Brave Heads: How to Lead a School Without Selling Your Soul

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Overview


HOW TO LEAD A SCHOOL WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL
School leadership brings with it tremendous pressure from the government for results at all costs. It?s the outcome that counts (and the league tables), not the process. Which means, now more than ever, for genuine leaders leading schools in the right direction for the right reasons, bravery is key. Dave Harris is well placed to write the ultimate guide to bravery in school leadership. As the principal of a high-profile brand new ...
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Brave Heads: How to lead a school without selling your soul

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Overview


HOW TO LEAD A SCHOOL WITHOUT SELLING YOUR SOUL
School leadership brings with it tremendous pressure from the government for results at all costs. It’s the outcome that counts (and the league tables), not the process. Which means, now more than ever, for genuine leaders leading schools in the right direction for the right reasons, bravery is key. Dave Harris is well placed to write the ultimate guide to bravery in school leadership. As the principal of a high-profile brand new Academy he has had to stand by his beliefs about the role of the school in the community – ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’ – despite the pressure to forget genuinely educating young people and just focus on ‘floor targets’. A book for every leader who wants to make a genuine difference (and get great results, as Dave has done)!

Brave Heads is a personal account, a smart synthesis of current thinking about leadership and an invitation to reflect on and review how leadership might need to change to respond to a turbulent and often contradictory environment. It is a powerful and very welcome addition to the literature on how leadership needs to develop in order to create an educational system rooted in authentic values and a belief in the transformational potential of schools.
John West-Burnham, Professor of Educational Leadership, St Mary’s University College, Twickenham

Brave Heads works both as a very useful handbook full of practical tips that any new head teacher would be wise to adopt and a timely reminder to more experienced leaders about what matters most in schools. For both, it emphasises the perennial privilege of being a head teacher – being a driver of change that benefits children and communities.
The book takes a refreshing look at both the challenges and the joys of leading a school, describing the bravery needed by head teachers in respect of facing up to external political imperatives, curriculum design and delivery, securing short- and long-term success, the leadership styles necessary at different times and the wealth of research into school leadership that can have real-world relevance and application.
Mike Butler, Chief Executive, Djanogly Learning Trust, Director of the Independent Academies Association

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Reviewed by John West-Burnham, Professor of Educational Leadership, St Mary's University College, Twickenham.
The are few things in the literature of school leadership as compelling and authentic as a leader telling his own story in an analytical and rigorous way. Dave Harris has achieved this in a highly engaging account of his own leadership which combines a powerful narrative with thoughtful reflection and careful analysis. He skilfully combines theory and practice so that each informs the other in a way that enhances understanding and relevance.
At a time when many of the fundamental assumptions about school leadership are being questioned Dave Harris focuses on the ideas of personal authenticity and moral courage in a way that provides a compelling model for all school leaders - not just head teachers.
Brave Heads is a personal narrative, a powerful synthesis of current thinking about leadership and an invitation to reflect on and review how leadership might need to change to respond to a turbulent and often contradictory environment.
It is a powerful and very welcome addition to the literature on how leadership needs to develop in order to create an educational system rooted in authentic values and a belief in the transformational potential of schools.

Reviewed by Mike Butler, Chief Executive, Djanogly Learning Trust, Director of the Independent Academies Association.
Brave Heads, the latest book from Dave Harris, works as both a very useful handbook full of practical tips that any new headteacher would be wise to adopt, and a timely reminder to more experienced leaders about what matters most in leading schools. For both, it emphasises the perennial privilege of being a headteacher, namely that one is a driver of change that benefits children and communities.
The book takes a refreshing look at both the challenges and joys of leading a school, describing the bravery needed by a headteacher in respect of: facing up to external political imperatives; the design and delivery of the curriculum; the choices one makes aimed at securing both short- and long-term success; the leadership styles one may adopt at different times; and the wealth of research into school leadership that can have real-world relevance and application.
In the first section, Harris describes the inner conflict that can be experienced by headteachers, when, as a public servant working within a system often determined by politics, what one is required to do runs contrary to the values-driven leadership one is attempting to model; it is what some would term existential angst, occasioned by being forced to act in bad faith, against one’s own beliefs and empirical knowledge about what is right. The paradox is also evident in Harris’s own writing. He acknowledges that for the headteacher, every day is an act, is about adopting a persona for effect, even suggesting at one point that all heads should need an Equity card to do their job properly. He writes that, ‘The good leader…is marked out by the way in which his or her internal rollercoaster of self-doubt, negativity and sheer desperation is rendered invisible to the outside world’. He defines bravery as ‘the individual’s ability to maintain high external optimism at times of lowest internal optimism’. Yet in the section specifically on leadership, the repeated mantra is ‘Be yourself’! (Although, even this position is perhaps playfully undermined!)
Harris’s writing often models and reflects the kinds of leadership behaviours he espouses. Some of his admissions and deeply personal accounts are searingly honest, such as when he describes his suffering from a stroke whilst at work, this anecdote and others providing very real examples of the vulnerability, self-knowledge and willingness to be self-effacing that he argues later in the book are essential qualities of successful school leaders. Yet he skilfully avoids becoming morose or depressing when dealing with often very dark subjects, such as the almost constant sense of fear and anxiety which brave heads must face and overcome, because his writing is riddled with humour and a keen sense of a liking for the bizarre and the absurd, even for occasional silliness. Again, this is all part of the plot: Harris wants us to remember that, whilst educating children is a deeply serious endeavour, people of all ages learn best when learning is fun. All of these qualities, epitomised by the often squiggly, quirky, hand-drawn illustrations (no highly-polished glossy this publication) add to the sense of integrity and authenticity.
The reader should not be surprised at this realism, however, because Harris has walked, and continues to walk, the talk. When he writes about innovation, or the need to engage the local community, he does so from a position of authority, having headed up not only one of the country’s first 3-19 all-through school settings, but also the very first academy to be sponsored jointly by business and a university, both establishments rooted within communities suffering from significant levels of deprivation and low aspiration. In fact, for this reader, the book is a poignant reminder of one of the original stated aims of the sponsored city academies movement, namely to make a significant contribution to local community regeneration.
Full of dichotomy, the work itself shifts seamlessly from the intellectually erudite, epitomising what Harris refers to as the ‘informed leader’, to direct, pithy advice for practical strategies and coping mechanisms. Indeed, once again, this approach demonstrates the author’s point: research evidence and pertinent, high quality information (as opposed to just data) collected within the school, should be used in conjunction to develop and deliver the most appropriate school improvement strategies. For Harris, such strategies are often ‘big’ in scale: the projects are big, the posters are big, and so is the ambition. ‘Aim for the sky’ he implores as he outlines the twin-track approach to sprint (short-term) and marathon (long-term) improvement measures.
And it is in sticking to his own beliefs, informed by the research of an enquiring mind, through thick and thin, far more than in some of his near-cynical critiques of the current powers that hold sway, that Dave Harris has demonstrated his own bravery, epitomising the aphorism that ‘education is fundamentally an imaginative act of hope ’. And if the author has one message, and, indeed, if I have a message for the author, it is this: ‘Keep acting, imaginatively and hopefully’, because our children and communities continue to need Brave Heads.

Reviewed by Carol Fearria Headteacher – The Nottingham Emmanuel School.
It has been a great privilege to work alongside Dave as a fellow headteacher because of his unstinting commitment to his role as Principal of Samworth an inner city academy in Nottingham and his positive contributions to our Nottingham City Secondary Education Partnership. There is no doubt that his background of Senior Leadership both as a deputy and headteacher has equipped him with the skills and expertise to set up this new academy and to drive forward education in the inner city. I admire his passion and personal determination to live out his core values based on a set of key principles that places the child at the centre. He is a man of great integrity and uses the outcomes of research by leading educationalists to inform his vision and priorities for school improvement. He values the views of all stakeholders and also has the confidence of his sponsors to challenge Government policy and practice where necessary. It is great to share in the celebration of his success as he journeys to provide the best possible opportunities for our young people living in the inner city. The key to this he believes is Bravery! This is an honest and frank account of a road to success.......

Reviewed by Sparky Teaching .
If you’re not familiar with the brilliant ‘Yes Prime Minister’, there’s a running joke throughout the series. Whenever Jim Hacker, the hapless Prime Minister is told by Sir Humphrey Appleby that he’s made a “courageous” decision, he panics and changes his mind. In his world, a courageous decision is definitely not a good thing — in fact it means his neck is almost certainly on the line…
When our copy of ‘Brave Heads’ arrived on the doormat, guess what the first thing that sprung to mind was? (fade to a Head’s office in a where the chair of governors is peering over a sheaf of papers)
CHAIR: (concerned) Just to make you aware, this is a very brave plan, Headteacher. HEADTEACHER: (gulps) Brave, you say?
CHAIR:Very brave, Headteacher. Almost courageous.
HEAD: Oh deary me… We don’t want that. Are you sure? (Long pause)
CHAIR: (wearily) Yes, Headteacher.
(Roll credits)
Well, it amused us anyway.
The second thought we had was that this was going to be a book entirely for school leaders. As such, we’d expect it to be riddled with management jargon and advice that meant little to non-leaders like ourselves. Nevertheless, we’d do our best to provide a helpful review for those who appreciate that sort of thing.
We were wrong.
Thankfully Dave Harris has nothing of Sir Humphrey about him! ‘Brave Heads’ (subtitle: “How to lead a school without selling your soul”) is personal, witty and pithy, showing not just what it takes to be a brave leader, but — we’d suggest — what it takes to be a brave teacher. Dave Harris speaks from experience — as the ex-Head of a 3–18 school (a fascinating story in itself) and Principal of the brand new Nottingham University Samworth Academy — and his book contains lessons learned, creative ideas and personal anecdotes to highlight his points. As Harris states, he wanted to write the book “that would have helped me at the lowest point of my change journey”. If you’re under any illusion that those in leadership don’t experience doubt, worry or wobbles in confidence, take a look. The author is a Headteacher with significant experience and he underlines the point that these feelings are pretty much normal for those in leadership roles. Its honesty is really refreshing from a book that (as we say) we thought was going to be jargon-heavy! Perhaps that says more about ourselves than anything else.
In ‘Brave Heads’, Dave Harris uses “Bravery is…” statements in small chapters to give you the confidence to be brave if you’re not and the encouragement to keep going if you already are. Some favourites were:
- Bravery is giving teachers the space to encourage genius (No.9) - Bravery is not changing things, at least some of the time (No.14) - Bravery is having jobs, rooms and people that no one else does (No.16) - Bravery is making mistakes and then letting others know you made them (No.59)
There are 64 in all — this is just a sample.
The beauty of ‘Brave Heads’ is that it’s not just for those in leadership. It wouldn’t take much editing to title it ‘Brave Teaching’ and re-brand the book for classroom teachers. Take the above list. Here’s what we thought (as non-leaders) as we read it…
- We’ve got to look for opportunities to encourage genius in our classroom. - Don’t change things just for the sake of it. - Teach in ways that no one else does. - Don’t worry about making mistakes — just make sure you admit them.
Thankfully, ‘Brave Heads’ isn’t packed with management-speak only for those who are in positions of leadership. Clearly, its target audience is Headteachers, Deputy Headteachers and so on, but we were intrigued to note its usefulness to a wider demographic too. This is solid advice for any teacher. And in our own small way, aren’t we all in positions of leadership?
‘Brave Heads’ encourages school leaders to stick to the things that are right and to let go of the things that aren’t necessary. See Dave Harris’ brilliant comments on moving away from that endemic disease “We must impart for you to learn-it us” (isn’t “a propensity to talk too much in lessons” a symptom we’ve all suffered from? No? Just us, then!). It also challenges us to step outside of our comfort zone and think differently. Not for the sake of being gimmicky, but with “the whole pupil” in mind at all times.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781781350485
  • Publisher: Crown House Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/19/2013
  • Pages: 180
  • Product dimensions: 7.20 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author


Dave Harris has taught for over 20 years including considerable inner city work and is well placed to write the ultimate guide to bravery in school leadership. He has been a deputy Headteacher, a Headteacher and currently is principal of the Nottingham University Samworth Academy where he has built a school from scratch a school turning theory into practice. In collaboration with sponsors, staff, students and the wider community he is working to challenge many of the rules of education www.independentthinking.co.uk/Who/Associates/Dave+Harris/default.aspx

Ian Gilbert is one of the UK's leading educational innovators, speakers and writers with twenty years experience working with young people and educationalists around the world. He is the founder of Independent Thinking Ltd, the editor of the Independent Thinking Press and the author of a number of titles including Why Do I Need a Teacher When I've Got Google?. His book The Little Book of Thunks won the first education book award from the Society of Authors for 'an outstanding example of traditionally published non-fiction that enhances teaching and learning'.
www.independentthinking.com

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Read an Excerpt

Foreword

I have a friend who is a head teacher at a prestigious school on the coast
in Chile. It is his third headship and he has been there nearly two years
now. In his office is a daunting gallery of oil paintings of 150 years’
worth of headmasters (they are all men) looking down on him each day as he sits at his desk. The combined pressure of all that tradition, expertise and accomplishment frighten the life out of him most days.

Another experienced head teacher I know at a school in England was telling me about the sudden feelings of panic he experiences from time to time. ‘I would understand it,’ he explained to me, ‘if it was on a Sunday evening but this is in the middle of the summer holidays while I’m sitting in my garden!’ His anxiety disorder aside, it is the comment about Sunday evenings that is most telling.

Another head teacher I knew (I still know her. It’s just that she is no
longer a head teacher. It was just a phase she was going through) used to
walk around her school pretending she knew what she was doing. ‘How
would I be acting if I really knew what to do?’ is how she used to explain
this to herself. She was especially reliant on the ‘fake it till you make it’
approach when it came to dealing with the school budget and the massive
deficit she had inherited. ‘What would I do if I knew what I was
doing?’ It was a strategy that helped her get the school back in the black
within 18 months.

It’s a challenge being a head teacher. A big one. And unless you’re one of those arrogant types who refuses to believe that anything you do could ever go wrong and if it does it’s someone else’s fault anyway, it’s a really scary challenge.

I remember my very first day as an NQT. I bumped into the silverhaired vuncular deputy in the gents. ‘Nervous?’ he asked. ‘Yup,’ I said, thinking about all the dreams I had had in the weeks leading up to that day, those sweat-inducing dreams of being in a classroom and not having a clue what was going on as chaos raged around me. ‘Yup’, he continued, ‘me too. It never leaves you …’

Fear, then, seems to be a staple of life in a school, unlike many other common jobs (but akin to being a burglar according to the controversial Judge Bowers in Teeside recently who seemed impressed with the guts of the serial-burglaring drug addict up before him). Fear. Or F.E.A.R. – F*ck Everything And Run! – as it was once described to me. It takes bravery to overcome fear. If you never experience fear then how can you be brave? When you are a teacher, you have to face your fears and get yourself through every day. When you’re a head, you have to get yourself through every day and everyone else as well.

There is a great deal of talk these days about ‘super-heads’ and the need
to succeed at all costs, success often measured solely in exam results and
Ofsted headlines. It is a success that can come despite, not as a result of,
the staff it would appear, based on what Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw seems to say, a man who seems to like the ‘carrot and stick’ approach to motivation using both objects with which to beat teachers. What would the epitome of courage in leadership Sir Ernest Shackleton say about that? At one point during his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole, he confided to the captain of the Endurance, Frank Arthur Worsley, ‘Thank God I haven’t killed one of my men!’ to which the loyal captain replied, ‘We all know you have worked superhumanly to look after us.’ Shackleton’s gruff response is revealing when considering what real leadership is about: ‘Superhuman effort … isn’t worth a damn unless it
achieves results.’

I asked a friend of mine, David Hanson who heads up the Independent Association of Prep Schools and a man who has had more than his fair share of educational leadership experience, what his approach was when it came to taking all staff with you as a school leader. Surely you just get rid of the dead weight holding a school back? Isn’t that the brave thing for a head to do?

‘Relentless support’, was his response, a phrase with a professionally pleasing oxymoronic irony to it. You just keep on supporting them until something happens.

Dave Harris displays a similar approach when it comes to bringing the best out of his staff. All his staff. The expectation was that he would come with a scythe and cut down all that was holding back the school from which Nottingham University Samworth Academy or NUSA grew out of. Many saw it as a failing school. Failing the students. Failing the community. Failing itself. Why would you hang on to what and who had been part of that failure?

Not sacking large numbers of people was Dave’s second brave act at NUSA. Taking the job was the first. Right from day one, Dave wanted to do it in a way that he felt was the right way, the only way. The pressure on him was purely about results but the job before him, Dave knew, was bigger than that. Focusing on the important things – ‘the marathon’ activities as he calls it – as well as chasing external goals such as evermoving floor targets – ‘the sprint’ activities – took courage. Doing what you feel, deep down, is the right thing to do day after day as the powers that be circle round you like vultures surrounding a peaky-looking zebra takes every ounce of bravery you have and, in this book, Dave is honest about the toll that takes and the roller-coaster ride this approach to leadership really is.

Not that you would know if you ever met him. As Shackleton said, as a leader you keep your fears to yourself: ‘You often have to hide from them not only the truth, but your feelings about the truth. You may know that the facts are dead against you, but you mustn’t say so.’

This book then is Dave Harris’ opportunity to be honest. To share with the reader the stresses and strains of leading a school when you are brave enough to do it the only way you feel is the right way, despite what ‘they’ say and the pressure to do it ‘their’ way. In it, he is not telling you what to do as a school leader yourself. Not only is every school different, but every year in every school is different (or at least it should be, if you’re being brave about it). Rather he shares his own experiences and the thinking behind them – backed up by some pretty impressive academic research as you might expect from an academy that was the first to have a university as its co-sponsor – to inspire you not only to find your own brave path but to also to have fun doing it.

As Worsley said of Shackleton: ‘One would think he had never a care on his mind and he is the life and soul of half the skylarking and fooling in the ship.’ After all, as every brave head knows, education is far too important to be taken seriously.
Ian Gilbert

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgements
Introduction
1 Bravery is looking the inspectors in the eye
2 Bravery is keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs
Brave Politics
3 Bravery is pointing out how predicable politics can be
4 Bravery is remembering how stupid the system can be
5 Bravery is accepting slightly less than perfection
6 Bravery is having the strength to see KPIs for what they are
7 Bravery is not always dancing to the political tune
8 Bravery is having the strength to do things your way because deep down you know your way is the right way
Brave Curriculum
9 Bravery is giving teachers the space to encourage genius
10 Bravery is having the courage to have fun – and expecting your staff to do the same
11 Bravery is encouraging your staff to let go of the belief that their subject is the most important thing in a child’s life
12 Bravery is keeping your eye on the marathon whilst you are performing the sprint
13 Bravery is not always being serious at times of great importance
14 Bravery is not changing things, at least some of the time
15 Bravery is not making transition to the new school all about the new school
16 Bravery is having jobs, rooms and people that no one else does
17 Bravery is believing that creating opportunities for success outside the classroom will lead to increased success within it
18 Bravery is dancing when others expect you to lecture
19 Bravery is knowing you have to feed their bodies as well as their minds and not cut costs in the process
20 Bravery is never using those commercially produced ‘success’ posters, trusting your students to come up with
something ten times better and turning that into artwork
around the school when they do
Brave Leadership
21 Bravery is knowing that school leadership is not all about
you
22 Bravery is knowing what sort of leader you are
23 Bravery can be breaking the rules, but sometimes it is sticking to them
24 Bravery is focusing on your community’s success and not
your own
25 Bravery is recognizing your faults
26 Bravery is creating the space for your plants to grow
27 Bravery is knowing yourself – and being honest enough to act accordingly . .
28 Bravery is serving the community around you
Brave Research
29 Bravery is not being scared to look research in the eye
30 Bravery is a number of factors
31 Bravery is knowing whether you’re leading from the front or the centre of the school .
32 Bravery is not feeling you have to play the big, brave hero
33 Bravery is having a moral purpose
34 Bravery is not being scared to show your passion
35 Bravery is not accepting the status quo
36 Bravery is portraying yourself as the lead learner
37 Bravery is not being one-dimensional
38 Bravery is recognizing the balance between the who and the what
39 Bravery is admitting when you don’t know the meaning of a long word
40 Bravery is giving permission to people to give a new story
41 Bravery is reminding every adult that every child should be at the centre of the change
42 Bravery is giving the pupils real power to change their schooling
43 Bravery is releasing the trapped energy of your school
44 Bravery is accepting responsibility for having happy staff
45 Bravery is facing up to the fact that poor staff behaviour may be a reflection of poor leadership
46 Bravery is focusing on good teaching and helping teachers aspire to it
47 Bravery is making sure you meet parents more than halfway
48 Bravery is having the courage to involve the community in your success as a school leader
49 Bravery is not trying to find someone to blame
50 Bravery is giving your leadership away
51 Bravery is working with the people you have rather than the ones you wish you had
52 Bravery is sometimes being a simple principal
53 Bravery is knowing that a team is a collection of individuals
54 Bravery is knowing you don’t have to do it alone
55 Bravery is knowing when a banner is just a banner .
56 Bravery is knowing the huge impact your actions will have on learning
57 Bravery is looking at yourself in the mirror (one of those magnifying ones that shows up everything!)
58 Bravery is collecting information rather than data
59 Bravery is making mistakes and then letting others
know you made them
60 Bravery is carrying on despite the huge doubts you have
in your ability
61 Bravery is rejecting the cheats, short cuts and snake oil that appear when you go in search of the quick win
62 Bravery is looking for arguments
63 Bravery is knowing that having authority is not the same
as using authority
64 Bravery is you
Steps to Being Brave
Bibliography

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