Leaders as readers

In 2012, John Coleman wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review titled ‘For those who want to lead, read’.  Coleman observed that business professionals were reading less despite their being wide-ranging benefits to leadership.  According to Coleman, deep and broad reading habits have been the ‘defining characteristic of our greatest leaders’ catalysing ‘insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness’. Coleman goes on to say that evidence suggests that when leaders read broadly and apply insight to their organisations, they are more likely to ‘innovate and prosper’. Philosopher AC Grayling also suggests that literature provides us with open windows, which is what education is all about.

I am often surprised when I hear that teachers and leaders don’t have time to read despite expectations that students will themselves develop healthy reading habits.  One of the questions I often ask during interviews is ‘what are you reading and how are you applying it to your work?’ The response is telling because the act of reading reflects an appetite for gaining greater understanding and wisdom. It reflects a curiosity that ideally grows and deepens over time.  As Coleman suggests, reading cultivates the knowledge, habits and skills needed to improve organisations.

As educational leaders, it serves us to read regularly and broadly.  I believe there is a canon of educational books that challenge assumptions, inspire new thinking/practice and promote new research; and, most importantly, stretch our imagination. This canon is not defined by academics alone. It includes anything that enriches our thinking such as Dr Seuss’ Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. There is much to learn from the human experience in these texts and how they shape our approach to learning.

One recently published academic book that will be added to our system’s canon is Stephen Dinham’s recently published, Leading Learning and Teachingleading_learning_and_teaching.  This isn’t a how to guide or blueprint for action so much as  a considered reflection and research on both past and present approaches to improving schooling. Dinham unpacks the major implications for practitioners and the critical challenge of leading learning and teaching.

This book makes no claim of finding the definitive approaches to improving schools. Neither is it a lecture or beating of the drum. What you get is a thorough walk through of the central issues facing educators and schools in today’s world. Most importantly the book shows a deep respect for teachers in its open and accessible prose.

Reading this book reinforced my view that the profession is more than capable of meeting the challenges of transforming schooling if we continue to read widely and as Dinham says become ‘critical consumers of research’ and evidence-based in our practice.







11 thoughts on “Leaders as readers

  1. Some must read books that add value to teaching:

    Problem Solving 101: A Simple Book for Smart People

    Think Like a Freak

    Bully for them

    The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read: One Man’s Triumph Over Illiteracy

  2. Also, I came across this free ebook today that you might like:

    “This is the history of high-performing public charter schools — the best of the best, the top 20 percent, the gamechangers. This story begins years later in California, spreads east through the unlikely collaboration of top school leaders, and stands apart for its success in guiding poor and minority children from kindergarten all the way through college graduation. This is the story of the visionaries who rewrote the rules — and how those same pioneers are now pushing to reinvent American education yet again.”

  3. Thanks for another thoughtful piece Greg. I agree: Time for professional reading should be an integral component of all educators’ routines. Unfortunately, so many of them have to spend so much time complying with directives from those to whom they’re accountable, the best most can do is try to snatch 10 or 15 minutes bedtime reading before collapsing exhausted into fitful sleep. I’m concerned that this state of affairs is impacting on the kinds of professional books teachers are prepared to buy. A US publisher recently approached me to write a book for teachers about learning. My brief was that it had to be ‘ short’ (16,000 word limit), contain only what was referred to as ” the essentials’, and above all be ‘ minimally theoretical with as many practical examples of classroom practice as possible’.
    Is this the beginning of ‘dumbing down’ our profession?

    1. Brian, you hit the nail on the head. I think as a profession we need to hold the line against dumbing down the profession particularly when we are now talking about teachers as researchers and critical readers. We need to create a culture where curiosity and critical thinking are highly valued and regarded.

    1. Thanks Cameron. I just read Bianca’s post on Dinham’s book. Great to see those at the coalface not only reading and critically reflecting on the content with their practice but importantly as Bianca illustrates that these texts become the catalyst for deeper conversations with colleagues.

  4. Bluyonder

    Thank you Greg for the positive review of LLT and for agreeing to launch my book at the recent ACE conference in Sydney. It was great to have such as eminent and respected educator as yourself agreeing to read and respond to Leading Learning and Teaching.

    I’d like to respond to a few matters raised by educators who have read the book, including in some of the posts on your blog. The major one of these is that of ICT and its use in education.

    First things first, I was an early enthusiastic adopter from my Apple 2e and dot matrix printer in the 1980s – when I first met and began working with Greg – onwards. I was amongst the first to use email in Australia and to utilise the internet for teaching, research and communicating with colleagues around the globe. Today, I couldn’t (easily) live without the internet and all it has to offer. I have to admit an addiction, although I am a constant user of Twitter for educative purposes, I have drawn the line at FaceBook.

    More generally, we know that teachers as a group in society are amongst the highest users of ICT in their lives yet in their daily practice, are amongst the lowest. Similarly, those of school age and older are committed active users yet what happens in schools is variable and of concern.

    I get to visit many schools, both government and non-government both in Australia and overseas and what I see increasingly fills me with concern. There are two main issues: 1) The disparity in access to and use of ICT, and 2) The fact that technology is racing ahead of pedagogy and many teachers are struggling to keep up with these advances and are even falling behind. The research isn’t encouraging.

    In Australia we had the Digital Educational Revolution (DER) whereby senior secondary students were provided with a laptop computer. Great, yet there was minimal professional development for teachers as to how to use these devices and maintenance wasn’t factored in. Our youngest daughter (high SES government school) was a recipient of such a computer and her experience, if typical, was concerning. Aside from maintenance and upgrade issues, ‘educational’ use appeared to be confined to reading school announcements and downloading worksheets that had to be completed without adequate scaffolding or feedback by teachers when completed. Until the keyboard broke, the major use was downloading movies and TV shows and watching YouTube clips of cats and the like. Who knows where these computers are now, but what I see is, as noted, growing disparity.

    Some schools, both government and private, boast wonderful multi-media facilities with state of the art equipment and reasonable to effective pedagogy but in other schools, the contrast is stark. Despite figures purporting to show that more than 90% of Australian households have access to the internet, the key question is how this facility is used and who is using it. Many recent teacher education graduates I speak with find themselves in low SES schools where ICT access is poor – forget about students bringing their own devices – and when teachers can finally get their students into the lab or library, many of the computers are out of action and those that are working are slow as a wet week. In short, as with other equity gaps, the ICT gap is widening. These high users of ICT are frustrated.

    A final point. In the book I have noted that pure discovery learning – where students are left to their own devices (sic) – is problematic, yet problem solving and inquiry that is supported by informed teaching and builds upon a solid foundation of knowledge, skills and understanding where significant issues and problems are addressed can produce powerful learning. I’ve been using project work for over 40 years and will continue to do so, including action learning approaches with educators that are a central part of how I approach teaching and learning with professional adults, but I don’t leave my students to find out everything for themselves.

    In short, ICT is not a panacea for addressing learning gaps nor is it a replacement for the teacher. It is however a potentially powerful force if it can be harnessed and used effectively. A point I stress in LLT is that in this digital age, we need good teachers more than ever to help their students negotiate the mass of material ‘out there’. The term and concept of teachers being merely the ‘guide by the side’ is demeaning and inaccurate. We need experts in learning and teaching.

    To conclude we need both research and evidence-based professional development for teachers to make best use of ICT for student learning. One of my doctoral students, Jo Blannin, is currently exploring this very area, but we have a long way to go in catching up to the rapid changes in technology we are experiencing and we need to find sustainable ways of bridging the gaps in ICT access that are widening on a daily basis.


    1. Steve. I agree with tour comments. Policy makers and central authorities are always in search of the next silver bullet or slam dunk solution to improving kids learning and teacher quality. I assume from the right motives but certainly from the wrong perspective if you take not of good practice and evidence.
      technology is only a tool nothing more and nothing less. The focus for development has to be on the user not the devise.In he hands of a teacher expert, ICTs are powerful enablers. We can’t blame the tool for poor teacher practice as you haven pointed out in the worksheet example.
      Believe it or not the gap is closing on the degital divide and will continue to do so with increased access to wireless and the Internet of things, any devise can connect. The same happened wit the advent of printing. Books were the luxury of the few, eventually the mass production od books was solved.
      The simple fact is we need better teachers than ecver before and we need to do the hard yards and investment in building their capacity.
      Keep up the effort

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