'Democratic Leadership' - a new way forward for schools?

Issue date: 25 October 2005

This is the question addressed by Professor Philip Woods of the Faculty of Education at the University of the West of England in his new book, Democratic Leadership in Education (just published by Sage Publications).

The book, written with professional policy makers and education researchers in mind, focuses on the idea of democratic leadership - what it means, what forms it can take, and how it is relevant to school education and learning. The author shows how the ideals and theories of democratic leadership can translate into practice, and sets out some of the challenges that democratic leadership poses in the context of contemporary education

Philip Woods says, “We are all familiar with the idea of democratic government, but all too often this idea of leadership is not considered in terms of schools. Through this book I want to show that if we take the idea of democratic leadership and apply it to schools, this can enhance learning, boost teachers’ professionalism, give pupils a more rounded education and develop the confidence and capabilities that every citizen needs in a democratic society which is inclusive and respects difference and diversity. At no time has the goal of creating an inclusive democracy been more vital than now, in the climate following the London bombings in July.”

“The book challenges many of the assumptions in educational policy and conventional approaches to leadership, by examining the idea of democratic leadership and exploring its practical relevance through examples drawn from practice and research.”

“Democracy is about more than voting and each person representing their own interests”, concludes Philip Woods. “The democratic leadership we need in schools makes radical changes at every level. Firstly, school structure: it means having institutional arrangements and a school culture which share leadership, initiative and responsibility amongst staff, pupils, parents and the community. For example staff teams trusted to take decisions and groups of pupils who are given the responsibility to act as conflict mediators.

“Secondly, people: everyone – adults and children alike - need to develop the capabilities and skills needed for democracy, for example, the ability to communicate and respect another’s point of view. Thirdly, everyday practice: it involves creating in day-to-day relationships a democratic climate that values everyone equally and the pursuit of truth as a learning community. Vital to this is the understanding of differences and encouraging personal creativity and imagination.

“This kind of approach to dialogue and relationships has implications for all sorts of school contexts – from the classroom and more democratic styles of pedagogy, through teachers’ professional development as a community of learners, to the deliberations of school governors.”

Editor’s notes

This book is for practitioners and students on professional development and academic courses. It will be essential reading for all policy-makers, academics and others (such as inspectors) who critically examine leadership and management of educational institutions.

Meanings of Democratic Leadership / A Developmental Conception of Democratic Practice / Models of Leadership / Why Democratic Leadership? / An Open Approach to Knowledge / Links to Learning / Obstacles and Challenges / Free Space and Firm Framing / Capabilities and Skills for Democratic Leadership / Complexities and Demands of Practice / Dualities of Democratic Leadership

August 2005 • 192 pages • Paperback (1-4129-0291-6) £19.99 (Also available in hardback (1-4129-0290-8) £60.00).

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