Review by Robbie Burns

Assistant vice-principal, Bede Academy (Emmanuel Schools Foundation)

27 Nov 2022, 5:00

Book

The Review: Impact by Nick Hart

By Nick Hart

Publisher

Bloomsbury

ISBN 10

180199014X

Published

18 Aug 2022

We are in the business of making a difference. Whatever the subject, age group or time of year, teachers and leaders across the land want to walk away from school each day knowing they’ve played a small impact, alongside their colleagues and their teams, in helping young people to flourish and become all they are capable of being.

But as school leaders specifically, we have to be honest: it is not always clear what impact our actions are having on student learning. We are biased towards our vision, aims and plans being successful and will mine our environments for evidence that supports this. Ultimately though, all our desires to make a difference, manifested in our actions, will never succeed entirely. That’s the bit of leadership we like to ignore or forget about.

In Impact, Nick Hart proposes a “five-part framework” for leaders to analyse their impact across all aspects of school life. He is by no means the first to develop such a device (they are a feature of previous and current NPQs), but his does offer something worth considering.

A strength of this book is its simplicity of written expression and exposition of ideas. It’s something Hart has become known and loved for. There is no way you can come away from reading this and misunderstand the nature of the framework and how it might be applied.

As a senior leader, I found it helpful to look at my strategic thinking and daily work through different lenses to the ones of culture, climate and outcomes that we are used to. As Hart emphasises throughout, it is important to recognise that our actions as leaders won’t always positively impact all domains. That’s par for the course. Indeed, it is sometimes worth negatively impacting a particular domain for a period of time if it results in better outcomes for students long-term.

I think this book should be read widely, but there was something missing for me

Another strength is the book’s structure. Each chapter maps out the domain clearly so that the reader can develop clarity about its aspects. The similar structure of each section meant I could easily compare and contrast the differences between them, and I’ve been able to do so with leaders I work with too.

For this reason, I can see Impact being a helpful support for new and fledgling leaders to make sense of what they do, build knowledge and consider the decisions they are making more carefully.

However, although I think this book should be read widely and used as a tool for talking about impact, there was something missing for me. The simplicity of structure was a blessing. I felt it set the stage perfectly for Hart’s leadership wisdom and hard-learned lessons from a career well spent. Sadly, it never emerged in the way I wanted it to.

As a trusted and inspirational blogger for so many in education, myself included, Hart could have offered more reflection on his hands-on experience. I wanted a sense of how the framework he presented emerged from his own leadership, and how he is applying it now – in his own practice and through his work developing leaders. I wanted to hear about how he made mistakes and rectified them, about some of the tough decisions he’s faced and how this framework has (or could have) helped him through those situations.

For leaders to develop knowledge as deeply as they possibly can, it is the model set by the experiences of others that really sheds light on ideas and their implementation. The book does include two case studies and examples of how the framework applies to two different leadership areas but I wanted more.

A few paragraphs or even several pages per chapter of Hart’s reflections on his journey and what has led him to see each domain as so crucial would have supplemented the book far better than these. Without it, the framework lacks grounding in the concrete realities of new and experienced leaders’ daily challenges to achieve what we all seek: impact.

Perhaps he can blog about it instead.

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