Book Review: Transforming education through teacher leadership

My heart sank when I first saw this book’s title and I thought; “Yet another claim that middle leaders can change the world and solve all of education’s problems.” Don’t get me wrong: middle leaders have much to offer in the battle to improve educational standards and develop teaching and learning in schools, but they are constrained by the system in which they find themselves. Often they are slaves to box-ticking to satisfy the whims of the latest governmental-legacy plans rather than being allowed to think outside the box and truly inhabit their leadership role.

I was pleased to see in the blurb, however, that this book does not focus on middle leadership as a panacea for every school issue. Rather, it seeks to demonstrate how teachers at all levels and stages of their career can become agents of change. Twenty-six teachers and leaders, from class teachers in the UK to education policy leads in Serbia, contribute accounts of the change they have led.

The book is divided into four sections, each with a slightly different focus. The first, and arguably most readable, is a selection of short stories (often just a few pages) about change projects organised by class teachers, each of which is prefaced by an introduction to their context and “key lessons about teacher leadership”.

Each of the section’s eight chapters recounts how main-scale teachers effected change through identification of an issue and how best to resolve it. In his introduction, the editor explains that the stories have been written not by the teachers themselves, but from evidence they were asked to document on the projects they led, so as not to put “an additional burden” on them. Not discussed, however, is the amount of time the projects took from teachers with already full timetables, although reference is made to their outstanding commitment in pressurised circumstances. Therefore, I assume that they volunteered to take part in their school’s leadership programme.

I couldn’t put the book down when I was reading this section; teaching issues were talked about with credibility and the enthusiasm for students’ holistic development came across clearly.

But by section two, it started to feel stuffy and less accessible — the introduction explains that these accounts have a more scholarly focus as the contributions come from the work of graduates of the MEd programme in Leading Teaching and Learning. The book loses a little of its genuine enthusiasm in longer and more clinical accounts of change projects, with more references to literature.

Section three is written from the point of view of those organised in facilitating teacher leadership programmes. While it still has a very scholarly feel, an optimism runs throughout each contribution and you are left quite convinced that teachers at all levels in different countries can have an impact where they take change into their own hands and, crucially, when they have needed support.

The last section discusses the importance of networking and sharing knowledge. This is not an unfamiliar concept to most of us, but convincing line managers of its worth when budgets are tight is a different story. The chapter suggests that event should be teacher-led to avoid the usual “top down” approach. In doing so it will increase ownership of learning.

Sections of this book are relevant and powerful for teachers at all stages of their careers, but some of the middle section feels more geared towards academics, middle and senior leaders. I liked that the earlier accounts were pithy and could be dipped in and out of, but you may need to re-read other sections before getting to the crux of an issue. Still, read this book and you will be reinvigorated to take charge of your own practice development and inspire others to do so.