Building the Ark before the flood

Floods are probably nature’s way of telling us that despite how much we think we control the environment we really are puny.  Whilst our current local flood gives us pause for thought, there are many places in the world that have to deal with far greater natural challenges.  From the window of my study I have watched the water levels rising over the past few weeks and I suspect that I will be watching the levels rise still further over the coming hours.  Apparently the river flow will peak some time tomorrow.  Should we face higher levels next week we may well have to look at modifying our routines; we’ll let you know.
The river is a learning opportunity and it has been great to see students paying closer attention to it. It is a part of our surroundings that we quite often take for granted.  Now, because it is a little different it is interesting.  We are, it seems, pre-progammed to be bewitched by things that are out of the ordinary or new. Novelty captivates and keeps us engaged.  In education it is common for new ideas to engulf us; the latest new trend, the latest great theory can dominate (and this is sometimes a good thing).  But just as the water in front of the school will subside, many educational ideas loose their sheen and fall away.  So what really remains once the flood subsides?  What are the ideas that will stand the test of time and carve out a permanent channel?  Our school values give a clear indication of what it is we seek to develop in our young people.
One area of life that has been in something of a flood in recent years is, of course the massive growth of social media.  I read George Soros’ comments at the Davos Summit with interest this week.  It is easy to be swept along by his rather pessimistic analysis of the world he sees however I was struck by his comment:
“Mankind’s (sic) ability to harness the forces of nature, both for constructive and destructive purposes, continues to grow while our ability to govern ourselves properly fluctuates, and it is now at a low ebb.”
Later in the essay he speculates that Facebook will have run out of people to convert in three years.  We will all be on that platform and as such will all be subject to one particular flow of information.  I hope that at the BSP we are in a position to develop thinkers who can wonder at the power of a movement’s flow but know when they should stand on the bank and be prudent rather than throwing themselves in. New political imperatives and slogans will appear; we require a generation who can exercise the necessary judgement to think critically about the consequences of what is being suggested.
If we can learn anything from looking at our river it might be this.  There will be times when the river threatens and there will be longer times when it is placid.  The key is to understand the dangers that lurk beneath the surface or the consequences of being engulfed. 
I hope that you have the chance to see the Seine in spate this weekend, it is indeed a spectacle.  If you do, please go carefully.  
Nicholas Hammond

Ici Londres

This week I gave an assembly in virtual form. The Headmaster beamed into every classroom. Such are the approaches that have to be taken when faced with a major building project in the middle of the school. I’d been given the challenge of speaking meaningfully about The International Day of the Mother Tongue, an excellent UNESCO initiative. My conclusion was that we are right to maintain all the languages that we can, as long as we use them for constructive purposes.
Schools are places where we spend a good deal of time in the business of communication.  Teachers communicate in the classroom, students communicate with each other (often on multiple platforms) and about once a week we communicate with parents through this newsletter so ably produced by our own school Communications Department.
Communication is a risky business.  It can all too often go wrong.  As Headmaster I would say that the majority of the disciplinary issues that I deal with have at their core mis-communication.  Hurtful things are written and read.  I’m not sure all of these comments are actually meant, often they pass under the banner of “banter” (a way of excusing just about anything).  Our young people face a challenge when handling the powerful devices of communication they control.   We could insist that they are put away and in the case of mobile ‘phones we do, but through the iPad we open an even wider range of communication opportunities. One only has to consider the issues that some political leaders have with social media to perhaps appreciate why our students might go wrong.
At the end of the week I had the great privilege to attend the Anglo-French Summit reception at the Victoria & Albert Museum with some of our older students and two teaching colleagues.  A chance to meet with the political communicators of our age.  Earlier in the day we visited Carlton Gardens where de Gaulle penned his ever resonant “À tous les Français”.  Thereafter we dropped in at the Cabinet War Rooms, the spot from which Winston Churchill mobilized the English Language in defence of Britain. We reflected on how many of his speeches we remember today.  Our encounters yesterday evening enabled us to listen first hand to both President Macron and Prime Minister May talking warmly about the strong bonds that exist between Britain and France.  Reassuring words at a time of uncertainty and whilst I’m not sure that either of the speeches that we heard  will be remembered as those of de Gaulle or Churchill, it was certainly positive to hear that both governments envisage a future in which co-operation, shared culture and common heritage is vital.  Curiously this message has been lost amidst the reporting of Mr. Johnson’s bridge.  Perhaps another example of a well-timed comment made in the correct ear drowning out other messages.
Our young people study in an environment in which they have the opportunity to hear many voices and myriad perspectives.  As they grow to be the leaders of the future I hope that they will consider, with due caution, the power of the words they have at their command.  Our aim as adults should be to teach them to use their language to build hope and understanding.  To adapt one of Churchill’s lesser known quotations:
“We are all worms.  But I do believe they can be glow-worms.”
Nicholas Hammond

Back to January again

“I think in terms of the day’s resolutions not the years’ ”  Henry Moore
In some places plates are smashed, elsewhere it is all about wearing the correct colour of underwear and in one Peruvian village there are ceremonial fights.  Suffice to say there are many different ways of celebrating the coming of a New Year.  Traditionally it is a time for making new resolutions or undertaking new projects, I’m sure that all in our community have adopted new resolutions.  But what of the school? What should we be resolving to do, what will we seek to improve?  What have we to look forward to?  As a community of educators we set ourselves an ambitious target, to meet the needs of all the young people in our care.  We aren’t the parents but we acknowledge that we have a significant role in the development, both intellectual and social, of our students.  We have to support and challenge, we need to be ready to impose discipline and support in appropriate measures.  Lots of one and hopefully little of the other. We aim to make the learning that occurs here a source of enjoyment; we try to celebrate success as often as we can.  I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with some Year 10 achievers earlier this week.
A New Year also provides us with a fine opportunity to consider what we can look forward to.  Before we know where we are it will be the fantastic BSPS Burns Supper, in February we have the Senior School production and March heralds Around the World Day.    With the coming of spring and with it April the temperature warms and the Junior School will benefit from its new air conditioning system, we will find ourselves in the season of Spring Concerts and Geography walks!   May brings both public holidays and the anticipation of Duke of Edinburgh adventures and LAMDA performances.   By the time June is upon us we are well into the season of public exams and expeditions then the summer holidays beckon. By September we will be benefitting from our new multi-purpose hall on the Senior School site.  We have much to look forward to!
Along the way there will be a few challenges and many more successes, in that respect 2018 will be just another year, but we won’t forget that every year in the life of a young person is a vital building block of their character.  We are as adults privileged to be part of this moulding process be we parents or educators.
Nicholas Hammond