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Leading Schools in the Twenty-First Century: Careful Driving in the Fast Lane

posted on 2023-05-22, 17:28 authored by Anthony TownsendAnthony Townsend

As many of the chapters in this book suggest, being a leader in a school today, almost anywhere in the world, can be roughly equated to being a careful driver finding oneself in the fast lane. What do careful drivers do? They look forward, look behind and look to both sides. They try to make sure they don’t get in other drivers’ way, as being in the fast lane requires a form of teamwork for it to be able to exist in the first place. They consistently check the speedometer to make sure they are maintaining a similar speed to other drivers and they keep an eye out for any other vehicle encroaching on their space. They have to be more vigilant in the fast lane than they might be in the slow lane because things happen much quicker here. They don’t want an accident to happen, because the consequences of accidents in the fast lane are disastrous.

But as careful drivers they realise that what is happening is not necessarily the best for themselves or the car. They may wish that they were not in the fast lane at all and may seek ways of moving out of it, all the time recognising that to do this may involve some risky behaviour and recognising that even if they are successful, they will quickly fall behind the other drivers in the fast lane. They entered this lane because they were good at what they did, and were prepared to push the limits of their abilities, but they are now finding that they are somewhat out of their depth. They wonder why the concept of a fast lane even exists when there seems to be a correlation between speed, car crashes and personal injury, and the real point of having a car in the first place is to make sure all of the passengers (not just some of them) get to their destinations successfully. They look across to the slow lane and see many drivers in the slow lane, taking the slower but more measured choice, not willing to take the risk of moving into the fast lane. They decide that the fast lane is where they want to be, but in order to be good there they will have to improve their driving skills.

There are so many ways in which we might characterise schools using a fast lane analogy, but perhaps three are more pressing in today’s educational environment - being in the fast lane of change, the fast lane of expectations and the fast lane of accountability. I would like to look at these three issues, referring back to what my colleagues have said in earlier chapters and then to make some comments on what style of leadership might be appropriate to drive carefully and competently, when one has to live in the fast lane.


Publication title

Leadership in Diverse Learning Contexts


G Johnson, N Dempster






Faculty of Education



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Copyright 2016 Springer International Publishing Switzerland

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