“If you don’t know where you are going…”

“If you don’t know where you are going any road will get you there.”

Lewis Carroll

Earlier this week I was asked what job I wanted when I was a school pupil. The answer (for anyone interested) was a veterinarian, I later modified this to museum curator (preferably one of the big ones with lots of different departments). Clearly plans changed from all creatures great and small and I chose to study archaeology. As it turned out I am neither a vet nor a curator. This is the time of year when our older pupils start to receive offers from universities, what was theoretical last term is becoming all the more real now. Progress along the road of life is not necessarily linear or predictable, some will be delighted with the success of their applications but in an ever more competitive world others will take a knock or two before they find their way. A few may be left wondering what might have been. If previous years are anything to go by most will end up on a path that they find both exciting and fulfilling.

Mr. Potter did some valuable research for me regarding career aspirations in Reception. It turns out that babysitter; racing car driver; fast jet pilot; snowman; rock star; builder and mummy; superhero; motorcycle racer; ballerina, daddy; artist; policeman, and vet are the careers of choice for some of our younger pupils. I wonder what, after fourteen or so years of education, they will consider. Judging by their energy, the sky is most definitely the limit although I do worry about the longevity and career prospects for snowmen.

Amanda Gorman recites her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath of office on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)

If we are to believe social media, there are lots of very capable and popular people doing glamorous and exciting things each day. The truth is often more prosaic but there is little doubt that pressure to be seen to succeed is more and more prevalent than ever. The public version of lives lived receives a rather different form of curation than I ever envisaged in the late 1980s. I don’t generally follow many people on social media but one channel that I have looked at recently is that of US Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman. I’m not quite sure how I would advise pupils how to be a poet, who combines high level intellectual endeavour and a career as a top model, but she has managed it and inspirationally positive about the possibilities of life. The beauty of this is that I don’t have to try and explain how to do all of these things, the answer is there explained in her magnificent words. She is also very candid about her mother’s reaction to her declaration in response to the question; what do you want to be? I’m not sure her mother predicted quite the success that she has earned.

Current events may well lead some of our pupils to consider careers in medicine or public service. Others will grasp all that is offered by new technology or academia and we will have our share of creatives. I hope that we will see the growth of a courageous generation who are well equipped to meet the challenge of what is to come, certainly we as a school community look forward to both challenging and supporting our young people to grow and to flourish. In Amanda Gorman they have a role model who perhaps offers something more than the usual social media celebrities.

Nicholas Hammond



“When you look at the dark side…”

“When you look at the dark side, careful you must be. For the dark side looks back.”


Ever since my Latin teacher introduced the closely related rhetorical devices the antimetabole and the chiasmus I’ve had them confused. Initially we were taught about Socrates’ “eat to live, not live to eat” and once you have seen one, you’ll see them everywhere (for the rhetoric enthusiasts that one is an antimetabole). Arguably the most famous antimetabole uttered appeared in a Presidential inaugural address, JFK’s memorable “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. That other rhetorician president, Barack Obama used them too but not in either of his inaugural speeches. Imagine my delight when I spotted one in President Biden’s speech on Wednesday. And it was a cracker… “Let us not lead by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.” See, I told you it was a good one.

Whilst President Biden’s words at first gave me a degree of satisfaction (nothing better than a nice rhetorical flourish), upon reflection they have made me think carefully about my example (soul searching – less enjoyable). Related to this was another story in the news this week. Whilst it wasn’t as prominent as the inauguration, a report was published by academics from Oxford and Birmingham Universities regarding teenage moods. It seems that adolescent moods are contagious and bad moods appear to be more potent. Teenagers, in particular, see their moods become more like those they spend time with. Therefore, perhaps more than ever, we need to consider student well-being and take teenage sulks a little more seriously than we are sometimes wont to do. Bad moods can spread. I am not a teenager, but as an adult who has contact with young people, I do think I have something of a responsibility to set an example when it comes to addressing mental health. I’ve written before saying that we are fortunate in that we are not yet confining; our young people can still study and meet together. They can take exercise and enjoy some time out of doors. We should count our blessings but while looking on the bright side we should acknowledge that there is well founded anxiety too. So, I’ve decided to stop “doom scrolling”, the compulsion that I have to keep checking the infection figures and predicting new and ever more apocalyptic scenarios. If I’m going to lead by the power of my example, then I’ve got to treat the information rationally and carefully. When I am asked if we are going to lock down, I will say we may well be, but I know that my colleagues are ready to deliver remote school and ensure that we continue to learn, to see things with greater clarity and develop our skills despite the challenge. This isn’t blind optimism or empty words, it is knowledge based on hard evidence, a reason for us to feel confident and positive. That must be a mood lifter. As a community we have a responsibility to each other to remain positive and to look for the good in this situation. If we don’t, then we’ll all feel the worse for it. Scientists tell us it is true, so true it must be.

If you choose to use the antimetabole or its close relative the chiasmus it makes you sound just a little like Yoda, and he under-stood that we need to be careful when we choose to look negatively rather than positively.

Nicholas Hammond



Control the controllables

Having grown up in the UK, my picture of January is of short wet days and long dark nights. As a consequence, I’ve never really thought too highly of New Year’s Resolutions having to be made at a time when we (I’m assuming that you feel the same way) are all at something of a low ebb. I suppose it is different in Australia where sunny optimism would find a warm and glowing home. I will have to check with our Antipodean community. This year it is perhaps difficult or perhaps even a little dangerous to look too far ahead.

The Stockdale Paradox was made popular by a number of business writers in the early 2000s and was based on the reminiscences of James Stockdale who spent many years in a prisoner of war camp. Stockdale explained that when faced with a difficult situation hope can be a dangerous thing. He counselled that “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

This year has seen its fair share of awfulness already and there is the small matter of COVID. On Monday morning a young man lost his life in a bicycle accident on one of the roads around our school, we have pupils who are missing school due to COVID and are unwell, there is uncertainty over exams, and we have to accept the possibility that there will be a further lockdown. We can’t do what we want to, activities are curtailed, travel is limited, and our horizons are being drawn in. Many people are concerned about what the rest of the year will bring and rightly so, for we have been warned that there is likely to be more to endure before we see the back of this particular challenge.

I suspect that I’ve written before of my interest in the wisdom of the ancients. Once upon a time I thought I was a Stoic, I’m less sure of that now but we might well be wise to consider what Epictetus wrote of the process of well, getting on with getting on: “What, then, is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens.”

Epictetus – Greek Stoic Philosopher

Translated into the language of the everyday I think that what both William Stockdale and Epictetus are saying is: wear your bicycle helmet when riding to school; drive carefully and slowly near school; make the best use of each day that you have with both your friends and those who teach you; wear your mask for the good of the community as well as yourself, wash your hands and take time to appreciate what we have rather than what we are missing.

“Stuff” will undoubtedly occur this term. Some of it will be expected, some will be welcome, and some will be a right pain. We can’t afford to slip into the January blues of which I wrote, we should look to celebrate each day that we have at school remembering that many do not have this enormous privilege of education. Taking time to do the basics (however boring) might mean that we will enjoy this for longer. That is, perhaps, something to look forward to.

Nicholas Hammond