A Head Full of Ethos

A holistic guide to developing and sustaining a positive school culture

By: Armando Di-Finizio


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PublishedFebruary 2022

Written by Armando Di-Finizio, A Head Full of Ethos: A holistic guide to developing and sustaining a positive school culture is a head teacher’s insightful account of how to go about developing a shared vision and blending it into a school’s culture and day-to-day running.

When one or more aspects of a school’s running or curriculum breaks down, all too often the leadership team will jump from one idea to another in a bid to remedy the problem. This, however, can lead to blurred vision and possible confusion. Leaders may then wonder why the remedies aren’t working and are likely to scramble for more, hopefully better, ideas.

Armando Di-Finizio, however, believes that the key to success lies in the school’s ethos and in the daily manifestation of its underpinning principles.

In A Head Full of Ethos, Armando weaves his experiences and the lessons he’s learned from three decades of successful school leadership into an engaging illustration of the principles which have supported him in his varied settings. In so doing, he explores the key elements that contribute to nurturing a positive school ethos and cultivating a healthy teaching and learning environment.

The book examines the many interconnected cogs of a sustainable ethos – an ethos which will become the driving force in inspiring the school’s students to flourish and its staff to grow professionally. In turn, it empowers school leaders at all levels with the means to take more ownership of what they do, and imbues them with more courage in relation to their convictions and decision-making.

Suitable for middle and senior leaders in all school settings.

Picture for author Armando Di-Finizio

Armando Di-Finizio

Armando Di-Finizio has, over the course of his career, taught in seven schools in deprived areas of London, Bristol and Cardiff. With a guiding conviction that every child can go on to flourish in life, Armando has successfully led three schools from being among the lowest performing in the country to achieving outcomes well above expectations. Armando’s innovative practices have been successfully applied in the many schools he has worked with and supported over the years.


  1. In this data-driven age of accountability, schools are often willing to move from one approach to another to another in order to find ways forward to demonstrate improvement. This can leave teachers in a spin and never clear about the direction of travel for the school. This book provides a discerning and appealing account of how to develop a shared vision and implement it daily, based on the notion that the key to success lies in the school’s ethos and in the daily demonstration of its foundation values.

    A Head Full of Ethos takes the experiences of a headteacher over more than 30 years of school leadership to provide an informative illustration of the beliefs which have supported him in developing new ideas, as well as incorporating the ideas of others, in various school settings. Whilst aimed at whole school development, the ideas and principles can be applied by mathematics subject leaders or heads of department in supporting colleagues towards a positive culture and subsequent school success.

    The book offers essential reading for any established or aspiring school leader. It complements the many 'toolkits' of school and subject leadership that currently exist by considering what kind of ethos they hope to build. Throughout the book, the author poses many questions to help direct discussion and to enable readers to reflect on their own experiences. Each chapter examines different aspects of ethos and offers a series of ‘cogs’ which when used together can produce a smooth-running and successful school or subject department. Through many practical examples and distilled experiences, the author offers strategies which can be applied to developing teaching and learning within a positive school culture. In a field where there are numerous guides to school ethos, this useful text brings together the best approaches, tried and tested and successful so I would recommend it for inclusion in any school staff room.    

  2. Armando Di-Finizio, from his vast and credible experience in secondary schools experiencing difficulties, has compiled an engaging and professionally astute insight into the shadowy world of failing schools. His forthright and genuinely open approach into the strategies that effectively address the challenges posed by staff, pupils and parents is evident throughout the text. His emphasis is on developing the consistent principles and essential ingredients to create a school ethos for effective, relevant and engaging teaching and learning. Readers with experience within the hard knock schools and colleges, bubbling over with poor leadership, behaviour and attitude problems, negatively driven groups of leaners with negative mindsets, high rates of pupil and staff absence lacking a coherent ethos, and so on, will be aware of the influence and power that a transformational leader can have. Armando, in common with other effective leaders of change (including football and rugby club managers), demonstrates a personal drive, insight and awareness of how to activate change, and the ability to motivate and enthuse others to ‘row in the same boat’.

    Armando’s focus, within an engaging ‘no punches pulled’ text, is on four key areas: insightful leadership (including vision, purpose and direction), care (including positive relationships), belonging and inclusiveness. A number of heads of schools and colleges under pressure would benefit from the tips on how to make a lasting impression, listening to ‘your gut feeling’, and the importance of the first presentation. From his vast experience, he shares skills on how to promote influence, sell a vision, promote a culture for learning and positive relationships in terms of conflict, restorative approaches and generating the wider community buy in of change.

    This is an excellent guide to enable leaders to identify their current strengths and eradicate areas of weakness.  The author demonstrates strategies to promote consistency, sustainability and a positive culture for learning.

  3. Exceptionally well written, organised and presented. A Head Full of Ethos offers a wealth of real world practical insights and tips to both creating and maintaining a positive and effective learning climate adaptable to any grade level of any school and with children from any social, economic, or cultural background.

    A Head Full of Ethos is unreservedly recommended as an invaluable addition to school district, college, and university library teacher education collections and for inclusion to supplemental curriculum studies syllabus.

  4. A Head Full of Ethos is different to other education publications. It is highly accessible, hugely relevant, an easy read and a compelling experience for any teacher, subject leader, pastoral leader, senior leader or head teacher, all of whom would find it a useful guidebook to explore the many experiences which can happen at any time in any school. As well as addressing the routine activities which impact on the lives of school leaders, most critically it focuses on the lives of those they lead. Written with a focus on the core principles which underpin the practices of school leaders and teachers, its style and presentation leads us to reflect on our own practices, values, principles and the experiences which have moulded these.

    It is easy to dip into, while also drawing you in to read more. Its four focused chapters are each divided into useful ‘cogs’ which unpick the focus and help the reader to address key questions about their own setting and context and act as signposts, always illustrated by Armando’s wealth of experience and realistic, practical philosophy. The cogs will also alert you to key questions you may not yet have thought of asking.

    Armando shares his experience in his characteristically simple, frank and honest way. This is probably the most practical, useful book you will read about schools and education – and one you will return to time and again. You will really understand the ‘what matters’ principles of leadership and draw on these to match your own situation, philosophy, vision and values. But beware: the book will draw you in and is hard to put down.

  5. This excellent book offers something unique in the field: a guide to making a real difference as a school leader, by someone who has recent, lived experience of turning around and leading some of the most challenged schools in the country. Armando’s writing is a real breath of fresh air to read: concise, honest, engaging, and skilfully combining ethos and driving values with practical advice from someone who really knows what they are talking about! 

    This is one of the most powerful and readable leadership books I’ve seen in a long time. It should be on every NPQH reading list in the country, and is a must-read for all new and aspiring head teachers. 

  6. A Head Full of Ethos holds fast to what really matters in schools and sets out clearly how to achieve it. Armando shares his experience in a way that will be helpful to anyone who wants to run their school on truly educational principles. Full of common sense, wisdom and healthy suggestions, and with young people and their futures at its heart, this is the book to keep within reach for constant reference.

  7. This is an important book! It is challenging and reassuring at the same time, and combines principles and practice to telling effect. Di-Finizio provides a compelling narrative that is rooted in successful leadership practice and in deep reflection. His focus on ethos is particularly valuable in supporting, as it does very well, a holistic approach that integrates strategies and principles and informs the day-to-day routines and the most important strategic challenges. The book is therefore a powerful model of leadership learning and development and will inform and influence learning across the school.

    A Head Full of Ethos will be a powerful resource for those entering school leadership and those in need of renewal and review.

  8. I first worked with Armando more than 30 years ago in a tough London school. It was obvious even back then that he had the ability to create an ordered, purposeful, caring classroom environment, while also looking out for colleagues down the corridor: just the kind of teacher everyone wants nearby.

    Armando has always believed that the best solutions are the simple ones, and this outlook is evident throughout the book. A Head Full of Ethos is not just for senior leaders but also for those heading up their first team or even those considering a career in teaching.

    Current educational challenges are complex and demanding, but this book illustrates that success can be achieved when there is a clear vision and leaders take time to build relationships and listen.

    This is a book that we should keep coming back to. I know I will.

  9. Authentic, refreshing, searingly honest and witty are the adjectives that come immediately to mind on reading A Head Full of Ethos. Armando Di-Finizio draws on his three headships in challenging schools, which he has led to become successful and sustainable organisations, and uses that experience to provide practical advice and guidance about the process of leadership. The book is underpinned by his belief that positive relationships and a clearly articulated vision and values are at the core of a successful school.

    I have read many leadership books but none get ‘down and dirty’ with the reality of being a school leader day in, day out. And none give as much space to the importance of what it means to be an adolescent, and the implications of that for school leadership, as this book does. Armando offers sound, practical advice that new leaders (and indeed established leaders) can implement in their own context. Although I would advise reading the book from cover to cover, you can also home in on specific sections that have particular relevance to you. The book is easy to navigate, and the ‘What to take from this chapter’ crib sheets provide useful summaries.

    The principles invoked and the guidance given are supported throughout by reference to relevant research, and by the experiences of other colleagues – whose contribution to his thinking he generously acknowledges. The humility that runs throughout this book is underpinned by Armando’s steely determination to lead always in accordance with his principles and deeply held beliefs, which have proved so successful in practice.

  10. In Armando’s sinuous reflection on his three decades of experience in leadership, he re-examines his approaches that help shape a school’s ethos. Each chapter is packed with insightful and entertaining anecdotes and reflective questions which give the SLT member, head of department and emerging leader ample opportunity to reflect. A Head Full of Ethos discerns the individuality of every school and its vision and is punctuated by supporting literature and influential sources yet acknowledges the limitations of following research blindly without considering one’s context. Ultimately, it is an energetic and valuable perspective that sheds light on leadership, fostering ethos and direction in a team, maintaining positive relationships and creating a sense of belonging in the community.

  11. Schools have always been complex organisations with a wide array of demands and needs. But our knowledge and understanding of educational and organisational processes means that there is a growing economy of ‘solutions’ and ‘products’ to help school leaders better meet those needs. However, in this honest and insightful account of school leadership over three decades working in challenging schools, Armando Di-Finizio demonstrates the importance of school ethos – the character and spirit of a school – to inform the decisions required to lead a successful school.

    A Head Full of Ethos will become essential reading for any established or aspiring head teacher. It complements the many ‘toolkits’ of school leadership that already exist by encouraging the reader to consider what kind of school ethos they hope to build. Armando argues that by developing a consistent set of values and principles across the school, this will help school leaders to prioritise decisions and make better and more complementary day-to-day decisions for their staff, pupils and wider community. He demonstrates that a clear vision and set of guiding principles is necessary to successfully navigate the wide array of policies, tools and interventions available to contemporary educationalists.

    Throughout the book, Armando poses numerous questions to help direct the discussion and to encourage the reader to reflect on their own experiences. It carefully navigates the various interconnected ‘cogs’ that Armando believes have helped him produce a strong school ethos in all the challenging schools he has led. The result is a very engaging book that will not only be of great benefit to school leaders, but will also bring enormous benefits for our most vulnerable learners.

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