Leadership Book Club - a different approach to professional development

By: Urs Cunningham | Posted Thursday September 15, 2022

Book club began last year, and there have been outcomes and revelations within these different book studies that have been surprising and changing for some of us. Each book club is a separate module, and all kaiako are offered the option of opting into each one. Our first book club was an Amesbury staff one, and we then became braver and offered other book clubs to our wider cluster of schools. The books chosen are not necessarily education-based; they may be about leadership growth, personal reflection and growth, or professional practice. The books we have covered so far are listed below.

One of the aspects of book club that resonates strongly with people is the slower pace. Time moves slowly in book club. People have time to mull things over, reflect, listen deeply and sit in stillness. We don’t often have time to do this in our busy lives, and book club sessions provide a welcome change to our outcome driven, jam-packed days. Book club is also not a debating space. Each person is not there to persuade others of their point of view. It is about sharing your thinking, hearing different perspectives and perhaps considering things you had not thought about previously. This can lead to a different quality of thinking and listening; you listen to understand, which is a very thoughtful and considered space.

For each book club, the first session starts with setting up the ‘touchstones’ - the ways this particular group of people will interact in order to create a safe and respectful space. There are then usually 4 or 5 sessions for a book, with each session being several weeks apart. Members have a particular set of reading to do for each session, and time is then spent in the sessions talking through their reactions and thoughts to ideas presented in the reading. We use a combination of pair discussion, small group and whole group discussion, and individual journaling and reflection.

People have found the book clubs energising, thought provoking and a great opportunity to get know colleagues in different ways. Our sessions have generally been on Fridays after school - not always the time when your energy levels are high. However, the combination of good snacks, thought provoking company, and a different pace, makes the sessions a great way to end the week. People have drawn analogies with fireside conversations or cross generational women’s circles sitting around, chatting about life.

Some thoughts from a few book club attendees:

-  “An amazing opportunity to slow things down and have bigger conversations.”

-  “Book club broadens my thinking, not just through the reading itself, but also through the follow up discussions with others.”

-  “The conversations have an impact on your broader life. It changed the way I am in the world.”

-  “I love the discussions we have, they are so honest. At the start, we set up the expectation of ‘what is said in book club stays in book club’, so no-one is afraid to share.”

-  "I’ve grown a lot through listening to others. Being an older person in the book clubs, I love listening to the younger ones and the way they see things.”

-  “Book club forces you to reflect on yourself.”

-  “It’s an awesome way to do PD. Much better than listening and writing notes.”

Book club is a different approach to professional development, and a great way to broaden your thinking and your perspective on life. We certainly plan on continuing offering book club as an option for people, and we are always on the lookout for new and varied books to read.

Books covered in our book club so far:

* A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey to an Undivided Life - Parker Palmer

* Changing on the Job - Jennifer Garvey-Berger

* Daring Greatly - Brene Brown

* Love + Work - Marcus Buckingham

* Belonging: The Ancient Code of Togetherness - Owen Eastwood

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