Book title: Making the leap: Moving from deputy to head
Author: Dr Jill Berry
Publication date: 2016
1. What is your overall impression of the book?
In Star Wars Episode IV, Han Solo proudly tells Princess Leia that he completed the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs thereby confusing distance with time and irritating astrophysicists for eternity.
Dr Jill Berry makes no such confusion when she urges us to make the leap into headship and explores how to bridge the space between where you are as an educational leader and where you might want to be as a headteacher. I purchased the book as a newly-appointed headteacher – and rather wish I had got my hands on a copy earlier.
The book is resolutely about relationships, teams and sustaining each other – including yourself – as a headteacher so you can lead successful schools. If you are looking for a checklist of what to do this is not the book you need. If you are looking for a book that gets you thinking about why you should apply for a leadership role and some key areas to focus on, however, then Making the Leap does just that in a way that is not arcane or full of edu-jargon.
While possibly more useful for those who are an angstrom away from applying for their first headship rather than light years (i.e. closer), the book provides a coherent, well structured discussion of the challenges to be found in this interesting professional transition.
2. Who do you think would benefit most from reading the book? What will they learn?
There is no doubt that the primary audience for this book is aspiring headteachers currently at deputy or assistant level. Berry manages that careful balance of encouragement and optimism that will make future leaders want to pursue leadership, with warnings about naivety and assumptions that can hamper a new head.
Mentors, coaches, professional development providers and governing bodies would also find this book very useful as a means of gaining insight into the journey that potential and new headteachers undergo. The joys and fears of the newly-appointed heads, who form the crux of Dr Berry’s research, give a clear view of the emotional challenges and worries that new heads may need support with. Some of the reflective questions at the end of the each chapter would also work well as the basis of a developmental conversation.
3. What did you think about the quality of the writing? Please consider the tone, structure and ideas. Does it suit the audience?
Dr Berry’s style is very accessible and, though conversational, remains focused and professional. A sense of the humane binds all of the ideas in the book together and Berry’s tone is one of grounded emotional intelligence based on years of experience.
She weaves her own experience in with leadership ideas from the broader educational community and the outcomes of her doctoral research – and presents it all in a way that is relevant for any aspiring leader.
The structure allows for a read through from start to finish, but you could also dip in and out by choosing a chapter that is relevant to your own circumstance. For example, ‘applying for headship’ forms one chapter while ‘established headship and beyond’ is another.
4. Please discuss the research used to underpin the ideas. What evidence does the author use? Is it robust and up-to-date?
The book emerged as a result of Dr Berry’s doctoral research into the move from deputy to headship. It is based on the critical review and subsequent analysis of articles about this role change that she used.
Berry’s research also included semi-structured interviews, shadowing and role-set analysis of a group of newly-appointed heads. The heads-elect were seen in their setting as deputies and then as newly-appointed leaders, allowing for comparability of experience, perception and perspective. The research tracks the participants moving from excitement and anxiety to the moment where, as one said, ‘There comes a point where you just have to get on with it.’ That move is tracked well via Berry’s research and supplemented by references and recommended reading.
5. What did you learn from reading the book? What ideas/approaches/practice will you change or adopt as a result of reading this book?
As well as helping me grapple with my nerves, rather unexpectedly, this book made me consider longevity of tenure for maximum impact and committing to system leadership. Berry’s research suggests a headteacher in post for between five and seven years should enter a phase where they make a lasting and sustainable difference – described as the ‘consolidation’ phase. This assuaged my immediate worries about timeframes, and Berry even provides some time markers, which are brilliant practical parameters for new heads.
Another key message I took from the book was the difference between the deputy and the headteacher. As an assistant and deputy head I have thoroughly enjoyed operating in the shadows (to slightly misquote one of Berry’s research participants); becoming the headteacher means that is no longer possible. This is the exhilarating, but scary, part of the gig.
Making the Leap strongly suggests that any new head builds trust and empowers their leadership team without too much micromanagement. There is a step change in this, which I found interesting; as a deputy you do a lot on the ground and know systems/processes inside out – moving to headship means you may have to relinquish some of that. So you step into the spotlight and are accountable for almost everything, but you can’t know everything in detail – that is quite some change and certainly thought-provoking.
Berry also points out the need to navigate the choppy waters of inheriting a role versus inhabiting a role. There is a delicate line between using a new headship as a catalyst for change and trying to alter too much too soon (while still making sure what needs to change is altered). This may not have been something many senior leaders have experience of and the book returns to this theme many times.
In terms of altering my practice, I have committed to giving time for reflection on whether the strategies I have set in place are having an impact; it is easy to lose sight of the endgame in the hurly-burly of the day-to-day. I will also deliberately acknowledge the shift from deputy to head, including the acceptance that I will make mistakes.
Berry’s optimism and strategy to find and grow the bright spots resonates well too. John Tomsett, quoted in the book, sums it up eloquently: ‘It’s not your idea, it’s the best idea – and that might be hiding anywhere in your school.’ So I’ll be deliberately looking for the best ideas and sharing them. From encouraging invitations to visit classrooms at a teacher’s behest, to sharing great teaching and learning moments in staff briefings, carving out some time to celebrate the fabulousness of teachers and teaching is something I will relish.
6. Could you share a quote from the book that particularly resonated with you?
‘Transition involves a process of transformation for both the new school leader and the led.’
7. Please add any additional comments.
Making the Leap is a great encouragement to the educational Jedis of the future and the force is most definitely strong with Dr Berry!