In our flight though the Coronavirus pandemic, many adjustments to our daily lives were essential to make, some forced upon us by government, others by common sense. Though Covid-19 is still very much with us, thanks to vaccines and great health interventions, we are now just managing the regular tweaks necessary when ‘bugs’ affect our health, and thank goodness for that. And so, I have been able to reset my toolkit to include serious ambition once more.
My good friend and former Parent, Ron Stuart remarked to me earlier this week that, whilst he was enjoying my writing, I might have been missing the opportunity ‘to extol the academic’. I’ve thought about the point of that conversation, reminding me that his son was able to move into the acceptable reach of academic success because of our efforts at school here, something that perhaps for which we have the strongest reputation. That’s certainly why I am delighted my grandson has now started in Reception. and what drives me through my daily work amongst the secondary and sixth form students in my realm.
To me, and I am really interested in what children like to do, what they are good at and what their ambitions might be are really important, and feature in most conversations. Whilst children might not always share with their parents such thoughts, it’s noticeable through chats in the yard that children do have aspirations, that they know the difference between trivial and important, and they understand that the clarity of positive expectations assists in that process.
In the refabricating of our main teaching wing at Senior Boys, I’ve included a significant number of motivational quotes from former pupils, and as with the other #wordsonthewall, they are having a really positive influence on the mood in school. My snapshot of one of the corridors below shows what that looks like:
Of course, there’s been a little vanity in my choosing of former students to provide the quotes, as opposed to those of international fame. That was a deliberate action of mine during #lockdown, when we were all trapped in tiny capsules and ambitions to travel at least were abruptly curtailed. By asking men and women to reach into our community and exude some confidence about the way ahead, it helped bring our young community together during that time of crisis.
Inside one of the English rooms, we’ve created a Maya Angelou wall, one of the most significant writers of our modern era, if not of all time. Her first autobiographical novel, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, is an extraordinary read, as she makes clear “I write about being a Black American woman, however, I am always talking about what it’s like to be a human being. This is how we are, what makes us laugh, and this is how we fall and how we somehow, amazingly, stand up again.”
Whether for boys and girls, whether junior or senior, whether GCSE or A level, our students are enjoying unheralded academic success, and that’s almost always part of the cunning plan. We’ve seen enough of vaulting ambition in recent weeks to know that arrogance may pay off to reach the top, but at what expense and to whom? Angelou reminds us through her writing and of course through the specific quote I have chosen, that we need to remember to have 2 ambitions. The first is ‘to get good at something’, and once good, stretch further to become accomplished and then an expert. I’ve learned that every days a school day, and that, given the distance to the stars is in fact infinite, you’ll actually never get there, but don’t give up; others will and if only be distance travelled, you’ll become an expert!
The other ambition, just as important is ‘to get good for‘, because for many of the enterprises with which we will engage, it’s commitment and collaboration that are truly needed. I’ve just watched a large group of students assemble for their trip to Köln, in order to practice their ‘speaking & listening’ and learn more about the culture and people of Germany. It’s far to say that in terms of academic success, direct teaching in the classroom is surely the best method, but in reality through travel to the land of the target language we are asking the learners to take the country and peoples to their hearts, not just their heads. And this is true of almost all learning activities – the aim is not just to be functional, to provide the academic ‘hand-grip’ that turns the ‘levers of opportunity’, but to provide a sense of ownership of the ‘Why’, to be able to tackle, handle and resolve the big questions they’ll face in their futures.
I’ll close with another 2 Maya Angelou quotes, which I have paired together.
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” Amen to that!