Leading Futures by Alma Harris
21 November, 2016
Leading Futures, Global Perspectives on Educational Leadership is edited by Alma Harris and Michelle S. Jones.
I thought it to be a promising book given the position and experience of both editors. So I bought the Kindle version.
Unfortunately I experienced it to be more of a lucky dip. I’ll explain my experiences.
I had hoped to find detailed information about the results of the 7 System Leadership Study of Alma Harris that started in 2012. The prime aim of that project is looking at leadership in different cultures and contexts. The study is empirically mapping the way in which different education systems develop school leaders and the impact these programmes have on prinicpals’ leadership practice. Information about the project is scarce on Internet.
The book indeed builds on 7LSL and also on the Asia Leadership Summit 2014 in Kuala Lumpur. The authors are partly researchers on 7SLS and partly contributors to the ALS 2014. But there is not much direct information about 7LSL.
The book is organised into three sections (and is said also to be based on 22 questions of school students, but that is not very clear).
The three sections are:
- System level - Leading futures: System Transformation
- Professional level - Leading futures: Collaborative Professional Learning
- Leader and Learner level - Leading futures: Redefining Educational Leadership.
Before I delve into the details of my critics I’d like to highlight what I really like about the book:
- Comments on the lopsided view of PISA on what counts as results of schools and PISA's strong influence on national agendas for educational improvement;
- Urging for improvement strategies that really take into account national context and not to simply copycat solutions from other countries;
- Bringing Pasi Sahlberg on stage with his comments on and his characterisation of the global education reform movement (GERM) with preferred policies on standardisation, increased focus on literacy, and numeracy and accountability (p. xv).
Contributions that I can use for my thinking about development of school leaders are:
- Paula Kwan about developments in Hong Kong in supporting leadership in schools (although I would have preferred an extended discussion). (p. 48).
- Carol Campbell about leading system-wide educational improvement in Ontario. (p. 72)
- Corinne Jacquline Perera a.o. about Malaysia (but I would have loved to have more information about the relative success of each of the professional development activities). (p. 125)
- Louisa Rennie about designing and developing Australian Principal Certification. (p. 138)
- Christopher Chapman about networking for educational equity. (p. 148)
- Pak Tee Ng about developing leaders for schools in Singapore. (p. 169)
- Karen Edge about generation X leaders in global cities (still in a preliminary phase, but with a surprising and interesting target group). (p. 187)
I am more critical about the structure of the book:
- 'First, leaders make a difference to system, school and student outcome, and second, leadership is both culturally and contextually defined' (p. xxi).
I had liked to see a matrix of those two elements with the three elements: leadership, capacity development for leadership and changes in capacity development for leadership. That would have been sufficient as a clear structure for the book but there is no such structure (although the paragraph on culture (?) can be seen as an attempt - p. xxi). And even then many of the different contributions have a rather thin relation with that attempted structure.
- Introductions of the three sections hardly do more than just enumerating the chapters. The closing chapter also does not excel in making sense of the preceding chapters.
Parts for further frowning:
- Anthony MacKay a.o. Movers and shapers. The contribution has the form of a serious story, but in essence is just a call for making space for principals from outside the educational system (Compare my recent blog about the growing influence of the Global Education Industry). (p. 62)
- James Spillane with a very short chapter about the essences of distributed leadership. Nothing wrong with the content, but it reads like: "Oh, I almost forgot I promised Alma to contribute to her new book".
- Jill Jameson about leading future pedagogies, in fact about the role of IT (typical article setting too high expectations about the future influence of IT in education - something I could have written myself many years ago predicting a major overhaul of education, being wrong in my expectations).
A Dutch translation of the book will be presented this week (23 November). In my opinion Dutch principals, consultants and others who would need a translation will not be supported by the book. For others: Just be selective.
For more information about 7LSL better read the latest special issue of International Studies in Educational Administration (ISEA 2016 44(2)) where Alma Harris in her commentary on the articles also presents some information about the results of the project. Be prepared to be surprised.