A leader is best when people barely know
he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will
say: we did it ourselves. Lao Tsu
I had the opportunity, last week, to speak at a youth conference of 250 prep school children. I was very privileged to be sharing the stage with Steve Chalke MBE, founder of the Oasis charity and Stop the Traffik. He put a very simple question to the young people present: “Who are you and who are you becoming?”
It is a very challenging question for any of us as adults, let alone the children for whom we care. Yet our role as educators – parents, carers or teachers – compels us to support young people as they grow up into the speed, frenzy and apparent uncertainty of the world around us. And that support is about ensuring the experiences they have develop skills and values of tolerance, respect and good manners, to become, as Steve Chalke put it, “the very best version of yourself.” We want our children – I want my own children – to become happy, valuable and productive members of society and the best way to know that you are becoming the best version of yourself, is to experience the pleasure of helping others; to have the chance to organise and lead and work with your peers so that others will benefit.
We had our first school council meeting this week. Newly voted in, all 12 plus Max & Charlie – appointed senior pupils – came to my office to discuss how the Council will work and how it should operate. A very solid list of principles was drawn up and, perhaps the most exciting, was the idea, unprompted by me, that they must only focus on a few things at a time so “we can deliver!” (Max’s words). If we can start like this; if the Council’s understanding about purpose and focus is a guiding principle then I know we are going to have a very successful year. They are a motivated group already and with the development of their skills and understanding, they will be more able to respond to Steve Chalke’s question. Furthermore, they will be able to give their peers the opportunity to respond too.
I heard about some coffee shops, including Starbucks I believe, enabling customers to leave “suspended coffees”. I didn’t realise, until now, that there was a greater history to this charitable act of buying an extra coffee and leaving it “suspended” until someone else otherwise unknown – in greater need – comes to claim it. Simple, effective, Italian!
This news has emerged across the media today….
…it is something to be concerned about.
In the work that I am undertaking with colleagues across IAPS, we are establishing what it means to educate children towards being more socially responsible. In this post, the children in my Year 6 class, clearly indicated where their focus is when asked: What is Social Responsibility? And, interestingly, this is on the care and appreciation of the needs of others.
I feel that an effective Education for Social Responsibility will capture this focus and enable children to experience the world around them in all its varied forms. The outcome will be that this desire to “care” is translated into all that they encounter. This includes, and arguably most importantly, the natural world and its threatened biodiversity.
It’s a fabulous quotation: “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” It has the sense of an underlying educational law, as compelling as Newton’s laws of motion. It’s routinely attributed to the 2007 McKinsey Report, How the world’s best performing education systems come out on top.
But if you dig into that report, you’ll find a footnote acknowledging that the quotation came from a senior government official in South Korea: yet another illustration of the old adage that a management consultant is someone who steals your watch and then tells you the time.
What is Education for? We would all (I hope) subscribe to the idea that schools, schooling, education and/or learning are most concerned with the development social, emotional and intellectual skills, preparing young people for the world they will face outside school, during and after formal education. It is a given that we all exist in fragile times. Economically, politically and especially environmentally, we can no longer ignore the ecological context of our interconnected world. We must, therefore, do what we can, with the skills and knowledge that we have in our particular spheres of influence, to play our part. In school leadership, this means, for me, recognising the future for the children in our care. And from this point we can develop learning opportunities, communities and the management of our own resources.
As a school leader we have to balance the needs of the many constituents for whom our schools are an integral part of life. Each has different needs; each needs something different from you. Our children’s needs are paramount, yet, as independent schools, they are only in our care because their parents subscribe to the usp of your school. You are only in post because the governors believe in your competences. And the staff team turn up to work because (you hope) they believe in the school’s direction and purpose. How do you balance all this out and still work for a future that will be more fair, equitable and safe for our children?
Purpose is at the core of the work of a leader and our purpose is driven by what we know is right and authentic about the needs of the people and the planet now and into the future.