Leading Learning and Teaching

By Stephen Dinham, ACER Press, 2016

“I came to the realisation that there was a major disconnect between leadership and teaching, and between teaching and learning. I realised I needed to know more about learning, how teaching facilitates this, and how teaching can be supported by leaders, whose main function shouldn’t be management.” — Stephen Dinham

Leading Learning and Teaching by Stephen Dinham, Professor of Instructional Leadership and Associate Dean of Strategic Partnerships in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, is a book for school leaders who believe that the “continued focus on management to the neglect of teaching and learning” needs to be reversed.

This has been a theme pursued for well over a decade by the author. The book has five well-formatted sections: research evidence on teaching for learning; the importance and impact of educational leadership; professional learning in education; school improvement and educational change; leadership preparation and development.

Chapter 14, “What are the forces, contexts and features of educational change? What role can leaders play?”, is a very sensible (and amusing) analysis of organisational culture with good advice to new and not-so-new leaders: “it takes time to tune into, dig down and understand the culture of a school”.

Dinham quotes extensively from Deal and Peterson’s text, Shaping School Culture, especially their “antidotes for negativism”, to great effect; one suspects that academic research has been complemented by personal experience.

Dinham summarises the essential messages from the research that underpins his book as:

  • quality teaching matters
  • leadership is a big enabler and is exercised with and through people
  • professional learning is essential for change
  • the best classrooms, departments, schools and even systems have a central focus on students as learners and people
  • educational systems, leaders and teachers need to plan, proceed, assess, evaluate and modify as necessary on the basis of evidence
  • data is not just about compliance — it is about improvement
  • vision is important but it must rest on evidence.

Leading Learning and Teaching is a mighty achievement and Professor Dinham’s work will help many educators for years to come. It is difficult, however, not to notice the lack of research about the impact of technology on education in this work.

The index is worth scanning with this in mind. Dinham names the “so-called 21st century curriculum” in his “Fads” chapter (which is fair enough) but does not explore further. There is a great need to have quality research about the impact of technology on learning and teaching.

Recently, I was asked by a student what is the greatest change schools have experienced in the last couple of decades. The growth of technology, especially access to knowledge via the web, has had a profoundly important democratising effect on who can access knowledge. Note this: the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports, “In 2014–15, for those households with children aged under 15 years, 97 per cent had access to the internet compared with 82 per cent of households without children under 15.”

The Hawke-Keating governments addressed globalisation by opening the economy and modernising Australia. The digitisation of society is providing opportunities and challenges that are not being addressed by our education system or government with any strategy that makes sense.

This area is ignored in the book but considering the speed of societal change super-charged by technology, educational systems, schools, leaders and teachers need to be better informed about what has changed and what works in the classroom.

Most would find it hard to argue anything other than the author is correct in his belief that there has never been a more “turbulent period in education, with competing pressures, agendas and ideologies all being brought to bear on the ‘problems’ of schooling, teaching and learning”.

One would hope Leading Learning and Teaching will be read by a very large percentage of those who lead, or aspire to lead, Australian schools.

It will be interesting to see what changes for Professor Dinham in his educational outlook during the coming decade as societal transformation continues to be exponential.

Darcy Moore teaches at Dapto HS and blogs at