I’m glad I didn’t read Philip Collins’s excellent article on conference speeches until after Open Morning: it would have put me off. Not that Open Days are anything like party conferences, of course, but there is something deceptively tricky about trying, as a Head, to summarise a school in half an hour’s talk to some hundreds of prospective parents. Thank you, therefore, to all those who visited us on Saturday, for your enthusiasm and appreciation, and thank you to those who spoke alongside me: Guy and Ashwin, both senior prefects, and Sam, Max and Josh. And to Jerry for piano playing as well as Marian, upstaging all of us with ease as he played the superb ‘Czardas’ three times, with increasing daring and obvious delight.
Good, though, to be able to put some of my early impressions into words. A member of staff had used the word ‘uplifting’ to me at the start of term, and with all the overtones of support, reaching high, performing beyond what you thought possible, it seemed a good word to use in my talk to parents on Open Morning. But I didn’t want – and never do want – just to descend into abstracts: support, excellence, potential … how, I always think we should ask, do you support?
In some obvious ways, is one answer: spending time with boys, knowing them as people. And challenging them (which is actually part of support, in my book). On Wednesday, Mr Yeo and I had a happy hour wandering round classes during which we saw some Thirds being challenged in a TP lesson to discuss whether Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion. That’s a hard question. But hard questions, not box-fill answers, is what we should be about. Good students like that.
One thing all those who know Whitgift better than I agree on (and by the way so do I): attitude is all. Approach anything with interest, positive desire and respectful confidence, and a mountain becomes a conquerable challenge. Nobel Prize nominee Nhat Nanh says in his book about fear that no-one can give you that uplifting energy. I partly disagree: by modelling and practising challenge and respectful confidence, a great school can help you gain it. And that is what we are about trying to build at Whitgift.
Oh and by the way, the Science explosions were great too!