Improving School Governance – with host leadership

gann governanceThe second edition of UK eductation expert Nigel Gann’s book Improving School Governance has just been published. Since the first edition appeared in 1998 this book has become a keystone of school governance discussions in the UK and overseas. Nigel’s experience as a teacher, head, governor, chair of governors and consultant really comes through in what is both a practical and thought-provoking work.

We were particularly excited to see host leadership taking its place in the book. As part of the chapter on leadership and management, Nigel Gann seeks to debunk the idea of ‘superheads’ or ‘hero heads’ who arrive to turn around failing schools. He writes about the narrative of a school which is a ‘victim’ (or the pupils are victims and the school is the perpetrator) being saved by the lone superhead riding into town and rescuing everyone, as discredited – though it remains popular with the press, politicians and some of the self-declared superheads themselves. This is not to say that strong and good leadership is not important of course – it’s just that there are other models.

Gann then goes on to look at ‘antihero’ leaders – servants and hosts. He quotes from Host, saying that

The basis of the [host leader] metaphor is that leadership is not an activity conducted by an individual so much as a relationship between leader and led: ‘If heroes step forward and servants step back, then the host does both’ (McKergow and Bailey 2014, p23).

He then reviews the six roles of host leadership and relates ways that head teachers might act like host leaders. He then offers some ideas of how non-hero heads, working collaboratively with students, staff, governors and parents, might work with their governors:

  • Don’t always be right – other people wondey why they’re there if you can do it all by yourself
  • In fact, don’t always know. The words “I don’t know” used by someone in authority open doors for others
  • Give two or three alternatives when asked for suggestions with the pros and cons
  •  Don’t always sit in the same place at meetings, to avoid establishing a ‘power-place’
  •  Try not to sit behind a desk at small meetings
  •  Explain things so that everyone can understand them, without being patronising
  •  Remember that the school doesn’t belong to you – long after you’re gone, the community will still be there
  •  Listen in a supportive, not an adversarial, way, and don’t always feel you have to defend yourself
  • Above all, don’t be super! You’re not supposed to be doing it all by yourself.

(From Nigel Gann, Improving School Governance, 2nd edition, Routledge, 2016)

This is all very sound advice for any post-heroic leader seeking to engage others!

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