Book Review: Wholesome Leadership by Tom Rees

As a primary teacher, it’s a treat to read a leadership book aimed at primary leaders (although much of this book would resonate with early years, secondary and FE leaders too). The book itself, after the introductory chapters, focuses on four areas, laid out on the cover; the heart, head, hands and health of school leadership. Even the title is refreshing after what seems like many years of data-driven, non-negotiables  –  “Wholesome Leadership”; imagine the reception that would have got in the Gove/Wilshaw era. It captures the current edu zeitgeist; at the core of this book is a fundamental humanity, an approach to both staff and pupils that echoes Mary Myatt‘s “human begins first, professionals second”[1]. It is underpinned by with a deep trust of teachers, recognition that the vast majority of staff (by which I mean pretty much everybody) come to the profession with altruism at their core.

Practical takeaways from this book are many, and perhaps the most interesting is the “Five Fives” method employed. You’ll have to read the book to find out all the nuts and bolts. But what this approach encourages you to do is consider the impact of change over the next five minutes, five days, five week, five months and, five years. The long view is very powerful. The extreme accountability that Rees analyses in the this book  – and elsewhere – has tended to work against planning beyond the next set of SATs results or OFSTED inspection. Considering the impact that your actions now might make, even after you may have left the staff, is a rich and interesting perspective that may lead you to view your decisions in a different light.

Naturally, my eye was drawn to the “health” section of the book, covering, self preservation, (a cracking read for anyone working in a school, not just leaders), staff wellbeing and interdependent leadership. These chapters gather together a range of good, common sense advice drawn from a range of sources, in and out of teaching.  It clearly sets out why staff wellbeing is a crucial aspect of a school’s success, not an “add on” or “nice to have”. The interdependent leadership section includes an interesting and thoughtful analysis of the new management structures emerging in the current landscape of MATs and other structures.

The text is complemented throughout by Oliver Caviglioli’s economical and bold illustrations. Tom has interviewed what I can only describe as the cream of edutwitter, and those interviews add depth and alternative viewpoints. This book is a nourishing read for school leaders, with Tom’s warmth and affection for the profession at its heart.

Wholesome Leadership is published by John Catt Educational.

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[1] Mary Myatt (2016). High Challenge, Low Threat. John Catt Educational.

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