The new year traditionally brings its round of well-intentioned resolutions. I am sure we have all resolved many great things over the years and this is much to be commended. Analysing our own strengths and weaknesses then resolving to build on the former and eliminate the latter (so far as is humanly possible) is a worthwhile process, and the start of a new year provides a good opportunity to do that. Trying to keep those resolutions is itself an excellent discipline; even if we manage to get no further than the first shoots of spring, we have at least tried to achieve a goal set for ourselves. Even better if our resolutions look beyond ourselves. Something requiring as little effort as resolving to pass a genuine compliment to at least one person a day can have a major impact not only on those around us, but also on our own mental health, well-being and self-worth.
School principals and grime are not an obvious match – but a willingness to try something new has brought a small pleasure which I would not otherwise have enjoyed
However, as 2018 begins, I was prompted to think about change in a broader context than specific resolutions and to reflect on the benefits of trying something new. The impetus for this was an unlikely one. Over the holidays I found myself listening to and enjoying a piece of music by Stormzy. I found his live version of Blinded by Your Grace not only an excellent song, but also an uplifting spiritual message – I would recommend it on both counts. I certainly cannot say I have become a fan of all of Stormzy’s music – school principals and grime are not an obvious match – but a willingness to try something new has brought a small pleasure which I would not otherwise have enjoyed.
I suppose there are a number of reasons why we might not try new things. One is simple prejudice – I have to confess to that being at the heart of my feeling about ‘grime’ music in general. Another, perhaps, is that we tend to be afraid that we might not be able to do something and so we stick to what we know and have done before. This is especially topical as we enter the season of school entrance examinations and as our senior pupils in school reflect on the UCAS offers which are currently appearing in their inboxes. For both groups change is inevitable, but it is something to promote excitement rather than fear. Thinking along these lines in advance of start of term assemblies prompted me to look at others’ thoughts on the value of change. Neil Gaimon, for example, tackled the possible fear of failure head on in his journal on 31 December 2011:’I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.’
Not only does Gaimon highlight the way in which fear of failure really can hold us back, he also encapsulates the excitement that change can bring. Klaus Schwab, a German engineer and economist and founder of the World Economic Forum, further underlines the point:’Change can be frightening, and the temptation is often to resist it. But change almost always provides opportunities – to learn new things, to rethink tired processes, and to improve the way we work.’
And of course, change can come in various forms: it need not mean a wholesale change of institution or a move away from the familiar – it may be no more than exploring avenues we have previously ignored by a showing a willingness to try something new. Schools offer a myriad of opportunities to try new things out and I have long held that the worst two words any pupil can say at the end of their school career are ‘if only’. The American academic Louis Boone expands the point: ‘Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.’
We can look to educate young people who are willing to accept and relish change and to try things that may at first seem alien to them
As schools, part of our role and mission is to foster a sense of intellectual curiosity in our students. We both teach established bodies of knowledge and also look to inspire in our pupils a desire to develop that knowledge further by their own work and study. In doing so, they too will bring about change in the wider world and society. We cannot know what that change will be, not least as the pace of change seems ever more dizzying – take the development of information technology over the course of my lifetime alone. We can, however, look to educate young people who are willing to accept and relish change and to try things that may at first seem alien to them. After all, if a principal can listen to Stormzy…