Leadership Dialogues

Conversations and activities for leadership teams

By: John West-Burnham , Dave Harris


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Products specifications
Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 182 x 222mm
Pages : 176
ISBN : 9781845909062
Format: PaperbackCDROM
Published: December 2014

This book is based on two basic assumptions. Firstly, dialogue, conversation, reflection and challenge are fundamental aspects of effective learning and developing personal understanding. Secondly, school leaders do not have sufficient time to engage in these activities ' they are always the first casualties.

Designed to provide stimulus materials for school leaders to support their personal development, Leadership Dialogues encourages personal reflection, dialogue with a coach or mentor and conversations in leadership teams. It includes short think pieces, case studies, diagnostic reviews, selected quotations on a particular theme and questions for discussion and reflection.

The content is clustered into themes including:

  • The changing context of education / strategic thinking
  • Alternative perspectives – international comparisons
  • Understanding effective leadership
  • Getting management right – making schools work
  • Leading teaching and learning
  • Developing staff capacity
  • Performance and accountability
  • Working collaboratively
  • Engaging with the community
  • Personal resilience and sustainability

The book is a valuable and practical resource for leadership teams. Much of the content is included on a free download of printable resources.

Education Resources Awards finalist – Best Educational Book 2016.

Picture for author John West-Burnham

John West-Burnham

John West-Burnham was an independent writer, teacher and consultant in education leadership. He is the author, co-author and editor of many books including Rethinking Educational Leadership and Understanding Leadership. He was a director of three academy trusts and a trustee of two educational charities, as well as an Honorary Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Worcester.

Picture for author Dave Harris

Dave Harris

Dave Harris has worked for over 20 years in school leadership, including 12 years as a school principal across both primary and secondary phases. During this time, he has developed a reputation for innovative thinking and practice, which he is now sharing with school leaders across the world. He is a sought-after speaker and writer and is also Business Director of Independent Thinking.

Read Dave's feature on page 26 of Leadership Focus Magazine - March 2013.


  1. Leadership Dialogues has been an invaluable resource to me as a new school leader, leading significant change in my own school in the current changing educational context. Its instant appeal is the way in which leaders can dive right in to the relevant piece of work they want to develop or take a longer approach and cover several sections as part of ongoing CPD. It's easy to use. The CD-ROM provides all the additional resources to put either of these approaches immediately into action.

    In my own school I have used it with great effect in both contexts. It proved extremely valuable for me in settling in as a leader of an already outstanding senior team, charting out a new course of direction. As a result, we were able to refocus on further improving teaching and learning and developing leadership capacity across the school. It worked similarly well in developing specific aspects of any colleague's performance. For example, I recently used the section 'Challenging Conversations' to enable a support staff leader to 'grasp the nettle' with a difficult member of staff.

    The resource not only unveils sound insight from the wealth of experience provided by the authors, but backs this up with relevant research. It would be difficult to put a figure on how much a leadership team would need to spend on individual CPD of this calibre to gain this amount of impact; one thing I am sure of, it would be a lot more than the price of the book!
  2. Often when you buy a leadership book, you read it and that's it. However, Leadership Dialogues is no such book. This book, along with its resources, has made a huge impression on my leadership, enabling me to do my job more effectively and also reflect on my practice. Being an SLE for Tidal Teaching School, I was tasked with developing a leadership development programme. Having read the book, this resulted not only in using the resources but building a course around it.

    The book is forward thinking and very much has the busy school leader in mind. It is evident that the authors have considered the audience. The book is innovative in that it is accessible, being easy to dip in and out of at appropriate times for points of reference and reflective pieces. The most innovative aspect of the book is the resources; the practical and experience-based nature of them has been a great addition to my leadership toolkit.

    The impact on the learning in the classroom is primarily around leadership.

    The very title -˜dialogue' enables thought and reflection: it is a book that is very much part of my leadership reference. It has had an impact when I am considering whole-school strategic teaching and learning or preparing for a difficult conversation.

    This book is extremely cost-effective: packed full of practical resources that can be printed and applied to different settings. This is a real strength of the book. Often you just get the book; with this book it very much feels like you have been given the lessons in leadership life to go alongside it. Experience but based in a practical way that is easy to understand and makes you think.
  3. Leadership Dialogues is unusual in that it gives you an accessible and practical resource for leadership development in one paperback book and CD-ROM. The imaginative structure enables you to dip into a range of prompts and examples that initiate reflective and effective professional dialogues. The activities provided are flexible and so can be tailored to the needs of your audience, whatever the educational setting.

    I have found Leadership Dialogues useful as a key focus for initiating professional debate of the highest level during senior leadership training sessions. As a result senior leaders have gone onto reflect on their own practice and that of their leadership team, enabling them to rapidly move their learning communities forward in a positive and effective way.
    Leadership Dialogues offers exceptional value for money in that it provides a complete programme of professional development that can support educational settings as they strive to improve the learning experiences of their pupils.
  4. Leadership Dilaogues has been added as a core text to our MA Education course as part of my School Based Leadership & Management module. The book is an  useful tool to use with existing school leaders to consider the dialogue surrounding school improvement and is excellent for them to consider the ways in which effective dialogue can be maximised.
  5. An excellent book full of practical advice to train leaders on how to handle all aspects of running a school. The training advice is well thought out and is very practical for a variety of purposes. Each of the topics is handled in a user friendly way and this makes it very appealing.
  6. I first met John West Burnham through his involvement with LDS and was immediately taken by his breath of knowledge of schooling and education. Soon after becoming Principal I invited John to conduct two workshops over a number of months for our staff. While I thought he was superb, staff members were less convinced that his take on education was all that relevant for them. One teacher summarised: “we don't want a helicopter view of education; we need ideas to take into our classrooms”. Sheepishly, I contacted John to tell him this to tell him that there would not be a third invite to Dún Laoghaire. He wasn't remotely upset. “I know exactly what they're saying - they want people like Mike Hughes and Paul Ginnis”.

    So off I went in search of Mike, who agreed to come across and begin to work with our staff the following September. Unfortunately Mike had to cancel and then I soon became swamped in the daily duties of the school - managing the minutiae and the demands of the present moment. While we made some progress, teaching and learning quietly slipped down the agenda. It was only when I retired and had time to explore issues around leading learning that NAPD managed to get Mike and Paul to work in Ireland. And so, while it took some years, John did us some service. The Principal's lot then: getting bogged down in the urgent and not having enough time for the important. Which are we? Fire-fighters or air-traffic controllers? Some would describe the inadequacy felt in even beginning to think about becoming strategic leaders and leaders of learning.

    If ever there was a book to help address this, then here it is. Given that it provides a way to create dialogue across a number of leadership issues, it is impossible to fairly review it at this time. That task will fall to someone in a year or two's time after working through the exercises (reviews to Derek West in 2017, please). I have little doubt that when they do they will give this book their strongest recommendation. The book provides a methodology to explore 40 themes under a range of headings which include effective leadership, thinking strategically, leading innovation and change, leading teaching and learning, leading and managing resources, leading people, collaboration and engaging with students, parents and community.

    Each theme can then be explored by the school's leadership team within the clear, structured methodology provided. Material on each theme is provided on an accompanying CD, to be printed off and issued in advance of discussions. Most of the material is generic but you could easily tweak it to meet the school's context. The authors suggest different ways of using the book, such as setting aside half of every meeting to cover a particular theme or to dedicate one meeting per month to a theme. Themes can be chosen in any sequence and at any time to meet the needs of the school.

    This book is about creating dialogues (remember Mike Hughes's take on CPD to mean creating professional dialogue) among the leadership team in order to address the important things in the school's development. I recently mentioned to a current Deputy that I was reviewing this book and she asked for a quick look. Two weeks later, she doggedly resisted returning it.

    I strongly recommend this book. Knowing John West Burnham and what he stands for, I have no doubt that this book will be a significant resource for Irish Principals and Deputies in their roles as school leaders. Before the end of this school year, I suggest you treat yourself to a copy and begin using it from next September. At around €30, it might just be the best buy of your career.
  7. -˜Leadership Dialogues' - having only just started to read sections of the book, I am already excited about the possibilities it provides for engaging leadership at all levels in the school. As a relatively new head, I am acutely aware of the need to dedicate time for both myself and my leadership team to quality thought and dialogue. This is inevitably an ongoing challenge and I already feel hugely optimistic that this book will be an effective way of enabling me to incorporate strategy for thought into our meetings cycle. The structure and format of the book makes the principles which are explored hugely accessible and the key messages conveyed are thought provoking and have potential to enable profound change. 

    An ongoing focus for my school is increasing capacity (we are currently expanding and will grow to 7 forms of entry over the next 4 years). As a result of this, development and retention of middle leaders is paramount. I am in the process of planning a leadership programme for the most promising teachers from this tier of our leadership structure and intend to use focuses from -˜Leadership Dialogues' at strategic points throughout the course.
  8. John and Dave have written a book that provides a wealth of material for school leaders to get their teeth into...to chew over for themselves and digest the arguments and counter arguments. The text is refreshingly full of experience and insight about how to run a school successfully, not to a formula or defined model, but to the needs of the school community. It is a book that offers reader the chance to find their own starting point based on the circumstances particular to their own school situation.
  9. One of the great things (and there are many) about this book, is the fact that you know the writers have placed the child at the centre of leadership concern. It's such a fantastic testament to them that in the current cloudy maze of school pressure, expectation and accountability, their humanity, here represented as conversation, shines through. This moral purpose lies at the heart of what make West-Burnham and Harris so special. Their experience in educational leadership burns through every page of Leadership Dialogues and in writing it, they have created a resource that is not only illuminating and helpful, it's also important. This book is a boon to the experienced leader, whilst offering much food for thought around bravery, effectiveness and impact for those stepping up to leadership at any level. A key message here is that as leaders we need to ensure that our professional contributions and conversations are transformational and not simply incremental; we need to contribute effectively across the piece. Leadership Dialogues offers us the tools to do this (including a nifty CD Rom of additional resources) whilst developing a strong culture of learning, research and inquiry at the hearts of our communities. A must read.
  10. Like many school leaders I have read and forgotten far too many books on school leadership. Why would we possibly want another one?

    -˜Leadership Dialogues' does something rather different from all the others - and it's designed to use collectively with fellow members of the school's wider leadership. We know that successful leadership needs to be rooted in vision and values, underpinned by courage and a sense of judging when to push and when to step back. We know all about the grand stuff of leadership. But it's all too easy for these principles and values to be squeezed out by real life. An incident at break, a problem with buses, another staffing issue - all of these can knock us unwittingly yet disastrously us off course. Suddenly our optimism of September is mired in the grim day-to-day realities of November. Our idealism and moral fervour unravel.

    That's why I enjoyed this book by John West Burnham and Dave Harris so much. It's a practical book about principles, a set of questions and provocations to be deployed by leadership teams in order to hold a regular mirror up to what we are doing and how.

    The format is simple, pithy, deeply informative, and full of challenging questions and suggestions that will help constantly to re-root us in what matters most, to think about what our priorities are and why.

    From where I sit, almost thirteen years into headship, -˜Leadership Dialogues' feels like a necessary and indispensable text. I can't think how I got this far without it.

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