This Much I Know About Love Over Fear ...

Creating a culture for truly great teaching

By: John Tomsett


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Size: 216mm x 140mm
Pages : 224
ISBN : 9781845909826
Format: Paperback
Published: May 2015

This Much I Know About Love Over Fear is a compelling account of leading a values-driven school where people matter above all else. Weaving autobiography with an account of his experience of headship, Tomsett explains how, in an increasingly pressurised education system, he creates the conditions in which staff and students can thrive. Too many of our state schools have become scared, soulless places. Tomsett draws on his extensive experience and knowledge and calls for all those involved in education to find the courage to develop a leadership-wisdom which emphasises love over fear. Creating a truly great school takes patience. Ultimately, truly great schools don’t suddenly exist. You grow great teachers first, who, in turn, grow a truly great school.

There is a huge fork in the road for head teachers: one route leads to executive headship across a number of schools and the other takes head teachers back into the classroom to be the head teacher. John strongly believes that if the head teacher is not teaching, or engaged in helping others to improve their teaching, in their school, then they are missing the point. The only thing head teachers need obsess themselves with is improving the quality of teaching, both their colleagues’ and their own.

This Much I Know About Love Over Fear is an authentic personal narrative of teaching, leadership and discovering what really matters. It gets to the heart of what is valuable in education and offers advice for those working in schools.

Also by John Tomsett: This Much I Know About Mind Over Matter, ISBN 9781785831683.

Picture for author John Tomsett

John Tomsett

John Tomsett has been a teacher since 1988 and a head teacher since 2003. He is head teacher at Huntington School, York. Tomsett writes a blog called This much I know, and is a regular contributor to the TES. He co-founded The Headteachers' Roundtable think tank and is a popular speaker on school leadership. He is determined to remain a classroom teacher, despite the demands of headship, and believes that developing truly great teaching is the main responsibility of all head teachers.

Click here to read John's article for Schools Week ' We can turn the tidal wave of mental health problems'.

Click here to read John's interview with The Ofi Press.


  1. Tomsett's text absolutely emphasises the value in student-teacher relationships - the students will not learn from someone they loathe. He cites some great educators and leadership gurus while transferring their major findings in plain speak with vivid, relatable experiences. His humour is well received and makes the read enjoyable as well as professionally impacting. I intend to share his insights with my pre-service teachers in the United States. This was a great find and something I will return to again and again. 
  2. I have read far too many books or articles about teaching that are completely grounded in theory; written by people who have diligently researched the theory but not led it from the position where it really matters, the position of head teacher. John Tomsett manages to marry together the theory and the reality of leading an agenda to improve teaching. Furthermore, he shows a deep understanding of people and teachers. It is fact this that makes the book so innovative: in an era where we are bombarded with meta-studies, theories, research, exemplar schools and anecdotes, John has made improving teaching simple.

    Defining -˜good teaching' in our profession has been something that has become almost a bit of a holy grail over the past 15 years. There have also been significant changes, some for good and some for ill. We focused on what a good lesson should look like, now (thankfully) we talk about good teaching over time. John's book sets out the process of how we go about defining good teaching in a way that ensures buy-in from all those who are engaged. It is clear, simple and sensible, and firmly moves people away from a tick-box approach to teaching. In fact, it makes the idea of good teaching simple; are students making progress? Are they learning?
    John's book re-enforces that teachers are human beings. They have good days and bad days, they have internal struggles, they experience success, failure, frustration and all of this is ok; it is normal in fact! This reassurance on a day-to-day basis from someone who has been on the journey for a number of years longer than we have offers a sense of security in all that we are doing.
    One of the greatest assets of the book is that it points you in so many different directions to research or examples that have led to improvement. The blog that John writes also keeps the book alive; a recent blog post on metacognition is an example of this. The manner within which it is written also draws people in; there is a sense of trust or empathy that starts to develop as you read.
  3. This Much I Know About Love Over Fear is a unique and clever blend of teaching and learning manual, school improvement guide and autobiography from one of the leading figures in education. John Tomsett takes the reader on a journey through his working-class upbringing and intersperses it with expert lessons on the pedagogy of teaching English and the importance of putting great teaching at the centre of school improvement.

    John's dedication and determination to create a culture where great teaching can flourish whilst also being at the heart of a school is only surpassed by his belief that it is the responsibility of all teaching staff to be proactive in their professional development. As the lead for CPD in a large secondary school, I wanted to capture John's honesty as a leader and harness the emotional connection he makes with teachers in order to demonstrate the importance of reflecting, evaluating and developing classroom practice, no matter what your role in a school - head teacher or NQT.

    After buying 18 copies and distributing them to our SLT before the summer holiday, I went about planning the September INSET with the book and its message embedded as the key part of the whole-school training. The leadership team shared their favourite teaching and learning anecdote and explored with staff how their personal reflections had inspired them to refocus their approach as self-reflective practitioners. John's passion for learning and dogged faith in students' capabilities was crucial in showing staff that our philosophy towards school improvement was not only aligned, but also held by other successful leaders as a valid and effective method to give learners the best opportunity to succeed within an inclusive comprehensive secondary school.

    The copies of the book were passed on to heads of department, who in turn passed them on to teachers across the school. The book is an essential tool in modelling great leadership of classroom practice and proved to be as useful as a tangible development tool for educational thinking as it was for pedagogical reflection and development in classroom practice. This disseminated approach was so much more effective with staff than a didactic input on day 1 of a new school year.

    The impact on staff was evident in their feedback and discussions thereafter. Staff felt enthused and empowered to challenge their practice, not only as individuals but also within departments. It is such a privilege to read a book that inspires you to develop your practice - it makes you realise you are part of something that is greater than the four walls you teach within. This book really does show that love for your profession can overpower the fear of failure.
  4. John Tomsett draws on his extensive experience as a head teacher to reflect on the success of his leadership ideas in an easily read style that will inspire readers to take forward many of his ideas. He sets out his philosophy about creating rapport with students and staff in no uncertain terms, -˜my strongly held belief is that if the head teacher is not teaching, or engaged in helping others to improve their teaching, in his school, then he is missing the point.' The text is full of ideas linked to Tomsett's personal experiences linked also to quotations from a wide range of sources. The rebellious side of Tomsett is clearly evident when he describes his success and personal enjoyment in teaching the tough classes. I found the sections on teaching the tough classes, explanations and creating the conditions for growth particularly interesting. 

    This is an enthralling and easily read text, linked to examples of outstanding practice and realistic theoretical evidence, which will stimulate, support and extend the confidence of the reader to reflect on their current practice.
  5. 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.
  6. This book is a deeply human journey through a career, a life, in teaching. It's a beautiful book. I don't agree with everything John says, but the way he says it - oh! of that I have the deepest admiration. Reading `Love Over Fear` is to fall in love; with teaching, with students and with John. I can think of no school leader I look up to more and no one who I would rather work for.
  7. This book surprised me. I know John - the leader - but This Much I Know about Love Over Fear is definitely written by John - the teacher. Whether you are an NQT or have been a head teacher for years you must read this book. It will inspire you, challenge you and make you smile. John is the template for the 21st century head teacher that I aspire to be - This Much I Know about Love Over Fear should be on every teacher's wish list.
  8. For me, John Tomsett represents the soul of education, always keeping what matters most at the centre of everything he says and does: great teaching and moral purpose. This Much I Know about Love Over Fear captures that spirit perfectly: personal history, golf, poetry and educational wisdom grounded in experience combine beautifully to create a book that is both practical and profound.
  9. John Tomsett is a very rare kind of head teacher, and it's no surprise he's written a book that's equally rare, in that it is a book written by someone currently within the education system, about the education system, that is both apposite and well written. He writes with conviction and experience, both of which are necessary to say anything useful in a crowded field of books that are anodyne, vacuous or thinly-disguised polemics.

    John Tomsett the teacher comes through in every page; someone who still teaches, when many heads do not, and best of all still loves it. Loves it enough to still do it, to think about it, to write about it. It's often said that everyone has a book within them; sadly it's often not a good book, and this is a very good book indeed. Nothing can replace the experience of being in command, but a close second for anyone interested in accessing John's decades of wisdom, is to read about it here. Broad ranging yet still specific enough to burst with utility, if every head teacher was to read this, that wouldn't be a bad thing at all. And if anyone in else in education were to read it too, that wouldn't be bad either. His school is a case study in putting your money where your mouth is, and I wish we had more people like him wherever children need an education.
  10. What a stroke of luck that John Tomsett never quite realised his dream to be a golf professional or a full-time sports journalist, but became a teacher instead. His success in the classroom and in running a school is not measured just by the fortunate pupils and colleagues who have worked with and learned from John. His influence is much wider. His -˜This much I know-¦'Blogs and ubiquitous presence on social media, his brilliant moving and inspirational talks are spell binding. In short order he has become a national educational phenomenon, with his roots firmly in the rich soil of the classroom, staffroom and school.

    His debut book shows why. Beautifully written John, as you'd expect of an outstanding teacher, is a great story-teller, thinks aloud and in the process causes others to think too.

    A unique educational autobiography, it will rank alongside those of the likes of John Holt, Ted Sizer and Paulo Freire, as one you'll know exactly where it is on your bookshelf. You'll keep going back - a must read for all teachers, for the staff library and for future leaders, as well as for any post sixteen students who should consider teaching as still the best career to have.
  11. At a time when much of our school system is being driven by the various elements of high stakes accountability - graded observations, performance management, league tables and a punitive inspection system - John not only highlights the folly of this approach, but crucially, he articulates with great clarity, an alternative. Drawing on his personal and professional experience he argues that we need to remove fear from the system, develop cultures that focus on the learning of leaders, teachers and pupils and create schools which are exciting, challenging and supportive places to work and learn.
  12. What happens when we tell stories as leaders? Our values get exposed as part of the narrative, and people lean in and listen. In his deeply engaging This Much I Know About Love Over Fear John Tomsett allows us to see his humanity, to connect with his passion for young people, and to share the learning from his creative, relational style of leadership. 

    Frequent vignettes point to the value John places on engaging students in the classroom, "... time when I could influence what they did and how they thought", and it's clear that he sees his role as leader of teachers in the same way: This Much I Know About Love Over Fear is what adults and children alike need to flourish. John takes wisdom he's developed from a lifetime of mishaps and breakthroughs (including 12 years of headship), aligns it beautifully with his wide reading of education and leadership literature, and offers practical insights and helpful suggestions in his humble 'This much I know' lists. 

    If you want to reconnect with your moral purpose in teaching; if you want gritty and honest ideas for transformative school leadership; if you thirst for provocation that will keep you always striving to be better than you were yesterday, this book will delight and help in equal measure.
  13. This Much I know about Love over Fear was not what I had expected - an unusual twist on leadership, in a way that feels fresh and provides a new slant on the concept. It's a book you should be advised to sit and read cover to cover, and then to take the time to re-read. There is a plethora of good advice, far too much to absorb in one sitting. I'll be going back, dipping in to chapters to find the advice I need at the right time. It made me realise that times haven't changed, kids haven't changed. It is so overwhelming positive and uplifting, the tale of a wonderful life intertwined with rich experiences of leadership. Beautiful.
  14. You know the sort of book that, as you read it, it meets you half way. You recognize many of your own ideas, values, hopes and mistakes. Well this book was it, for me. John Tomsett nails it. Everything he writes is focused on the core business: great teaching, great provision for every student. -˜Make sure your school leadership team is focused upon the core business of school, improving teaching and learning.' -¨ I'm a skimmer. I get through a lot of text. Fast. I can't remember the last professional book I read where I didn't skip or skim a page. I didn't skip a sentence of This Much I Know about Love Over Fear. It's a compelling read and beautifully written. It embraces John's philosophy of education, autobiography, wider management theories and a sensible commentary on what it looks like in his school.
    Absolutely tremendous.
    It's a tough call to include significant moments of personal history. But John does this from a deep well and respect for his parents and the community where he grew up. Without ever becoming sentimental he describes the influence of both parents: his mother's stoicism and his father's love of the natural world and his incredible work ethic. He weaves aspects of his own story into each chapter. And some of it is hilarious. The firework fiasco. You will have to buy the book to find out what happened.

    Some gems -
    The way he talks about students:
    -˜Fundamentally students need to feel loved and I really don't care what anyone might think of that, to be honest, because if I know anything about teaching, I know that is true.'
    On trust:
    -˜Trust them. Choose your moment and use the phrase, I'm going to trust you to do this, looking directly into their eyes. It works.'
    On Early Years:
    -˜The motivations behind why I teach have changed over the years; I used to want to teach only sixth formers - now I think early years is probably the most important age group.'
    On being a head teacher:
    -˜As a head teacher, I have always taught. I cannot imagine a life without teaching. Teaching is still the best part of my day, bar none. My strongly held belief is that if the head teacher is not teaching, or engaged in helping others improve their teaching, in his school, then he is missing the point. The only thing head teachers need obsess themselves with is improving the quality of teaching, both their colleagues' and their own.'

    John's thoughts on the primacy of the quality of relationships with students apply equally to his colleagues. And he draws on ancient wisdom and recent research to back this up - Fullan, Elder, EEF, Nuttall, Seneca and Virgil. Of course he knows this already, but very good to have his observations grounded in a wider pool of research.
    It's a big ask: to write a serious book about the principles and practicalities of leadership. John's book is accessible, thoughtful, moving and funny in equal measure. I predict This Much I Know about Love Over Fear will be essential reading for every leader of learning, from head teacher to NQT, in every school.
  15. The title of this book does it a disservice - it should be just one word: Love, for this is a love story. It is imbued with love for family, for friends, for teachers, for pupils, for colleagues, for literature, poetry and prose, for music, for sport, for thought, and most of all for the art of teaching and learning. A deeply humane book that gives some excellent insights into the how of education and leadership. I am sure the words of wisdom contained in this book will be a thoughtful and supportive companion for many a successful career.
  16. Part autobiography, part practical guide, you will not find a more heartfelt and honest account of what really matters for teaching and learning. For anyone who cares about the future of our children this is a compelling and hugely enjoyable read from one of our most respected school leaders.
  17. John's honesty and refreshing approach separates this book from the plethora of dry, technical and anodyne texts on school improvement and frankly, makes This Much I Know about Love Over Fear special. John sets out the case that education can't be reduced to a technocratic, painting by numbers process where we devise ever more sophisticated measures to ensure compliance to the method. John reminds us that teaching and leading teaching is all about relationships and the way we use what we know, let's call it wisdom, to inform and improve our work. The value of evidence and the implications of nailing your colours to the mast of an evidence informed profession are carefully considered and resolved as John presents a compelling case for schools to harness research on their terms and as the servant of their needs. Evidence on tap not on top, to coin a phrase. John's wonderful stories about his childhood, the fateful round of golf at Liphook, his sonnet for the school caretaker tell us something about the man and his values and motivations that drive his work. John's passion for education and the way it has changed the circumstances of his own life is used to demonstrate the importance of the profession we share and our collective responsibility to challenge poor teaching and build a culture of continual improvement.
  18. This is a funny, warm, and touching book but it is also grounded in practical thoughts and ideas for how to run a school. It mixes anecdotes and autobiography with educational research and John's own experiences as a head to set out a series of clear statements on education. The best thing about the book is how John's voice and personality shines out from every chapter. By the end it's as if you've worked in his school for years, and you feel comforted, challenged and enthused by that.
  19. If evidence-based practice is about -˜integrating the best available research evidence with professional expertise' then John's book suggests he a master of both.
  20. From sixth form dropout to inspiring head teacher, John Tomsett takes us on a personal journey, written with warmth and love - for his parents, his family, teachers and children. Readers of his blog will already know John as a very good writer who is widely read and educationally wise and this book benefits from its focus on teaching and the leadership of teaching as the top priorities for school leaders. Full of common sense, Love over fear emphasises the importance of relationships at all levels in education and firmly places the leadership of staff at the pinnacle of effective school leadership.
  21. I've rated John Tomsett as a head teacher and a commentator on education for some years now, so I had high expectations when I sat down to read this book. I have to say it exceeded them. It's full of the characteristic warmth, wit and wisdom readers of John's -˜This much I know-¦' blog will already be familiar with.

    Through autobiographical vignettes John shows clearly where his strong sense of moral purpose, as a school leader and as a human being, is grounded. He then moves to the educational focus of each chapter, and concludes with practical -˜This much I know about-¦' bullet-point advice.

    I found the book readable, refreshing and uplifting. John's conviction that improving the quality of teaching (and not simply focussing on the performance of teachers) should be the key focus of leadership is based on his experience and his personal knowledge informed by his extensive reading. It has much to offer teachers, and leaders at all levels, and it allows a fascinating insight into how this remarkable leader was formed, and subsequently developed. John lives the values he espouses.

    So I'm sorry the professional golfing career didn't work out, John.

    But I'm not, really-¦.
  22. At a time when so many books on school leadership are written by people who have fled the classroom, who no longer stalk the corridors or dread wet lunchtimes, here's a book that oozes authenticity. John Tomsett reminds us of why great teaching matters so much and why great school leadership has to be built on classroom credibility. It's a book that is wise, funny, often deeply moving. It has taught me a lot - not least about myself, my own teaching and my leadership. Recommended.
  23. John Tomsett rightly sees himself as a head teacher. But he is also a thinker- about relationships, humanity, evidence and all that contributes to great teaching and a positive school culture. This is the new frontier for schools. We are lucky to have John and this wonderful book to guide us.
  24. It isn't often that a book on education could be described as 'moving' but This Much I Know about Love Over Fear by John Tomsett is just that. As one of the nation's most successful school leaders, John both passes on some of the wisdom he has learned from his years in teaching and combines it with a narrative about his life and his family.

    His commitment to the moral purpose of education shines through. His gratitude for the role education played in his own life is reflected in his uncompromising belief that nothing should get in the way of providing the same life changing opportunity for today's generation of young people.

    The book is both a testament to the importance of good teachers and a wealth of good advice about how to do the job. It is a pleasure to read and a source of invaluable advice.
  25. John Tomsett is an inspirational teacher, head teacher and leader. In sharing his wisdom in this wonderful book he inspires, educates and, occasionally, even brings a lump to the throat. John has a wonderful way of telling stories in a very human way, explaining his deep thinking with humility and bringing the book to life with real examples and practical advice.
  26. I loved this book. It is eclectic, human, very moving at times and filled with wisdom, knowledge and care. It combines biography, the distillation of experience and a wide canvas of research - a book for the head and the heart.

    John Tomsett has become a very important voice in education in Britain and this book shows why. He has great experience, knowledge and wisdom, all of which he shares, but it is the passion that will keep becoming back to it.

    This much I know about reading John Tomsett's book - I am unlikely to read a better education book this year.
  27. This much I know about John Tomsett: he writes beautifully. He thinks deeply. He brings to thinking and writing about teaching a powerful mix of autobiography, commitment and the deepest professional expertise. There is wisdom on every page of this book, and a genuinely insightful understanding of what it takes, really, to improve teaching, teachers and schools. This much I learn from John Tomsett: that the quality of schooling depends on the quality of relationships which schools can sustain. Read this book.
  28. I am uniquely placed to review John Tomsett's book - I work in his school! Happily, the book captures the best of John's leadership: it conveys his passion for education, his commitment and care for those he leads, and it captures his leadership wisdom. 

    At a time of much fear, when most Head Teachers are being driven to distraction, with too many prospective Heads avoiding the role altogether, John provides the ballast of hope and guidance. The book is full of deftly crafted personal stories that touch the heart, woven together with useful professional insights borne of much experience. It makes for a book that is quite unique and well worth reading. Oh, and if you are wondering - he is a great boss to work for!
  29. An inspiring read, which explores with great insight how strong leadership and quality teaching is the key to school achievement. John Tomsett is both practitioner and polemicist - and this fine book is a welcome and significant contribution to our increasingly urgent debate about raising standards and developing character amongst British school children.
  30. How could you not love this man? John Tomsett's book is a personal account of his own learning, modestly declaring -˜This Much I Know About Love Over Fear`, drawing on his own experience, his family, his childhood, his teaching, his leadership, his poetry - and his golf. Through it all his values shine with the heat of a blast-furnace: -˜respect, honesty and kindness'. Fear plays a minor role in this story; love overwhelms it.

    Tomsett shows that love can be tough love. He may be nurturing and supportive as a head, but he is also demanding. However good a teacher you are, you need to be even better. He gives specific examples to illustrate how students can be taught to plan and write better essays, how seeing the head teacher engage a tough group of disengaged boys changed the culture in his school, how metaphors can be used to explain key concepts like -˜film genre theory', how performance management can be performance development.

    Some of the research Tomsett cites is a bit cherry-picked for my taste, and some of it treated a bit uncritically: not all research really proves what it claims, you can usually find some research to back up any belief, and some research findings can be interpreted to support conclusions that are not really what was found. But I am a pedantic research nerd and his overall message is sound. More important, it is presented in a way that will connect with teachers and bring to life the research and its applications to their practice. 

    When you work in education it is easy to get depressed and frustrated about things. Teaching is such a hard job; even doing it badly is demanding, but trying to do it well is an unending Herculean trial. Seeing - and sharing - the challenges that some young people face, and daily having to live with your impotence to remove them, can be profoundly draining. Interference from government, from inspectors, and from others with power and the desire to improve things, even if it is well-meant, rarely feels helpful. This book is an antidote to all that negativity. It is uplifting, affirming, passionate and deeply moving. It is about love, but not much about fear.

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