Senior Headmaster’s Blog: Reflecting and learning as we go

I was fortunate in my early years of teaching to get one piece of advice that was very helpful to me as a teacher, and one piece of advice that was very helpful to me as a parent (although it also has some relevance to my current role as well). Both pieces of advice came from the same person, someone who had coached me on the rugby field, both at school, and later at club level, and was then a colleague when I was first teaching.

The first piece of advice was that it was always better not to take things too personally. If something felt personal, it probably wasn't, and even if it was, it was much better to respond as if it wasn't. Back when I was running a boarding house, that advice was very useful to me on many occasions, when pupils got grumpy about something in the house, or something in their lives, and felt that their Housemaster was the right person to take it out on. I did wonder whether, during the Trump v Biden debate earlier this week, either participant would be beaten down by what felt very personal attacks, but I am sure that they would not be where they are without thick skins. Sometimes change feels very personal, and the current circumstance can make us anxious that things are happening to us as an individual, but by supporting one another, we can get back onto an even keel, and when the issue is depersonalised, we are able to be more rational.

The second piece of advice was that it is far better to hold your hands up and take responsibility for what you have done wrong, than to try to pass the blame, and excuse yourself. This started on the rugby pitch, when I had a habit of finding others to blame for my many errors. As he pointed out to me, it is easy not to take the blame, but that way you will never improve, because you think that you are already doing it as well as you can.

This advice also applied to my teaching career, when I have made many mistakes (and continue to do so most days), and I know that my instinct, like many of us, is to give reasons for those mistakes, to be defensive and to explain them away. That creates a culture that will not improve. Instead, we need to recognise our mistakes, so that we can get better. So, rather than argue that it isn't your fault that your prep is not done, find a way to make sure that it is done next time. If we are in trouble for not behaving in the right way, don't find others to blame, but see how you can improve. After all, we are responsible for our own behaviour, and how we respond to challenge will define us, so it is best that we start learning that skill as soon as possible, because it might take many years to perfect!

I hope that you have a good week, and we should all keep on reflecting and learning as we go.

Chris Townsend