chapter  3
17 Pages

Head of the pack: The problem of great expectations

In the phenomenally successful Harry Potter children’s books, J.K. Rowling invented a headteacher now beloved by children everywhere. He is clearly a fiction, but also one representation of an ideal school leader. The head ofHogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a school whose mission is to educate the future generation of witches and wizards to become productive members of a good society, is Professor Dumbledore. Rowling presents Dumbledore as appropriately venerable, possessed of the flowing gown, white beard and hair associated with all representations of wise and good wizards – Merlin, Gandalf and the like. His title, Professor, immediately signals that this is a knowledgeable head. We deduce that Dumbeldore rose through the teaching ranks and we are told that his career progression was achieved through the practical demonstration of exceptional skills and learning. In other words, Dumbledore knew a lot about what his students needed to learn, and was thus genuinely a headteacher. Dumbledore’s task was to run his boarding school well, ensuring that

novice magicians learned, through the curriculum and the lived experience of the school community, how life in the wider world should be. As a member of the International Confederation of Wizards and Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, he also had a professional leadership brief outside of the school (now known as system leadership, see Hopkins and Higham, 2007). Dumbeldore was an ethical head (Starratt, 2003; Strike et al., 1998) both in the school and in the wider world. He modelled what was right, sat Solomon-like in judgement on disciplinary misdemeanours, and took a lead in defeating the forces of darkness by protecting, advocating for, and supporting the battles of a vulnerable student from an unhappy home, Harry Potter. Professor Dumbledore did have some tricks not generally available to the

average headteacher. He possessed a magic wand. There can be very few practising headteachers who have not at some stage wished for such a device to make some things/people/events vanish and to accomplish tedious tasks instantly. It is an enormously appealing fantasy to think that the unending stream of faxes, emails, forms, memos and policy documents that are the lot

be But a wand and an extensive knowledge of White Magic were not all that

equipped Dumbledore for his job as head. He had an infallible, talking, magic hat which sorted students into their appropriate ‘houses’ at the commencement of their enrolment in the school. This was much quicker and more effective than the laborious and often contentious task of dealing with the enrolment forms, transferred student files and parent complaints most heads face. Dumbledore also had a colourful Phoenix, which swooped in to help young Harry in times of distress. In between times it did the occasional bit of message carrying. Among his other tools of trade were a pensieve, a receptacle for his thoughts and memories, a fireplace through which he and others could travel and a collection of objects which alerted him to the presence of evil. The computer and CCTV camera are perhaps the nearest analogous equivalents for today’s school administrators. Dumbledore’s moral principles supported the fair treatment of all,

regardless of their birth or past. Dumbledore believed that most people were redeemable and would rise to the occasion if they were entrusted with responsibility. He positively embraced difference: appointments to Hogwarts’ staff included teachers of mixed species and some with chequered pasts, werewolves and ex-prisoners. Dumbledore’s professional code of ethics meant that children and adults both deserved and got second and third chances. Students and Hogwarts’ staff had high expectations of him which were always fulfilled, if not immediately and in the ways that were immediately obvious. In Dumbledore, then, readers are presented with an uncomplicated and

romantic representation of a particular kind of moral headship – one in which ethical practice does not stop at the school gate, but works more widely for the greater good and in the interests of justice. Yet readers also encounter Dumbledore as a somewhat aloof figure, distanced from the staff and students, often alone in his office from which he magically appeared when needed. This distantiation does not speak of a leader who is democratic and keen to dismantle hierarchy: to the contrary it points to the ways in which he and his power were shut away from the everyday activities of the school. The presence of Prefects and Houses locked in competitions for points also highlights a school which is organized on traditional lines. Hogwarts had a clear chain of command rather than being a democratic learning community. And Dumbledore is rather like the ideal espoused in treatises on the great

public school heads:

[W]e shall easily recognize the Ideal and Perfect Headmaster (sic) when he comes because, in one man, he will be a triple colossus: excellent as a scholar, impeccable as an organizer, inspiring as a leader. Apart from that he will have about him a tang of aloof authority well able to exercise firm rule yet showing friendliness and compassion. He will keep abreast

he will to the good name of his school as well as all the good works within it. In spite of all this, he will manage to remain human, acceptable to his friends and tolerable to his family. Naturally to do all of this he will need to have the constitution of a carthorse, the nerves of a gladiator and the resilience of a sorbo ball. Such is the ideal of the perfect headmaster which we have at the back of our minds, such is the ideal towards which we lurch.