What does success look like in 2020? I spoke to Sixth Formers today about seminal moments during my own 6th form experience. This included a count of personal failures: 1 x music scholarship; 2 x Oxbridge rejections; 3 x driving tests. Looking back, each failure was a catastrophe at the time yet what I remember now are the silver linings: an enduring passion for music for music’s sake and a whole ‘7th’ term (as it was in those days) indulging in reading Shakespeare and Victorian novels. And the driving?
Earlier in the week I stumbled on a thought-provoking TED talk challenging the notion that success means winning at all cost: top grades, maximum profit, the person at the top of the pyramid. Valerie Kondos Field argues that our quest for success at all costs results, with schools, in children leaving with top grades (‘success’) but at risk of being damaged emotionally, mentally, physically. She believes we should redefine success as our ability to develop ‘champions for life’.
I am not sure these ideas need to be mutually exclusive. After all, striving to do as best as we possibly can is an atavistic survival technique that harks back to the days of ‘eat or be eaten’. However, we can create an environment that values how we look after ourselves and others. As we move into Mental Health Awareness Week across the Prep and Senior schools, I hope everyone, students and staff alike, will be open-minded and try the experiences on offer each day. By stopping, reflecting, listening to others we add another layer of ‘success’ to our lives: successful relationships, community and, most importantly, looking after ourselves.
With this in mind I will be reminding staff of our 7 to 7 email policy. Emergencies and safeguarding aside, there is no expectation for staff to respond to emails between 7pm and 7am. Many will choose to do so for personal and contextual reasons but I am keen to move away from the belief in many schools that success means working all hours.
So what did success and silver linings look like when I finally passed my driving test? Helping three out of our four children through their own tests without hanging onto the handbrake with white knuckles as my mother did with me.
Mrs Kate Reynolds