Book review: Brave Heads

Aug. 29, 2017
Lesley Keast

Lesley Keast

Assistant Headteacher, Oasis Academy Nunsthorpe

“Are you brave enough?” is the question asked by author Dave Harris throughout the book. But brave enough to do what?

Dr Robert Anthony, author of The Secret of Deliberate Creation said, “The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity.” As leaders, these days of immense external pressure to focus on ‘floor targets’, make it hard to focus on genuinely educating young people. For me, bravery is not about being fearless, but rather acting when others will not or not acting when others do.

This is the perfect book for every leader who wants to make a genuine difference as well as get great results. It is a simple, easy-to-read manual that constantly questions you – making self-reflection inevitable - and provides practical suggestions, too. 

Creativity from bravery

The book is split into chapters about bravery in different contexts:  brave politics, brave curriculum, brave choices, brave leadership and brave research, all giving anecdotal evidence and advice on taking brave steps as a head.

Throughout each chapter, this essential message pervades: do not simply focus on the targets you are given, but take a chance to do the wonderful, exciting, slightly barmy things which remind you why you love your job so much.

"The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity."

- Dr Robert Anthony

Everyday bravery

The first thing it covers is the controversial area of inspections and the ensuing emotions: elation, depression, hope, despair, the feeling of trying to move a mountain with a toothpick. It then looks at the potentially destructive nature of the job, giving details on ensuring that you maintain high levels of motivation and moral purpose, and ways to become brave enough to allow you to make a genuine difference to children’s lives.

It emphasises the need to show courage every day, every month and through the darkest moments seemingly with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Practical steps for being brave are given throughout the short, pithy and anecdotal chapters. A few of my favourites were:

  • Write the local newspaper article you would like to read about your school. Identify how you can move towards making it a reality
  • Embark on at least one new partnership with another school
  • Plot a chart of the last week showing how much time you spent leading and how much managing

I lead on Assessment and Data in my school, and am very aware of the exponential growth of data collection in schools. The ‘steps to being brave’ tip suggests I list five items of data that I collect but do not use fully.

This task helped me clarify what we collect, from whom, what we use it for and its importance and relevance in our school. Much of this last section highlights the need for strong relationships in a school. Knowing each person’s strengths, roles and interactions is key to keeping systems simple yet focused, enabling you as the leader to lead more and manage less.


The journey to being a brave leader

In Brave Heads, Harris puts the importance of KPIs into perspective, highlighting the merry-go-round we are all on. However, he insists that bravery is not always dancing to the political tune. As an informed leader, you will be brave enough to use local intelligence despite the potential conflict with the external monitor, as well as restricting quick-wins in order to effect lasting change.

The book ends with a summary list of the ‘steps to being brave’ suggestions, enabling you to personalise your own journey to being a brave leader. The overarching message of the book is that with bravery, you can achieve practically anything.

Use this book when you feel under pressure to lead a school along a path that you know is not right. It will reassure you and give you the courage to be brave enough to do what you think is right.

This article originally appeared on the website of the Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute. 


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