It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part. A fine sentiment but not exactly a sentiment that is universally accepted. In some situations, and for some people winning is the aim, it is all that matters, and it can be acceptable to approach challenge in this way but just not very often. As a community we regularly consider the role of competition in the school environment. Most of the time we are keen to harness its motivating power, take for example the weekly Junior School ritual of announcing the house points total. Those with most enjoy the feeling of having won and those who are not wearing the victor’s laurel crown are encouraged to commit to the winning of more valuable house points during the next week. Sometimes there is a good deal of satisfaction in coming second, our rugby 7s squad can feel very proud of the recent silver medal in the Paris tournament, losing by two points in the final seconds was a blow, but it does little to diminish the fact that they only lost one match and played superbly.
When winning is the only point in playing the game or taking part in the competition then problems emerge. I’m certain that Josephine in Year 12 will be delighted in having come first in the COBIS Art competition and rightly so, it is a magnificent achievement. I suspect that she would have been just as pleased with her submission had it not taken the top honours – the fact it has is not only a bonus but fair recognition of her significant talent. I once worked at a school that enjoyed an unbeaten rugby season, what impressed me the most about that was a comment made by the all-conquering captain which was something along the lines of, we need to find some tougher fixtures. Even when winning we should seek answers to important questions. I’d be worried if we only ever competed because we knew that we were going to win and I’d be equally concerned if we approached competition without a will to win.
That we can’t win all the time is a valuable lesson in itself. Perhaps we should say that it is not simply the taking part that is important but the spirit with which we compete. Surely this competition thing is all about trying to do the best that is possible? Whether it is pitting ourselves against a times table test or shooting the crucial match winning goal, young people learn an awful lot about themselves when they test themselves. They learn when they win, and they also learn when they don’t. This week I was lucky enough to have cake with a group of Year 11 pupils who had excelled in their mock exams, I didn’t get the sense from them that they were going to sit back having gained the accolades, I was pleased to sense their interest in doing still better next time. In schools winning can take many forms but it is the race within ourselves, the competition to get the most from ourselves that we must seek to fulfil. If that is the case, then the taking part is important.
“The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and must therefore be treated with great caution.”
J. K. Rowling
When the sky is clear and the temperature hovers just above freezing and the sun shines, there can be few more idyllic places to study than on the banks of the Seine. This week we have been treated to crisp mornings with frosty grass and warm afternoons with clear blue skies. It is weeks such as these that often lead us to look inward rather than outward, to be tempted to confine our vision to all that is going on within the school and it is at times like these that the intrusion of the real world can seem all the more stark and uncompromising. Our thoughts are with the populations of Turkey and Syria who face the destruction caused by earthquake this week. It comes as no surprise that our community has already swung into action and collections have begun, I am sure that they will be supported. Our thoughts are with those in our community who are directly affected by this tragedy.
A far more welcome intrusion of the world beyond our fence came in the shape of a number of visiting speakers. It is always good to welcome members of our community and friends of the school to come in and share their thoughts and experiences. Year 3 recently learned about volcanoes and disaster management from Dr. Engel, whilst Year 5 learned about the fashion industry from Mr. Lindsay, a past parent, while the whole Junior School learned about the work of charity La Chaîne de l’Espoir from Mr. Boulte.
The Senior School was equally fortunate to have a distinguished panel of speakers for Year 11’s careers PSHE session, a thank you to Ms. Asa, Mrs. Gagnon and Mr. Potter who were able to provide such a valuable insight into what might lie ahead from a careers perspective. Years 10, 12 and 13 listened to Melissa Bell, CNN’s Paris correspondent who described her experiences as a battlefield correspondent, reporting on natural disasters and interviewing those who have important thoughts to share. Alongside this was the advice that reading voraciously was always time well spent, continuing to study languages would lead to success and to follow academic curiosity for its own sake. At the heart of Ms. Bell’s lecture was the idea that truth should be at the core of what we do. Truth should be sought, those who seek to manipulate it for their own ends should be challenged and a truthfulness to self will lead to a more fulfilling life. I know that many were inspired.
Tomorrow our Community Shop will open, there will be rugby and basketball fixtures, and life for us will continue. For some outside our gates, away from this peaceful spot on the river bank, the truth will be somewhat harsher. It is reassuring to know that those who will eventually leave us will take with them an understanding of what needs to be done to improve life for many beyond the gates of the BSP. This wouldn’t happen without the help of others, so thank you to all who have inspired us this week.
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
If you had told me at the start of this week that I would be a witness to multiple deep space astronaut rescue missions, I would not have believed you. It has been a funny old week. At a time when we are looking at the application of AI technology it has been refreshing, this week, to be witnessing initiative, problem solving and clear thinking of a more human nature. That’s not to say that we haven’t been blending our traditional approaches with more technologically advanced approaches. You may have seen evidence on our social media feeds of the Year 4 dragon, programmed to flap wings. Years 5-8 have all been in coding workshops led by the RAF STEM team building robots and programming them to perform complex manoeuvres including a challenging rescue mission. This was learning by doing, it built resilience and encouraged initiative.
Watching Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 pupils discover through challenge is always interesting. The combination of Lego and computer processors is always going to capture imaginations, but I was delighted to see how our own young engineers were able to work together to come up with solutions to the problems that they were set. There is much to be learned by occasionally coming off timetable to delve deeper into a challenge. Similarly, it is always good to be reminded that behind the vast majority of technological innovations there are the very human qualities of collaboration, resilience and creative thinking. For digital natives it is perhaps a useful reminder that the digital power we wield today is the product of human ingenuity, it didn’t simply arrive here fully formed.
Older pupils have been enjoying working under a slightly warmer sun this week as they engage with all important geography fieldwork in Girona, a chance to put classroom theory into more practical action. They will be processing their results in the weeks to come and they will have to apply what they’ve learned in Spain later this year in the exam hall. In many cases having the chance to engage with the subject in a non-classroom environment provides new perspectives and ideas about the subjects that have been learned in the classroom. Be that with ranging pole in hand or sending a robot into space it all makes a profound impact.
Alongside all of this personal challenge and development it was great to have the first school time opening of the School’s thrift shop. It is good to see pupils aided by both staff and parents creating such a professionally appointed space from which good will be generated. Whilst we should and do strive for excellence in all that we do it is nothing unless it is infused with integrity and a concern for others. This is blended learning at its very best.