Review written by: @christopherpyle and originally published in the June 2017 edition of UKEdChat Magazine (click here to view)
Liminal Leadership: Building bridges across the chaos… because we’re standing on the edge: Stephen Tierney is CEO of a Catholic multi-academy trust in Blackpool, and chairs the influential Headteachers’ Roundtable thinktank. His book blends the personal and the political, with an accumulation of common sense that amounts to real wisdom. He typically describes one piece of his advice as “profound but bleedin’ obvious”!
Schools are exceptional crucibles for leadership, and it should be compulsory for long-standing headteachers to wash their professional life’s laundry as Tierney does here – but only if they can write as engagingly as he does.
He is an outstanding phrasemaker who tweets as @LeadingLearner, and his short blog posts such as the #ThursdayThunks are required reading. I defy anyone to read this account of his learning and leadership journey without jotting down some soundbites for future use: “People come with problems and problems come with people.” “It wasn’t the work; it was the worry.” “You bring who you are to leadership.” “Leave perfection to God!”
Tierney describes himself as a recovering control freak – “so you can only imagine what a joy I am to work with”! His own leadership arc has been about moving from near workaholic activity (“I can do busy”) towards more considered priorities.
School leadership teams, magnifying and transmitting pressures downwards, have much to learn about moving from quantity to quality. This is progression from the to do list to doing less better (“If it’s not a 9 or a 10, cross it off”); and from letting a thousand flowers bloom – 999 of which will probably wither – towards clarity and purpose.
He is scathing about political pronouncements that amount to a “cluster-bomb of irrelevance and distraction.” “Like many people of my age I have been honed, damaged and shaped by an era of increasingly pernicious accountability and the confused autonomy granted to us by successive governments,” he writes, arguing that Ofsted is in denial about the damage it has done. And how has the Secretary of State come to have unprecedented powers, but somehow without responsibility for the supply of either teachers or school places?
But this is no time for ranting. His great conviction is that we need a new era of professional responsibility. What bridges to the future can school leaders build on informed, focused and ethical foundations?
Society needs a sustainable teaching profession which trusts, trains and retains high quality graduates. Leaders at every level must put the classroom – the key structure in our school system – at the centre of policy. They need to prioritise the professional development of the classroom teacher.
Liminal Leadership is engaging, varied, honest and wise. You should read it for all those reasons. You will learn much here about a potential journey from focus to flow; beyond informed to wise; beyond ethical to humane. What will the arc of your professional life encompass?
Book released: 17 Oct. 2016
Prices correct at time of review publication.