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 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.