All people involved in the complex task of managing schools need all the help we can get, and need it in forms that are lucid and clear, as well as realistic. What I admire about this book is not only that it deals with the reality of the everyday, including those periods of confusion and the need for multiple and instantaneous decisions, but that it does so both with understanding and with good advice. We recognise that the author knows what it is like to run a school and the difference between rhetoric and reality. We also receive clear guidelines so that the chaos theory that is used is a meansof analysis and not an impact on the content!
On one occasion when I took up a leadership post with about 75 teaching staff, I began not by re-structuring, a device used by some to demonstrate who is boss, but by making enquiries about what the staff thought were the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation. I have always thought that some empirical evidence, and listening to considered reflections by experienced colleagues, was a sensible thing to do. One of them, however, said that in his opinion he would not start from where we were.
This was like getting government advice: accurate and unhelpful. The fact is that we were in a particular position and that was the one from which we had to progress. The remark highlighted the longing to make a completely fresh start, as if one were not shaped by the messy past. This longing might be impossible but it captures the tone of many management books and courses. Decisions and directions sound so smooth. We hear so much of the positive language of management-speak, it sometimes sounds as if solutions were so simple. It is as if the human element did not exist.
This book is a refreshing change since it deals with a reality with which we are all too familiar. No management manual can deal with real-life problems as slickly as the ways in which the gurus talk so theoretically and delightfully about them. Even those who believe the rhetoric can be undermined by reality. I remember one head telling his team for over an hour about how much had been learned on a management course about not talking too much.