Review by Nav Sanghara

29 Apr 2018, 5:00

Dare to be different: A leadership fable about transformational change in schools, by Will Ryan

Although billed as “a leadership fable”, the content of this tale resonated with me deeply, as I know it will for many other school leaders too.

The book is expertly written from the perspective of a fictional headteacher, Brian Smith, a trailblazer who articulates his trials and tribulations as a school leader, battling against many challenges in search of excellence and ensuring that his school community receives the most inspirational educational experience.

What Ryan has skilfully achieved is a protagonist we can all identify with.

Brian’s daily thoughts, reflections and challenges with the education system are themes that are prevalent in all schools.

He’s an independent thinker, pulling away from following the crowd and instead creating a school culture and climate that is best for his community, which I found inspiring and energising.

What Ryan has skilfully achieved is a protagonist we can all identify with

Brian mulls over all of the pressures we face as school leaders, from high accountability and budget constraints, to education secretaries with questionable policies and leading communities with vision and clarity.

The book begins with our hero reflecting on the curriculum at his school and why, rather than driving it though knowledge, he wants imagination and creativity to be of higher value.

He considers the concept of “a fourth-generation curriculum” needed for Generation Z – the new generation of young people who are “smarter and more mature” than the millenials.

This fourth-generational curriculum would focus on imaginative themes, deeper learning and global citizenship. It would promote independence and ensure learning was always delivered in a social context.

It was affirming to hear Brian describe his vision for this curriculum so clearly, and it resonated with me deeply. School leaders across our partnership are currently working on refining and redesigning our own curriculum offer for our children and it turns out that what we have navigated our way towards is everything that Brian articulates!

Throughout the book there are at least 45 significant ideas that will strengthen leadership and which have the capacity to transform your school as a learning community.

One of the chapters that particularly sticks with me is chapter five, entitled “Wanted: invisible leaders – apply here”.

It focuses on the differences between managers and leaders and their visibility and invisibility. The invisible leader is one whose vision permeates the organisation whether they are present or not, and who is more ambitious for the organisation than they are for themselves.

There are endless evidence-based links to educational research and the work of others, including Sir Tim Brighouse, Start with Why, Growth Mindset and The Happiness Manifesto to name a few.

Personally, I found these references timely and relevant to the point Brian was making; it also prompted me to recall research and readings I have wanted to return to, and referred to new educational philosophy and research I wasn’t familiar with and would like to read more about.

Without revealing too much, Brian takes the reader on an inspirational journey via his headship at Springett Lane Primary School. He reminds us that without struggle there is no progress, and that to create an inspirational learning community takes daring and different leadership.

Towards the end he encapsulates all that school leaders truly want and aspire to for their communities: “Children should enjoy a curriculum that provides a rich variety of knowledge and experience in school. It is essential to prepare pupils for life in Britain today. Leaders have created a climate in which teachers are motivated and trusted to take risk and innovate in ways that are right for their pupils.”

All headteachers strive to grow, develop and lead inspirational learning communities, and Brian’s journey articulates this with a dash of humour.

Dare to be different deserves to be read, digested, shared and treasured by all brave school leaders, and should take pride of place on the staffroom bookshelf.

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