Review by Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell

Deputy head, Robson House

15 Oct 2023, 5:00

Book

Letters to a Young Generation: Aspiring School Leaders

By Amanda Wilson

Publisher

9:10 Publishing

ISBN 10

0957136773

Published

30 Sep 2023

Aspiring Schools Leaders is the third book in this series (the first two being written for boys/young men and girls/young women) and I was excited to read it having enjoyed the earlier books. I was not disappointed; it genuinely made my scalp prickle. Though I do not fit into the target audience that the authors of each letter were writing for, this did not impact my enjoyment of or learning from this book.

The individual letters, each a story in their own right, stand alone to speak to the reader. Together, the curation and editing crafts a whole which is more than a sum of its parts. The messages end and begin but there is a flow throughout the book which kept me reading late into the evening, as I struggled to resist reading ‘just one more’ letter.

Editor, Amanda Wilson introduces the letters by sharing her own journey to leadership, reflecting on the practical and emotional support which has smoothed her own journey. She states her aim – to encourage aspiring Black leaders – explicitly, and framed by the disparity between the percentage of black leaders and white leaders, as is well evidenced in publicly available teacher workforce data and analysis.

Humour and warmth radiated from the pages; messages for many felt as if they spoke personally for me. Certain phrases stuck out as being particularly pertinent. Emmanuel Botwe recommends being ’generous with the time you give to others’ and to see being able to provide inspiration, support and guidance as a privilege. Elsewhere, the reader is entreatied to have self-belief greater than the belief others have in them and to acknowledge that inner narratives can be unhelpful.

There is a reminder of the importance of remembering our journey when Caroline King speaks of ‘the difference I have made to the communities I have served’. Jay Barber advises setting our own standards which are ‘higher than any appraisal or external accountability’. I certainly identify with the advice to ‘ judge your professional self, your decisions and behaviours, against your own highest virtues’. Overall, there is a balance between encouragement of accountability and self-reflection which is honest and acknowledges success, at the same time as bringing critique.

The book speaks to aspiring Black leaders – the next generation on a journey

The book speaks to aspiring Black leaders – the next generation on a journey. But it also informs those of us who are not aspiring Black leaders of the barriers they face. As is widely acknowledged, senior leadership at school and trust levels has a major representation problem. Today’s senior leaders are responsible for encouraging, developing and ultimately selecting the next generation from a broader pool.

This book informs those people of the difficulties faced disproportionately by Black colleagues seeking progression. For any leaders who are reflective and can identify the part that their recruitment decisions play in the quest to see more representative school leadership, this book offers powerful professional learning.

It is my deep sense that all headteachers, executive headteachers, CEOs, governors, trustees and those in similar positions should read this book to help them better understand the barriers and ceilings (glass or concrete) which exist within our education system. By knowing more, those who do not experience these hurdles can develop a deeper understanding of what they might unwittingly perpetuate.

We understand the power of a person who inspires us and who we can relate to. Each of the people who have taken time to write here are inspiring. The impact of seeing someone who looks like us, either physically or in relation to values can support aspiration and give a foundation for real hope.

We know that our Black children deserve to see teachers who can inspire them in a variety of ways. For me, this book provides that inspiration, that direct connection, for those in the teaching profession who are called to the responsibility and privilege of school leadership.

Overall, I am left wanting to buy this book as a gift for so many young(er) Black colleagues. Its messages, separate and yet together a cohesive whole, are powerful. In places the writing is raw, and throughout it is motivating.

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