Another Way is Possible - Becoming a Democratic Teacher in a State School

Rated 5.00/5 based on 4 reviews
The author argues that a new “Way” of schooling is required. Young people are ‘natural learners’ needing time and space to develop their interests and passions, in schools where teachers and students collaborate respecting democracy and human rights. They do not need exam factories. He describes his personal journey leading to the creation of such a learning community in an English state school. More
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About Derry Hannam

Derry Hannam has a bachelor's degree in education from Oxford University and an M.Phil, in educational research from Exeter University.

In his twenty years as a teacher in English state secondary schools he always tried to create environments where students could make choices about and take control of their own learning in a democratic and rights respecting context.

He became the deputy head teacher of a pioneering English community school, where the school is a learning resource for the whole community and the whole community is a learning resource for the school.

He then became a school inspector where he tried to support other teachers and schools with similar ideas. He was part of the successful defence of Summerhill democratic school against the threat of closure by the UK government in 1999. He has been an adviser/trainer/rapporteur for the Council of Europe Education for Democratic Citizenship project and a researcher/adviser to the development of citizenship education in the English national curriculum. At the request of the English ministry of education he authored the ‘Hannam Report’ based on research that demonstrated associations between democratic, participative, student centred methods in schools and higher academic results, less anti-social behaviour, and better school attendance, especially for students from economically and socially deprived backgrounds. He has also conducted research into student participation in combined arts projects for Derbyshire County Council; students as associate governors for ippr and Creative Partnerships; student feedback to government on the National Curriculum for QCA; effective school councils for the NSPCC; a review of international student participation in decision making projects for Cambridge University and the English Department for Education. He has participated in two major UK/US inter-governmental seminars on the future of Citizenship Education.

He has worked with many European school student organisations on the issue of school democracy including OBESSU (the European School Students Organisation) and FSS, the Finnish school students organisation, where the students led their own school democracy project. He successfully campaigned for the creation of an English school students association and has recently done the same for young people being educated at home.

He has co-authored several books on the theme that ‘...if you want young people to learn about democracy in schools they have to do it and not just listen to teachers talk about it’ including a Handbook for Successful Student Councils. Most recently he has written the book "Another Way is Possible - Becoming a Democratic Teacher in a State School' which records and explores the creation of a democratic learning community of 11-13 year olds in an English secondary modern school from 1969 to 1971. As a visiting fellow in student voice at the University of Sussex he was part of a project to democratise the school system of a deprived English city, Portsmouth, which has now blossomed into a sustainable social enterprise run by young people. For several years he has been a member of the international Student Voice Research Network based at Cambridge University and now at the University of Vermont. He has contributed to many conferences on the theme of Democratic Education and Education for Democracy including the Council of Europe World Forum on Democracy and Education in Strasbourg and events in Poland, Greece and the Ukraine.

Derry has been described as a ‘bridge person’ who tries to bring about dialogue between the mainly private democratic education movement with its 500+ schools worldwide and state or public school systems. This has at times involved supporting democratic schools in legal actions; a role that he has played in England, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands. He is currently supporting start-up democratic schools in several countries, advising them how best to work with their respective state systems.

Learn more about Derry Hannam

Reviews of Another Way is Possible - Becoming a Democratic Teacher in a State School by Derry Hannam

Geraldine Rowe reviewed on June 22, 2021

When I was carrying out doctoral research into democracy in the primary classroom, I found many books extolling the virtues of democratic education, but relatively few going into detail about what democracy in the classroom actually looks like. Derry Hannam’s excellent and highly enjoyable book, Another Way is Possible, offers this detail and more. The courage and humanity of Derry Hannam’s teaching shine through his stories and the influence of his democratic approach to teaching is evidenced by the extraordinary creativity and engagement of his pupils. I was especially moved by an account of how the class dealt with a particularly truculent classmate in an unusually loving and inclusive way. Derry Hannam doesn’t gloss over the problems he faced working in an unconventional way in a conventional school, and his description of the tension between himself and teacher colleagues matched some of the experiences of participants in my own research study.

I thoroughly recommend Derry Hannam’s book as a key reference for anyone who is interested in the way in which teachers and students can take joint responsibility for the management of their schools and classrooms. The author combines great scholarship and first-hand classroom experience with a phenomenal knowledge of democratic schools across the globe, developed from his personal connections with leading academics, democratic educators, and their students. I understand that this book is already influencing educators in many countries and has been translated into several languages.
Dr Geraldine Rowe
(reviewed the day of purchase)
Naomi Fisher Naomi Fisher reviewed on Feb. 6, 2021

So many people dream of another way in education, but then feel confined by the system and settle for the conventional. Not Derry Hannam, who charts his own journey within mainstream education, empowering children to make their own decisions and direct their own education. His book will make you question what you think you know about learning, and ask yourself why another way shouldn't be possible in a school near you. Readable, engaging and fascinating, this book will inspire educators who want to offer children something more and who just can't stop wondering if there isn't a better way.
(reviewed 9 days after purchase)
Charlie Shread reviewed on Nov. 10, 2020

This is a great book that really demonstrates how another way is possible within the mainstream education system. In this book, Derry Hannam shares his story as a teacher as well as the amazing stories of his class during the late 60's and early 70's. He was a pioneering teacher who established radically democratic practices which transformed the school and the lives of the young people he taught.

This is a must-read for any progressively minded teacher and aspiring teachers. Highly recommended!
(reviewed the day of purchase)
Richard Fransham reviewed on Oct. 12, 2020

Another Way is Possible - Becoming a Democratic Teacher in a State School
By Derry Hannam
(At the bottom are URLs to items referenced in this review.)

In short, this is a book that every democratically-minded educator and parent needs to read. Faculties of education everywhere need to graduate teachers who are well-versed in its contents. Parents need to assert that they want their children to have democratic teachers.

I’m posting this review on October 12th, 2020, just three weeks and a day before the United States presidential elections. Throughout the world our democratic institutions are under attack, and there is great concern that what has been regarded as one of the world’s strongest democracies is on the brink of tyranny. It is a time for advocates of human rights and social justice to act with vigor, and Derry Hannam’s book, Another Way is Possible - Becoming a Democratic Teacher in a State School, points to where they need to focus much of their energy.

Derry describes how growing up in Britain made him an advocate for social justice. Born on the wrong side of the tracks, he experienced the discrimination that is rampant in even those countries that claim to be democracies. The cost of the houses in people’s neighbourhoods are too strong a predictor of what their station will be in life, and this registered with Derry. He has thought hard about what equality really means and his book gives us a vision of how it is that teachers can be equals with their students without having their classrooms descend into chaos.

On the website for the documentary film Schooling the World, Carol Black asks: “If you want to change a culture in a single generation, how would you do it?” The answer she gives is, “You would change the way it educates its children.” Abraham Lincoln appears to have held a similar view having said: “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” Add to this what Tapscott and Caston write in their book Paradigm Shift and you have in essence the message conveyed by Another Way is Possible. They said:

If you want control, you design organizations for accountability.
If you want to accomplish, you design for commitment.

It is a statement about autocratic versus democratic governance. Together, these quotes tell us that we err by subjecting students to competitive, authoritarian schools and standardized testing. Derry’s concern for students extends beyond their education. He worries about their future. He projects that the sustainability of human life on earth will in large part be determined by a no nonsense correcting of our treatment of children and youth.

Derry is a change agent. His book helps him to bring attention to his 20% proposal and the Unschooling School initiative. You can get a sense of who Derry is and his dedication to democratic principles from a short video titled: Responsible Subversives.

Links for this review:
Schooling the World:
Paradigm Shift:
20% proposal:
Unschooling School:
Responsible Subversive:
(reviewed 4 months after purchase)
yaacov Hecht reviewed on Aug. 19, 2020
(no rating)
It is a great honor for me to recommend Derry Hannam's book. 30 years ago, when I set out to establish the Democratic School in Hadera, I was very young and, in a way, very lonely. I had a great support group, but none of it’s members worked for the state. When I met Derry at IDEC, the international democratic education conference, the feeling of loneliness disappeared. I was fascinated to discover that even in an official position there can be a man with a unique color and a clear, different voice. A person who inspires you from the first sentence of the first conversation. Today, after many years of friendship and collaborations, I can proudly say that I had the privilege to learn from Derry Hannam and to grow, watching his unique path in the world of education.
It may be easy to say that another way is possible, but Derry Hannam is also walking in it, leading many in his footsteps and in fact, changing the world.
(reviewed the day of purchase)
Wayne Jennings reviewed on July 25, 2020
(no rating)
Another Way is Possible - Becoming a Democratic Teacher in a State School describes the remarkably journey of Derry Hannam, an educator in the British school system. Hannam, who on-the-job, trusted and listened to students and who by his actions deserves notice as an authority on democratizing public education. His early teaching efforts were perilous as a progressive teacher in a less than a sympathetic era for experiential schooling.
Hannam’s experience draws the reader in as if one were a fly on the wall observing his interactions with students, skeptical colleagues, and school administrators. He possessed an unusual degree of practical skills though he modestly described his action as “making it up as we go along” His teaching, guided by an internal democratic compass celebrated learner interests.
Hannam became recognized as a skilled teacher and climbed the ranks to became a state inspector of schools. He encountered the Summerhill School and observed its disregard for traditional school requirements but how it honored student self-directed learning.
The term, “student-directed learning” takes us from reform of education to transformation of education. The keyword “centered” as in student-centered contrasts with “directed” meaning the student takes charge of learning rather than the school with its predetermined content, textbooks, and teacher-led lessons. Hannam understands this crucial difference.
Hannam captures the spirit of student-directed learning with emphasis on the utmost positive regard for the thinking of students. And, in fact, Hannam poses a democratically organized classroom or school as a human right citing international concurrance. For Hannam, “student voice,” an often used term among educators, is tepid and lacking the authencity of true listening to students and giving learners space to direct their education. Hannam’s during a forty-year career in education honed a clear and consistent voice for believing that students act with their interests capturing enduring learning.
Hannam’s familiarity with constructivist education displays a scholarship well beyond the teacher preparation professors I have known. More than an understanding of the underpinnings of experiential learning, Hannam’s professional career mindset acted on the implications of constructivism, not just by talk or what too often passes as scholarly discourse.
I found it fascinating to compare his work with the British system of schooling to the education system of the United States Hannam cites progressive educators in the both countries. He also shows great familiarity with historical and current luminaries for their support of a wholesale transformation of schooling. Like many calls for constructivist schools, changing leadership and political conflicts often subdue recommendations.
This book gives the readers a thorough examination of current education and a compelling rationale for respecting children and youth. I highly recommend this exciting book. You will find it enlightening, well-written, an easy read, and most important, an adventure in student-directed schooling.
(reviewed 27 days after purchase)
ALLI asbl reviewed on July 19, 2020
(no rating)
I think this book should inspire whole societies facing the rise of populism.

I will try to explain my thoughts on this and where they come from. I am very sensitive to the subject of populism because I have observed how fast people get scared and manipulated, how fast a democracy can turn into a dictatorship, how vulnerable we are, and how important it is to truly respect of educational rights (that is to say safeguarding democratic values by enabling critical thinking to realize fundamental freedoms).

The story of Derry Hannam shows that teachers have the power to not get corrupted. He did what he believed was right, braving his hierarchy and endless hurdles. He raised the self-confidence of his pupils despite their failure label. His practice enabled these young people to learn to read understanding what they read, to be able to reflect, communicate and debate, not just to obey and execute, and this we need to face rising populism.

Once during a teacher’s parent meeting, the history teacher told me, enthusiastically, the class had a very interesting question that day. The students asked whether the book of Hitler (“Mein Kampf”) should have been censured. I said: “Wow, such a great question, how did you handle it?”. She said, we discussed it a little but we had to stop not to fall behind with the program. So I tried to say it was a pity, but she’s not the worst of the teachers so I did not want to be too harsh, but to me she is corrupt in a way by sticking to an imposed curriculum rather than dealing seriously with pupil-led questions.

Then my daughter wanted to read Hitler’s book and I wondered if it would give her strange ideas or if she would understand. Instead I bought “The Wave” by Todd Strasser and a book demystifying “Mein Kampf” by Albrecht Koschorke. I found out that nobody really read “Mein Kampf” and the book’s success was not so much about the ideology it conveyed but due to related motives : « The search for attention; strong sensations; compensation for the frustrations experienced; the euphoria of entering into a decisive battle for a great cause; an adversary to be blamed for all evils; the aspiration to subordination; and not least of all, in the singular proximity to the respect of discipline, the call to disinhibition ». So the causes for this success were kind of narcissistic and rather due to lack of self-esteem and self-confidence.

The same phenomenon happens in the story of “The Wave”. A Californian teacher, Ron Jones, seeks to show the mechanism of nazism to his students and creates a fake movement “the wave”. Psychologically weaker students drift with “the wave movement” and its slogan “Strength through Discipline, Strength through Community, Strength through Action” and it turns out very badly. In an interview on the dvd of the movie “The Wave” directed by Dennis Gansel, Ron Jones, says it is the fear for himself that made him realize with some kind of horror he was enjoying having power.
It is easy to worship emerging dictators, they always seem so nice. Maybe they are and getting power makes dictators out of them?
Derry’s book shows how to safeguard democratic values by sharing power without creating chaos.

Ron Jones also said the students were progressing faster than usual but there was no analysis, no questioning on their part. Obviously discipline and critical thinking don’t go together well.

Herbert Renz-Polster, a German pediatrician studied political tendencies comparing the Eastern and Western German population right after the fall of the Berliner Wall. He says: “To understand authoritarian populism, you have to look at childhood’s”. The communist regime was placing children in collective care at a very early age, this was not politically neutral according to his analysis.

In the class of Derry Hannam, pupils could be heard, I feel a lot of trust and respect for them from Derry by reading his book, no expectation, no judgment just acceptance. He truly cared for them. I am convinced this makes people psychologically stronger and more resilient and less easily manipulated.

So this book shows another way is possible, Derry shows us that way and it is just up to us to take it.
(reviewed the day of purchase)
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