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The Unexpected Leader: Exploring the real nature of values, authenticity and moral purpose in education Paperback – 31 Jan 2019
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Iesha Small’s quiet strength shines through this book via the conversations she has with others who may not fit the more commonly held preconceptions of what people who run schools are actually like. Providing a fascinatingly human insight into what it takes to manage (in more ways than one) in an educational setting, Iesha talks to those who have followed their own paths to positions of leadership and also offers her own unique story as a way of broadening the narrative around the people who take on this great responsibility.
- Tom Starkey, education consultant and writer
While hundreds of titles have already been published on the demands and complexities of school leadership, this brave and honest book explores the issues of workload, imposter syndrome and mental health through the stories of real people. Between these accounts and Iesha’s own personal insights, the implications of the challenges facing the education system – such as funding, accountability and teacher recruitment and retention – are all brought to life.
Iesha’s refreshingly simple yet convincing narrative challenges the stereotypical view of what makes a great leader and tells us it’s okay to be different. The experiences she has collated, together with her analysis of the lessons we can learn from them, make ’The Unexpected Leader’ an invaluable resource for teachers, leaders and policy makers alike.
- Natalie Perera, Executive Director and Head of Research, Education Policy Institute
’The Unexpected Leader is a quite remarkable book full of subtle and important insights. Using the professional and personal life stories of a range of leaders, Iesha shines a light on the varied routes into leadership roles. The beautifully crafted accounts of individual stories combined with her own experiences create a rich hinterland to the motivations, the fears and the joys of this work. It is an important read for all in education and will be particularly helpful for young leaders who might be doubting themselves. Heart-warming, inspiring and insightful in equal measure.
- Mary Myatt, writer and school improvement adviser
Honest, open, insightful and, above all, fascinating. Iesha Small has written a seriously important book about educational leadership.
- Jeffrey Boakye, teacher and author of Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime
Every now and again a book grips you. You start reading out of curiosity and find it was written for you. ’The Unexpected Leader’ is one of those books. Iesha Small draws you in to a conversation around the complexity of the stories we tell ourselves about our value, challenges your own inconvenient truths and then signposts a way to deeper authenticity and fulfilment. It’s disarming and empowering in equal measure, and it’s the book I wish I’d had at the start of my own leadership journey.
- Jaz Ampaw-Farr, “Resilience Ninja” at Why First Ltd
With startling frankness and openness Iesha Small uses her own experience in school leadership as the starting point for an inquiry into the challenges, the obstacles and the possibilities for leaders in education. What follows is a series of in-depth interviews which, like the best conversations, stay with you long after they are over.
- Darren Chetty, Teaching Fellow, UCL Institute of Education
’The Unexpected Leader’ provides reflective lessons on school leadership and gleans nuggets of learning for all leaders across the breadth of education. Iesha’s writing style is easily accessible, and her illuminating candour and self-effacing authenticity – and that of her interviewees – leaps off every page. I could relate to each of the senior leaders and I wish I had been more familiar with the themes discussed in this book when I first started out on my own leadership journey. I would encourage others to read ’The Unexpected Leader’ and to reflect upon its message – as there is much to learn from each leadership experience explored within it.
- Claire-Marie Cuthbert, CEO, The Evolve Trust
This is a book of hope, revelation and encouragement. However you define yourself as a leader, and especially if you feel that you don’t quite fit the mould, ’The Unexpected Leader’ will make you realise that strength is gained through our vulnerabilities. What I value most about Iesha’s book is that it encourages the reader to accept and own who they are, and be unapologetically and uniquely themselves. It does this by presenting great leadership role models who share their “gifts of imperfection” to offer a guiding light for “unexpected” leaders. Iesha intertwines her personal experiences and learning points with the honest accounts of nine diverse school leaders who recognise what they have to offer and make a positive difference to the young people they serve. Having struggled within a leadership role myself, many of the accounts shared within this book resonate deeply with me – especially Karen’s, as I was particularly struck by her unusual career pathway of becoming a head teacher having not been a deputy first, and how she has succeeded in spite of this. It’s great to read the key messages elicited from each story and consider what they mean for what we ourselves can go on to do. They all provide vital points of reflection. ’The Unexpected Leader’ will now form part of my leadership collection, and I will strongly recommend it to others.
- Bukky Yusuf, Assistant Vice Principal and Curriculum Director of Science, The Crest Academy
’The Unexpected Leader’ is for anyone working in education who feels they are “different”. If you feel like you are an outsider, an imposter or not good enough, then Iesha’s book proves you are in good company with many of the very best school leaders. Through a series of honest and enlightening conversations with a variety of educationalists, Iesha examines how we all have the incredible potential to lead and to change the lives of those around us by embracing openness, vulnerability and our common humanity. Those things you got into teaching for before the system kicked in, remember? ’The Unexpected Leader’ encourages you to embrace your uniqueness and to kick back, mostly against your own thinking that might be holding you down. I found the bullshit-free advice, told through the book’s stories, on navigating this challenge both informativand inspiring. Highly recommended.
- Benjamin Chesterton, Director, duckrabbit
What teachers need now is a frank and open discussion on the ways in which teaching can impact upon them as individuals, and ’The Unexpected Leader’ is full to the brim with the sheer humanity of the profession – with the highs and the lows laid out for us all to share. Authenticity has always been Iesha Small’s watchword – it doesn’t get much more authentic than this book. A must-read.
- Bennie Kara, Deputy Head Teacher, Aureus School
’The Unexpected Leader’ is a must-read for those who find themselves thrust into an unfamiliar leadership role where they don’t quite “fit”. Iesha’s honest account of her own journey into leadership is humbling and uplifting, offering hope to those who may be struggling with the challenges that the role can bring. And by carefully weaving her own experiences around the narratives of other “unexpected” leaders, her moral integrity shines through as she shares a set of key principles to help leaders lead with values-driven integrity, even during the toughest of times. Iesha’s alternative model of what leadership can look like is much needed, helping us to recognise that leaders don’t have to fit into a pre-defined mould. It is the perfect antidote to the many management books that offer off-the-shelf solutions to improving standards without paying due attention to the fact that leadership is a messy, difficult and sometimes fraught experience. I hope that as more people read this book, it brings them the tools and confidence to fully embrace their strengths as unexpected leaders. There is plenty here for the education sector as a whole too as it grows in its ability to recognise and nourish these individuals on their journeys.
- Anna Trethewey, Deputy Director, LKMco CIC
About the Author
Iesha Small is an educator, a writer and an innovation lead at an education think tank. Iesha was previously an assistant head teacher and taught for fourteen years. After a breakdown in 2011, she started using photography to improve her mental health and explore people s stories and this journey ultimately led to her becoming an author. Iesha writes about education for various publications, including The Guardian and TES, and was previously a monthly columnist for Schools Week. To keep things interesting, she is also a speaker, blogger and podcaster. She lives near London with her family and a tiny but loud dog.
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I found this book prompted me to think about who I am as a leader and who I want to be in the future.