The opening video to this post shows 2 of our Sixth Formers, Jack Jesseman (Y13) and Niamh Bates (Y12) singing at the Senior Commemoration service at the end of last term 4 weeks ago. Readers might be familiar with the original 1957 West Side story version, or perhaps the Pet Shop Boys remix from 20 years ago. If not, then at least they’ll know the Romeo and Juliet original by William Shakespeare, in which we learn of the tragic love and deaths of 2 lovers separated by the enmity between their families, the Montagues and Capulets in Verona. West Side story transposes the tale to the Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City in the mid-1950s, with two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds, the Sharks, from Puerto Rico, and the Jets, a white gang.
(Spoiler alert) Unlike in the original, where both our young lovers die, in West side story, Maria cannot bring herself to commit further violence, and her choice to grieve and claim peace on of the most moving final scenes in theatre ever. As she cradles her dying love, Tony in her arms, she reprises Somewhere:
As I write, another well known family are sharing their grief for their loss of their own mother, tragically killed 20 years ago in a car crash. Of course I refer to Harry and William Windsor, the sons of Princess Diana and becoming I suspect in their own way almost as well known and loved as their mother. What Prince Harry has done this last week, and supported so ably by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is to call-out about their own grieving for their mother, and talk openly about the stress and uncomfortable lack of well being still around their loss. Simon Wessely writes really well about this in Wednesday’s Guardian newspaper “Princes William and Harry break mental health taboos for a new generation” and it’s a good read.
Parents and Friends of the Claires Court community regularly ask about our own break from service, “How have the holidays gone” etc. Whilst I always reply “fabulous”, because it is such a privilege to be able to take such regular rest breaks, in truth I always want to add the little ‘rider’ (second spoiler alert) that we teachers don’t just take a break. This Easter, the entire faculty (200+) spent Friday morning after the end of term looking at the ways we could further promote kindness and compassion in our school. Rachael Williams and Louise Hankinson, experts in the field of counselling services and psychotherapy engaged us in their thinking on the vexed issue of mental well-being. Whilst it is clear that we are seeing an exponential growth in support requirements, both in school and in the wider society at larger, in many ways such exposure is evidence of a healthier society than perhaps one driven by the ‘stiff upper lip rule’. The slide below shows you the challenge set to us here:
Many of the discussions we have had in school are about updating what we do. The first pro-social behaviour initiative we ran across 10 years here covered the 1990s, at a time when it was agreed across the UK that the use of violence to discipline children had no place in schools. Corporal punishment ceased at Claires Court back before 1986, and was outlawed in 1998 in all UK schools, but the belief persisted that physical punishment was part of the educative and disciplinary process, and was often viewed as ‘character building’. To this day, there remains at the parenting level that a smack for very young children helps modify children’s behaviour, and for the under 2s there is modest evidence that it works. However, since there is also plenty of evidence that there are many other ways of inculcating acceptable behaviour patterns in the young that don’t involve the use of physical violence, no-one actually seriously advocates its use at all any more.
The therapeutic approach we have adopted to assist in our community when individuals feel challenged is known as Acceptance and Therapy Commitment, ACT, and we use this in combination with our Values programme and Learning approach, the Claires Court Essentials. As Academic Principal, I ensure our staff continuing professional development programme has 12 days reserved a year, and we need to use every hour of that time to keep up to speed with curriculum development in the face of national challenges and required changes to examinations. But suffice it to say this; we are spending increasing amounts of time, the most costly of all resources to the issue of providing ‘a place for all of us’ , together with ‘time to learn, time to care’.
So as a bright new day opens on our Summer Term 2017, expect there to be a lot of talk about kindness around amongst my colleagues and in my blogs. There is no longer public debate needed about whether it is a good thing to speak out and be honest about one’s feelings. What Harry and William have demonstrated however is that, whatever the hurts they faced, (and boy have they faced more in their short lives than ever the rest of us have), they have got on and recognised they have part to play in making the world a better place for themselves and for us all. They have not looked for special treatment, and though they can’t help being privileged by their birth, they have demonstrated a selflessness which we can all admire. Above all, they have avoided blaming others for their situation, mindful of the need to distance themselves from unhelpful thoughts, reactions and sensations.
These by the way are the key purposes of our Commemoration Service, held every year, held to ensure we become and remain mindful of the need to serve our Commonwealth, be that local, national or across the Commonwealth, whilst recognising the passing of those in our community who have done just that, but lost their lives and passed away over the past 12 months.