There have been a lot of books previously that I have got a lot out of, normally it is a chapter or a passage or a series of activities, but none that I have felt compelled to write about, this book was an exception to me. Although I feel that I was still engaging with many of the ideas I learnt though the course I wanted to be refreshed, re=invigorated and re-inspired, I wanted to that burst of enthusiasm that I got when I was doing the course. I wanted that renewed sense of purpose, to look critically at what I am doing to see if I am on the right track and to look for what the next challenge is. With a project that I am working on already at scale within our local area (http://www.empoweringlocallearners.weebly.com) I wanted to really look at how it was travelling and despite the success, where the current issues may be
I wasn't disappointed.
I guess the first thing to say about this book is that it doesn't feel like a book, it feels like you are having a conversation with a mentor. It feels like you are sitting down with someone who believes in you, believes in what you are trying to do and believes that you are the person to be leading it, they are just there to give you what you need, when you need it. Sometimes it is that dose of inspiration such as a story from their own or someone else's desire to innovate, sometimes it is a supportive word to help pick you up when things might not be going well. Other times it is is a tool to help you move forward when you may have hit a wall. Sometimes it is about giving you the kick up the backside and the reality check you need to make sure you keep your ego and potentially your tunnel vision in check and to keep you focused on who you are really trying to make this change for.
As I moved though the book I realised that it doesn't necessarily frame this type of innovation and leadership as all puppy dogs, rainbows and unicorns. The book is all about "unleashing teacher led innovation in schools" so they talk a lot about leading change when you don't necessarily have a "leadership role" in the school. It talks about the people who will keep telling you no, that you can't do it, that they don't want to do it, that it is too much work, but it also gives you ways to work with these people to try and get them on side or to make sure they don't impact on what you are trying to do. It talks about how you will fail over and over again, that some of your ideas will be awful and that people you respect may also tell you that ideas you like are a bad idea, but it also talks about how this is an important and necessary part of the process. It talks about how you will probably put more of your physical and emotional time into this than you ever have with anything also before in your working life, but it also shows you what the rewards of it can be. In implementing this myself from the course back in 2012 I can see that it paints a realistic picture of what to expect. What I like is that they not only tell you what to expect in terms of the challenges, but they also tell you at what point in the process you can expect to come across those challenges.
The first section of the book really gets you think a lot about what you are passionate about changing, not just what annoys you, but what keeps you awake at night, what you lose sleep over, what you see day after day that you know would make all the difference if you could just change that one thing. However it also gets you thinking about what their world would look like if that did change, how it would be different. This focus on narrowing you down to what you are deeply passionate about changing really sets the scene for the rest of the journey though the book.
As you get into the second section of book the really get you drilling down in understanding the problem you are trying to solve. They are very clear and deliberate in slowing you down so that you don't jump to implementing something to solve the problem when you really don't understand the problem enough. They work with the premise that the better you understand the problem, the better you can design a effective solution as you are getting to the root of the problem.
The third section moves into how you create, test, reflect and refine effective solutions to your problem. But it is more than that, it is really about how you do these things in short cycles, how you can get a quick idea for how effective your solution will be before you pour too much of your time and effort into a larger scale test of concept that may or may not work. Finally the book looks at how you share your success and how you can scale it to involve more classes, more schools, more communities, states or countries and ultimately have a positive effect on more children.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is passionate about creating change and working towards something better for your students. The simple idea of working towards solving a problem that you are absolutely passionate about means that you are much more heavily invested in it, but also more likely to succeed if you stick with it, this book seeks to keep that journey on track, to keep it progressing and to building it in a sustainable way. With that focus in mind I think if every teacher in Australia read this book and took on the ideas seriously then a lot of the current problems in education would be moving towards being solved by the end of the year. However in saying this not everyone is at a point in their life where they can commit to a project of this kind and a book such as this may be too daunting for them.
This is the sort of book I would give to those teachers that I have really strong, thought provoking conversations about education with. I would give it to those who identify problems in their classroom or school but don't place the responsibility for fixing that onto others, they strive to be the change that they want to see in the school I would give it to those who speak with a great deal of positivity and optimism about where their students will end up given the right opportunities. I would give this book to them because they are the ones I want on my team when I start to implement this more formally again, I want their ideas, their insights and their criticisms. Though giving them this book I would also hope that they would keep me honest to the process. I also hope that if they found inspiration from this book for their own change project then I hope they would bring me along to do the same.
I can see myself picking this book up again and again, In fact I have already gone back and revisited some stuff based on my current thoughts and I have only had it for a week (it is looking a bit worse for wear already). The thing is for me, is that they get you thinking different and working differently to what you have ever done previously, Never before have I written in or highlighed a book, but I have done both these things with this book (although my OCD made me use an orange highlighter because it kinda matches the front cover.). It feels like a working document that I can continue to come back to because it has been set up that way
If you can ever manage to get into a course with these guys, don't hesitate, just do it. If you don't get that opportunity then this book is a great start for you.
Senior Leader of Pedagogical Innovation and Mathematics Coordinator in Regional South Australia.
Opinions in this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer.