“I think that when we know…”

“I think that when we know that we actually do live in uncertainty; then we ought to admit it; it is of great value to realize that we do no know the answers to different questions. This attitude of mind – this attitude of uncertainty – is vital to the scientist, and it is this attitude of mind which the student must first acquire.”

Richard P Feynman

The modern world isn’t terribly good at uncertainty. We as a species have often seen ourselves as the measure of all things, the solvers, the knowers. Progress is regularly seen as a march of progress, we are always going forward, going faster and getting better. Both the start of term and the COVID pandemic are moments in all of this certainty when we, like Feynman, realise that we don’t have all of the answers.

At the start of a new term and particularly if it is a new school then many things are uncertain. Simply finding your way around presents challenges, this year made all the more difficult by a new one-way system. You are never quite sure where you need to be and when, you might not know exactly what is expected of you. Happily, if my less than scientific observations are true, then those who were new a couple of weeks ago now seem comfortably at home.

In class I hope that as pupils grow in confidence they will begin to relish uncertainty. Without a feeling of not knowing there can be little chance of experiencing the thrill of discovery, the satisfaction of understanding something new. If our pupils came knowing everything then there would be little point in spending each day in our school by the Seine. A truly worthwhile school experience is one that allows pupils to ask why and then affords them the opportunity to find out the answers.

What will happen this year, no-one really knows. Studies will be interrupted, we may see year groups sent home, we could even be placed in lockdown once more. Some activities will be restricted or curtailed. I hope that we can find ways to work around and take a different approach rather than simply cancel, I suspect our pupils will come up with some original ideas to overcome the challenges that they face. Staff are working hard to ensure that whilst different the experience of school is still rewarding and fulfilling.

In the coming weeks it is highly likely that our approach will change. Some activities will continue, others will take a different form. Some pupils will be asked to remain at home and isolate, there is an outside chance that we may be asked to close our doors once again. In the midst of this upheaval I am sure our pupils will ensure that they make the most of every opportunity and all classroom experiences. Perhaps this is a year when we give ourselves to uncertainty, we use each moment to its fullest extent, and we seize every opportunity to learn.

Nicholas Hammond