The Unexpected Leader(9781781352991)

Provider: Crown House Publishing
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Description Iesha Small’s 'The Unexpected Leader: Exploring the real nature of values, authenticity and moral purpose in education' is for school leaders who want to make a difference but feel they aren’t obvious leadership material.

Crown House Publishing's website
Categories Primary, Secondary, Higher, Leadership and Management, Teaching and Learning, Management, Teaching staff, In school
Learning outcomes for participants/users and, where relevant, pupils or students

Iesha Small’s The Unexpected Leader: Exploring the real nature of values, authenticity and moral purpose in education is for school leaders who want to make a difference but feel they aren’t obvious leadership material.

This is a book about people. A book that humanises school leaders and tells their stories. A book in which school leaders reveal their authentic selves and their journeys to leadership.

Suitable for anybody in or aspiring to school leadership.

Evidence underpinning this approach

"The vast majority of school leaders are over 40 according to figures from the Department for Education (DfE), with roughly 60% of deputies and assistants and over 85% of heads falling into this demographic."

Source: Department for Education, School Workforce in England: November 2017. Tables: School Workforce Census 2017 (28 June 2018). Available at: These percentages are extrapolated from the data in Table 4.

Iesha set about writing The Unexpected Leader as a senior leader who looked around and struggled to find role models whose experiences she could learn from. She wanted to speak honestly with like-minded individuals about being what others didn’t expect in a leadership package – introverted, unassuming, open about their mental health. Iesha did, however, manage to identify and interview nine such school leaders – and in this book she relates their stories alongside her own, in words and photographs, to explore how thinking or acting differently need not be a barrier to school leadership, but can actually prove to be an invaluable asset.

In doing so she shatters the myths and conventional ideas around who/what makes a good school leader, and champions a more humane brand of leadership which is true to the individual and still benefits the students and staff they serve. Furthermore, Iesha offers insights into themes such as imposter syndrome, integrity, failure and ambition, and frames them in relation to her own leadership journey in order to empower and encourage all leaders – including leaders-in-waiting – to step up and set out on their own individual pathways.

How users/participants can evaluate success

Each chapter starts by inviting you, the reader, to consider your own circumstances and feelings, before Iesha’s own experience is briefly outlined so you know you aren’t alone. This is followed by an exploration of the leadership journey of the interviewed school leader, featuring key episodes that delve into how they have taken ownership of their professional and personal lives. The transferrable lessons and practical takeaways from their experiences are then discussed in order to guide you towards more effective leadership, while being unashamedly who you are. Finally, each chapter concludes with a final message or thought from the school leader in question.

Follow-up activities and support

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.

Iesha can be contacted at:


Review comments received include: Tom Starkey, Natalie Perera, Mary Myatt, Jeffrey Boakye, Jaz Ampaw-Farr, Darren Chetty, Claire-Marie Cuthbert, Bukky Yusuf, Benjamin Chesterton, Bennie Kara and Anna Trethewey.

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