuses on what she believes to be the five key questions for school staff teams "Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How will we get there? How will we know we are getting there? How can we sustain the focus and momentum we're building?"

This is a straightforward enough list, and Dr Holcombe, who is Organizational Development Specialist in a Colorado School District, both amplifies them and suggests some answers in a way which is readable and highly practical.

Teamwork is also implicit all the way through Action Learning for Managers by Mike Pedler (Lemos and Crane Pounds 7.99). The concept of "action learning" is well established in many business and public sector organisations. What it does is give some extra impetus to the idea of the voluntary self-improvement group. In a school this might be a curriculum working party or any problem-solving group of volunteers. Many schools have groups like this, which become an effective way of bringing in new thinking. This short book provides a good introduction, in the form of case studies and discussion.

"Action learning" is a concept borrowed from the business world. Many head teachers, though, are interested in more concrete acquisitions - their dream is of solving financial problems by means of industrial sponsorship. In this regard, Finding Corporate Resources by Gayle Jasso (Corwin Press Pounds 13.50) is an excellent guide - a mine of practical advice, from "Think in terms of contacts. From now on, every person you meet must be regarded as a contact who may be useful in the future," to "Every professional must have a business card. Nothing spoils an impression like leaving someone your name, address and phone number written on a scraggly piece of yellow lined paper."

The same might be said for Special Events from A to Z (Corwin Press Pounds 32.95 hardback Pounds 14.95 paperback) also by Gayle Jasso, who has huge experience in education and in linking business to the local community. This book tells you most of what you need to know about running anything from an award ceremony to a major conference.

Mind you, there is a case for saying that we, and our leaders, ought to give at least as much attention to the history of education as to the study of business and management. Were we to do this, we might be less ready to flirt with methods and solutions (such as selective schooling) which were tried and found wanting many years ago. In the 1880s, for example, there was a lively debate in and out of Parliament about the extent to which the state should intervene to protect and control children who were out on the street at all hours.

What can we learn from that earlier experience? More importantly, is anyone interested? Pamela Horn writes about the plight of Victorian working class children in an essay, "The Welfare of Elementary Schoolchildren", a contribution to In History and in Education, edited by Richard Aldrich. (Woburn Press Pounds 35). This volume is a tribute to the educational historian Peter Gordon, emeritus professor of education at the London University Institute of Education.

Finally, a mention for the eighth edition of Returning to Work from the Women Returner's Network (Paul Chapman Publishing Pounds 14.95). This is packed with information about training and support organisations. It would be useful not only for women teachers seeking to return, but for heads and governors who want to be in a position to advise and help teachers and parents.

Too many leadership teams look like the ramblers - all packed up and no place to go.

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