I’ve delayed writing my review of this book because I wanted to find the right words to convey my reading experience. After much thought, the best word to describe this book is: humility. This is not just a book about education, this is a book about John, and John appears to be a very interesting and humble man. This is a book that extols the virtues of human spirit as much as the esoteric of education. Before you begin reading, there are numerous testimonials from a variety of well-respected individuals within the learning community, each sharing their own interactions with his words. To gain so many personal, detailed endorsements is testament to the value of the contents.
This is an article first published in the September 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine. Read the magazine freely online by clicking here.
Review Written by Kieran Dhunna Halliwell
John begins by building up a picture of his childhood in 1970’s East Sussex. The son of a postman and a cleaner, he is one of their five children and as readers we are privy to memories such as household life, family staycations and the struggle to make ends meet. This is shared with the reader to demonstrate what John refers to as the foundations of his moral purpose as a school leader and as the book progresses and we learn more and more about John’s life, the value of experience in education becomes apparent. Some might feel that knowledge and experience are separate entities; in education they are sometimes pitched against each other as if one could work successfully without the other. Through his writing, John demonstrates a necessary relationship between the two.
The book is not fashioned to be used as a ‘how to’ for creating success. Everything within is offered through the perspective of John’s experience not only of the classroom, but of life, with links being drawn as to what informs his values and motivations and how they influence his work. At a time when ideology and politics are hot topics in education he has managed to produce a book that demonstrates how these are necessarily intertwined with our own background without being confrontational about it; what we do in schools is informed not only by knowledge, but by our experiences. Perhaps what this book helps to crystallise is that teachers and leaders are first and foremost people – how we walk the words of our values from the abstract to the real as school leaders reflects not just what we know but how we know and enact it. It also serves to demonstrate that education is never truly apolitical; knowledge as a mere transmission of facts only part defines what effective teaching can look like in schools because it neglects the importance of transactions of trust, care and compassion.
One of the biggest strengths of this book is its ability to transcend; regardless of current role, age or experience within teaching you will feel a connection to it. It’s possible those with some secure classroom experience may gain a little more than NQT’s but that is not to say those newer to the profession shouldn’t read it. At the very least, it puts a focus on teaching being about people rather than solely systems and personally, I felt I wanted to interview John throughout my time reading. Reading this book is like being given 1:1 mentor time with an expert – but John would never describe himself as an expert. He is a man who has analysed his role and shared what he feels is useful to others.
As a reader I cannot find fault. The only criticism I can come up with is stolen from a housemate who upon seeing the title ‘This much I know…’ commented that it was a thin book, yet that is exactly what makes it worth reading! It is refined. It is digestible. It is unpretentious. I get the impression motivations for writing this book were more of a personal challenge than writing for an audience; the contents within are the modest observations of a man who has committed his life to education. As someone newer to the profession, that is inspiring. It inadvertently raises questions about our own places within education and the kind of legacy we may be leaving whilst also showing that changes in policy, approaches and ideology are not the only drivers of our practice.
If you’re looking for a book that will encourage you to reflect without explicitly directing you to or a book that will make you think about how what is done in a classroom is shaped by the backgrounds that shape us, then I highly recommend this book. Equally, if you are looking for a book that offers insights into tried and tested practice, supported by anecdotes and reasoning, this book will be a useful addition to your library. I enjoyed reading and it is no exaggeration to say that John’s journey will be kept in mind as I continue on my own; this book serves as a timeless mentor packed full of informed, personal experience, and as readers what we choose to do with that is up to us.