‘Student-Centered Leadership’, Viviane Robinson, Book Review by Liz Free. First Published by the Chartered College (7/11/17)
Book title: Student-Centered Leadership
Author: Viviane Robinson
Publication date: 2011
1. What is your overall impression of the book?
In the age of education fad and fashion, Student-Centered Leadership is a haven of sensibility that calls to every education leader to put ‘education back into education leadership’.
Robinson assumes that most education leaders are motivated by wanting to make a difference to the young people in their care. But, she argues, this in itself is not enough – we need to focus on how we put these words and ideals into action. She calls for education leaders to focus on research-based approaches to student learning and wellbeing, and to use this to inform how and what we focus on as leaders.
Robinson takes an understated yet robust, pragmatic approach. In her second paragraph, she writes that her ‘book is not another call to the moral high ground’ – it is purely ‘about how to turn ideals into action’. I was slightly taken aback about this initially, but her point – that focusing on the moral high ground as leaders in the teaching profession will only yield limited outcomes (as most of us are already there) – seems fair.
Student-Centred Leadership is evidence based and unapologetically academic, but at the same time practice driven. It is based on research conducted for the Ministry of Education in New Zealand to complete a best evidence synthesis (BES) of research on educational leadership (Robinson, Hoheps and Lloyd, 2009).
I’ve grown up on a diet of Hattie, Fullan, Collins, Hargreaves and Wiliam (it only just occurred to me that this is an exclusively male line-up). I have learnt much from these giants of education leadership, warning us of traps and sharing ways to achieve success. Robinson (a woman) joins the lofty heights of a leadership bestseller (huzzah!).
2. Who do you think would benefit most from reading the book? What will they learn?
Student Centered Leadership book coverThis book is an essential read for all those entering school leadership or those who have significant school leadership experience. It forces us to pause and consider the evidence base for our values and, most importantly, our actions. As an experienced school leader, this text made me stop and rethink some aspects of leadership, and focus on the core purpose of teaching and learning.
As we face a period of significant change in education, it is critical that we have clarity about what we can do to secure the very best outcomes for young people in our care and be brave and bold in leading with this. This text helps to crystallise the research and support school leaders to define what direction we want to take.
3. What did you think about the quality of the writing? Please consider the tone, structure and ideas. Does it suit the audience?
Robinson writes with clarity and purpose. The book is weighty and serious, and yet accessible and challenging.
It is structured around the five aspects of student-centred leadership. These are: establishing goals and expectations; resourcing strategically; ensuring quality teaching; leading teacher learning and development; and ensuring an orderly and safe environment.
Each area is explored in a core chapter which looks at the research into that specific aspect and the average effect size it has, before going into further detail about what implications there are for practice and recommended approaches/action to achieve optimum pupil outcomes.
4. Please discuss the research used to underpin the ideas. What evidence does the author use? Is it robust and up-to-date?
The foundation research used for this book came from a New Zealand Ministry of Education evidence synthesis of research on education leadership (Robinson, Hohepa, & Lloyd, 2009). It focuses on the impact and effect sizes of different aspects of leadership on pupil outcomes and wellbeing. It includes collaboration with John Hattie and Ken Rowe, who supported with effect size analysis.
Robinson collaborated with colleagues across world and the series editor Andy Hargreaves for feedback during the development and writing of this book. It is robust and up-to-date, whilst also being beautifully crafted for accessibility and linked directly to education practice.
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?
If I have taken one thing from this text, it is that we need to continually ensure that we focus on developing our own learning for the benefit of ourselves and our students.
The book identifies ‘leading teacher learning and development’ as the most effective aspect of leadership to support student outcomes. Teacher CPDL has an astounding effect size of 0.84 – over double that of all other leadership dimensions. This reinforces how important it is as a profession that we protect and engage with professional learning.
The other leadership dimensions include:
- Establishing goals and expectations (0.42)
- Resourcing strategically (0.31)
- Ensuring quality teaching (0.42)
- Ensuring an orderly and safe environment (0.27)
At a time of significant pressure on school budgets, CPDL is all too frequently the area where funding is cut. A Teacher Development Trust report earlier this year found that the average CPD spend in England is £33 per pupil – or 0.07% of each school’s income on average (TDT, 2017). This text highlights the importance of focusing on leading teacher learning and development and not to get drawn into the trap of focusing on the short-term and often operational needs.
6. Could you share a quote from the book that particularly resonated with you?
‘The most powerful way that school leaders can make a difference to the learning of their students is by promoting and participating in the professional learning and development of their teachers’.
7. Please add any additional comments.
We recently used this text for our ‘Leadership Lounge’ book club text. It was so popular we ran it twice. Staff from across our schools contributed to the session, including middle, senior and executive level leaders (from both primary and secondary settings). We had a fabulous discussion, while also having a fun evening together.
Liz Free is Director of the International Leadership Academy at the British School in the Netherlands. You can follow her on Twitter @LizAMFree, or on her blog http://www.lizfree.com.