Book Review: Leading School Renewal by Steffan Silcox and Neil MacNeill

ET star contributors, Dr Steffan Silcox and Dr Neil MacNeill have had their book 'Leading School Renewal' published by Routledge in the UK.
Ray Boyd, Principal
Apr 5, 2021
Great Australian education schema

Every now and then a really good book on educational leadership appears, and I was fortunate to be able to preview this outstanding book that is aimed at all school leaders – experienced, newly appointed and aspirant.

Change and leadership are the two key growth topics in educational leadership, and it is interesting that change and change strategies are rarely taught to aspirant leaders, who are often left to survive in “live or die” circumstances.

The brilliant work of the first generation of school renewal writers is now dated, but still relevant, and this book offers a defibrillating resuscitation for this critical leadership and change process. Its main argument is that school leadership requires a mix of vision, the moral sense of what is right, and the courage to pursue that course of action. It is designed to reassure school leaders that their role is often more complex than they may have originally envisaged, but getting it right benefits everyone in the school community. 

Dr Steffan Silcox (PhD, FACEL) and Dr Neil MacNeill (PhD, EdD, FACEL) are two high performing school leaders who have an Australia-wide reputation in educational leadership, and this book – Leading School Renewal – offers a down-to-earth, realistic view of sustainable change and leadership in our schools. What I liked was that these authors stayed true to their roots, and addressed the issues of change that practitioners have to deal with, and these issues are often never seen outside the closed administrative circles in effective schools.

A brief overview of the book shows a Foreword by Professor John Hattie, and chapters examining school renewal, school reform, school leadership, distributed leadership, entrepreneurial leadership, team building, school leader efficacy, pedagogic efficacy, collective efficacy, change, moral leadership, shared leadership barriers to change, toxic management, sycophantocracy, role discontinuity, coaching, mentoring, resilience, catalytic teachers and change, venomous accountability, and visioning. And, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

‘Leading School Renewal’ explores how school principal leadership behaviour impacts on school change endeavours, and in particular pedagogic renewal, which is a form of educational change that is primarily concerned with the growing of the knowledge, skills and beliefs of education and learning in a manner that optimises students’ life options. The authors identify the attributes of principals who have engaged in school renewal and examine the influences on their leadership behaviours and disposition towards renewing their schools while also acknowledging the influence of site-specific contextual variables on both leadership and leadership outcomes.

The authors propose that certain leadership behaviours exhibited by school principals are integral to renewing a school’s pedagogic focus. Consequently, a fundamental assumption they make in this work is that renewal is a preferred form of sustainable educational change because it relates to deep seated cultural changes in approaches to pedagogy, curriculum and school structures. Silcox and MacNeill also maintain that leadership is at the very heart of school improvement and so it follows that principal leadership practices which are based on a clear sense of purpose, values and beliefs about learning and teaching can transform a school into a learning organisation.

It many respects therefore, this book is the education version of 'The Never-Ending Story'. The context for this book can be seen in the way it presents an insight into significant aspects of school leadership behaviours, and effective school change. The authors have indicated that “To some extent our interest in the topics presented in this book have developed as a consequence of our joint, close involvement with schools and school administrators in a variety of contexts over the past 45 plus years, and the direct links that we have had with subsequent periods of significant educational change and personal school renewal endeavours during this time.” It is this shared sentiment that gives the book’s essence a grounded foundation, and makes it applicable to those actually engaged or soon to be engaged in a leadership role, whether at a whole school or classroom level. 

While the book is a valuable support for experienced school leaders, I intend to give personal copies of the book to the aspirant leaders in my school for group discussion and planning exercises.

The book is available from all bookstores in Australia, and delivered from Book Depository in England: