Saturday, 24 October 2015

Some thought inspired by John Tomsett

This much I know about - Love Over Fear: Creating a culture for truly great teaching
John Tomsett (2015)

Having had John Tomsett’s book on my Amazon Wish list, I eventually downloaded the Kindle version, which to be honest is not my favourite way to read an education text as I prefer to be able to write on books, as I argue/agree with the author, although my own kids tell me off for this!! This book is a wonderful read, both from an educational perspective and also a human perspective, John is very honest in his reflections and engaging in his writing.

The clinching line for me is “fundamentally students need to feel loved” (p64). Isn’t that so true? and not just for our student! If you examine your core values somewhere lurking there is a love for children and an honest ambition to try to help them be the best they can be, this is all bound up in the complex things called ‘relationships’. In an accountability age,  instead of measuring students’ progress and attainment,  we need to focus on the ‘human activity’ of showing love for our students and their lives, as John says “the relationship between teachers and student is fundamental to whether a student learns” (p13).

We need to ensure that the ethos of our schools supports teachers to help our students to become successful individuals. Having worked in the same school with three different headteachers I know that the ethos and culture is very strongly influenced by leadership. Unfortunately, in some schools the culture is not positive, usually driven by an managerial accountability agenda that is not compatible with quality experience for students and teachers. John puts it thus, “until educators accept the fact that fear and quality work are incompatible, there can be no real improvement in the quality of the educational system” (p90), insightful and honest but who is listening?

The value leadership teams place on professional learning is fundamental to the culture of professional trust and “we need to foster a growth culture which is founded upon the belief that all of us can improve” (p26). Once the premise of improvement is agreed then each establishment should “define what great teaching is in their context and target all their CPD to this end” (p155). This is so important that we learn to be confident in our own context and respond to the needs of the students and not cherry pick or ‘grab and go’ with ‘what works’ but find out what do we need to change before we decide how to make that change and sustain it. For teachers, the buzz around research and using research should “address questions to which teachers really need an answer” (p178), again how sensible that we look at our context first and not always look outward for solutions. We are professionals and need to be confident that we are doing the ‘right thing’ for our students and most importantly, teachers need to stop asking for permission to make a change.

I wish more headteachers would follow in John’s confident footsteps and take responsibility for their own context and not become enactors of policy but instead be creators of happy, confident, successful students and teachers. I love the quote from Mike Hughes’s that John uses to shield him from educational fads,

the most effective leaders seem to have erected a sheet of Polaroid across the school gates: all the confusing, paradoxical and frustrating initiatives hitting the school, as they pass through the Polaroid, emerge as parallel lines, harmonious with our plans and processes”

I really enjoyed this book and found it to be refreshing and heart-warming and I would recommend it to you.

John Tomsett  (2015) This much I know about  - Love Over Fear : Creating a culture for truly great teaching, Crown House publishing limited, UK

Mike Hughes, Tweaks to transform. Improving Teaching: A practical Handbook for School Leaders (London:continuum-3PL, 2002)

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