Review by Alex Weatherall

18 Oct 2015, 19:00

This Much I Know about Love over Fear: Creating a culture of truly great teaching

This summer I bought a host of education literature with the good intention of reading regularly during my holiday. But becoming a dad for the third time before the break put paid to any quiet time.

So, I was grateful to my family for a “daddy day” at a local spa before school restarted this autumn. And I made sure I took the book that I most wanted to read properly: This Much I Know about Love over Fear… by John Tomsett.

I first met Tomsett on my teacher placement at his school in Huntington, York. He impressed on me then his calm, reflective approach to his role as headteacher. When I applied for a post as a physics teacher, through his gentle but purposeful manner on the phone he let me know why I had not managed to impress during the final interview (I have been known to waffle). He gave me the information I needed to reflect and to improve.

Tomsett does this again in his writing. While reading I found myself placing the book down regularly, not through boredom but to think about how I would deal with the same situation.

When he describes his family, with such fondness and respect, I found my mind wandering back to my childhood and to my experiences as a father. There are moments in Tomsett’s book when I found myself smiling and nodding along with him, as I recognised the circuitous routes through life that he describes.

He made me wonder whether there is more to golf than meets the eye but I also cried as he described his regret at decisions he made as his father died. Tomsett’s writing is made all the more powerful by his personal reflections, both in his prose and in his poetry.

But I do not want you to get the impression this is simply an autobiography. Tomsett has structured his book carefully so that each chapter has an important message to share about the craft and practice of teaching.

He frames each with a pertinent, and often poignant, tale of either his own life or that of the people he knows best. Once the emotional picture has been painted, he changes tack and explains clearly the link to teaching practice, drawing on research of respected educational experts of all hues.

He describes his approach to leading a school in times of tighter budgets and changing priorities and curricula. He demonstrates the importance of thoughtful lesson planning, modelling exemplars and clear explanations. There is advice on being a reflective practitioner and providing effective professional development in school, and what having a growth mindset really means.

What I found most heartening, though, was the message hinted at in the title and described in his last chapter: tending to your colleagues. He hammers home the importance of growing great teachers, support staff and students through care and support.

This is a handbook about how to lead a school with a real sense of humanity. But it is not simply a book for the leaders of a school. It’s a book for all teachers, not just because of the advice of what “truly great teaching” is, but because it shows you what working in a school should feel like, both as a teacher, and as a valued and respected colleague.

I have had a few downs as well as ups over the first few years of my relatively short teaching career. After I finished This Much I Know about Love over Fear, I spent a long time reflecting on my life, the choices I have made, why I love being a teacher, what I need to change, and how I am going manage my job and my family life from now on. So, thank you John, for writing a book that has enabled me to do that.

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  1. keef feeley

    I began teaching in secondary school in 1973 and retired only recently to become a learning analyst/consultant and I can confidently say this is easily the best book I’ve read by a Head teacher. I feel ALL Head teachers, in fact ALL teachers should read this book and would benefit greatly from it. John’s background as an English teacher has helped him to become an excellent writer (sadly I can’t claim the same) which makes it an enjoyable book to read. Although he only began teaching in 1987, he demonstrates that if you are an effective learner and seize the wonderful learning opportunities as a teacher you can become very effective and enjoy it. However, most importantly his learning from experience and awareness of Stephen Covey, W. Edwards Deming, Carol Dweck, Jim Collins, John Hattie means he has learnt to become an excellent Head teacher, this much I know about John Tomsett, he’s the headteacher I wish I had 30 years ago!’.