The four stages of leadership

Tim Brighouse delivers an engaging and enlightening address to the ACTS conference

Tim Brighouse spoke at the recent conference of the Association of Chartered Teachers in Scotland. Brighouse has a powerful professional pedigree: one time chief education official in each of Oxfordshire, Birmingham and London, Professor of Education at Keele University .

The conference was introduced by Bruce Robertson of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland who insisted, a theme echoed by Brighouse himself, that the biggest challenge facing Scottish education was the link between poverty and poor attainment and that the best antidotes were excellent leadership and excellent teaching.

Tim Brighouse was welcomed by David Cameron (former head of education at Stirling Council) whose challenging assertion, “We’ve had enough of change; time to make a difference”, was almost as apposite an introduction, as his question: “How do we inhabit a neoliberal society which is committed to inequality?” Brighouse would seek a different commitment and a different society.

While at Birmingham, he was described by Conservative Education Secretary, John Patten, as a “madman…wandering the streets, frightening the children”. Brighouse sued and won substantial damages, which he donated to charity. The acerbic Chris Woodhead, then chief inspector, gave his verdict on Brighouse’s stewardship of Birmingham schools with a sniffy “could do better”. Who fears the insults of the mediocre?

Brighouse once stated that, when you take over a job, it’s important to date any improvement to before you started. He has enormous inner self-confidence. He doesn’t need to prove himself to other people.

When a school faced a difficult Ofsted inspection, he arrived with champagne to be opened when the ordeal was over. People work well only when they’re happy and engaged.

He is a teacher’s teacher but he is focused on getting learning right and won’t accept second-best from teachers. In Birmingham, he presided over a massive improvement in educational attainment in what many perceived as the worst education authority in England, and thus changed the debate on big-city schooling.

Now 72, Brighouse brought his charismatic charm to an audience of Scottish teachers, telling them that if he started again he “would want to be a teacher, would want to inspire, to weave magic”. At a conference where there was considerable discussion around language and literacy, he insisted that “language is the armoury of the mind”.

He also had a salutary warning for school leaders.

He said they are at their best between their third and seventh years. There are four stages of leadership: initiation, development, stall and decline. Good leaders know when they have reached their own period of decline.

He advocated improvement in schools based on adjusting, not transforming, again manna to teachers who feel beleaguered in a whirlwind of constant but seemingly purposeless change. For schools which were genuinely committed to these critical adjustments, nothing, he suggested, was more important than high quality professional development and the encouragement and facilitation of professional development was the first job of school leaders. The factors which made such professional development successful were responsibility passed on, permission to attempt (and fail), new experiences and respect for all of those engaged in the process.

As well as a wonderful line in self-deprecating humour, Brighouse brings intellectual rigour and, indeed, an enthusiasm for matters intellectual, to the task of teaching. He has enormous respect for the daily tasks, routines and challenges of teaching, recognises that these are hard-gained skills and respects those who wield them. He has a powerful commitment to social justice and is unembarrassed by it.

The enthusiasm with which he was greeted at the ACTS conference, suggests that a few of our local leaders might usefully take some leafs from his book.

 

The above article was first published in Holyrood Magazine on 25 February 2013: http://www.holyrood.com/2013/02/the-four-stages-of-leadership/

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