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What really, REALLY matters? Tim Baylis, July 2018

06th August 2018

Being invited to speak at a Prize Giving is without doubt a contradictory mixture of humbling delight, unexpected honour and petrifying minefield. Where on Earth do you start? How do you even begin to make the presentation ‘inclusive’? Rather like drafting a best man speech, the potential for getting it horribly, if not offensively wrong is considerable – and of course these days eternally so given the likelihood that some joker films and posts it on TubeFace for The Donald to re-tweet …

Just contemplate for a moment the challenge of occupying – let alone engaging and inspiring – a captive, restless audience ranging from nine-year-olds to nonagenarians and you’ll appreciate my concerns. I can already anticipate crawling up the embankment following the rail crash.  

What’s worse is that everyone will be primed with different preconceptions and expectations. We’ve all been in such an audience before – we’ve delighted in the inspirational, dozed through the soporific and squirmed through the verbal equivalent of Uncle Kevin’s air guitar at a wake.

If there are ingredients and/or rules for such a challenge, I have to admit complete ignorance. I suspect they’re out there – somewhere – and probably sanctimoniously finger-wagging about the perils of opinion, bias, self-aggrandisement, name-dropping and cliché. But in truth, to reach for a play-safe rule-book is just not me. I can only be who I am, try my best and learn from the experience – arguably not so bad advice for by far the most important in the audience – the assembled pupils who’ve achieved so much, so admirably, this year.

So what will it be? Should there be props for Years Five and Six – still credulous and perhaps even wide-eyed? Of course – but inevitably guilt too in that meeting their wonder and expectancy is beyond me. (I have recently learned a magic trick, but must be excused because it would only work close-up with a small group.) Will merciless self-deprecation be appropriate for Years Seven and Eight? Probably – and certainly safer than dad-dancing in a gold spandex leotard! But what about Years Nine, Ten and Eleven? Arguably nothing short of spontaneous combustion is going to rouse them, so … Tough. Get over it and know that a working lifetime of health and safety seminars is going to be far worse!

And what do I attempt for the parents – trying so, SO hard to get it right? Would it be patronizing to assume any desperation for pearls of wisdom on exam anxiety, social media gaffes and how to get Billy, Milly and Tilly off their ruddy ‘phones?

As for the teachers and trustees … They’re a tough lot and frankly IMPOSSIBLE to please, let alone impress.

And what if I offend anyone?

Should I ‘do a Bayliss’ – and go off on one about:

  • the perils of expectation
  • the nonsense of entitlement
  • the extraordinary truth that money is far, far less important than discovering not just who, but what you love – that real contentment lies in excelling in what you really, REALLY want to do… what motivates … what excites … what gives meaning …?

So should I play safe, hit the quotations book, and trawl through Google for worthy and amusing anecdotes about vacuous ‘celebrities’ and/or the achievements of some inspiring personality?

Or should I simply trot out some worthy platitudes on:

  • triumph, tragedy and legacy
  • the roller-coaster of life
  • the rewards of endeavour and giving something back …. ?

Hmmmmmn …? Perhaps I’m expected to articulate a PC, postmodernist, socio-political treatise on the commodification of humanity, threat to identity and corrosiveness of capitalism as pertaining to evolving trends in the gig economy? Ugh. NO.

Well – you know what – I’m just going to remind everyone of a simple, useful message – like the importance of being honest with ourselves – acknowledging our idiocies, failings, frailties … of just being who we are. After all – if we’re decent, giving, true to ourselves, do our best and someone doesn’t like it – or me – or you – then who has the problem?

And so for everyone – What really, REALLY matters?

The answer is quite simply the thoughtful moments that make a memorable difference day on day – their incalculable value for both the recipient, and you, the giver. In short, the spontaneous gesture, the unexpected gift, the unprompted kindness, the smile, the “Thank you”.

We’re all blessed in having people to care for, and people who care for us. We all have far too much ‘stuff’, always want more and are, on occasions, truly horrid. And yet – just think of your most treasured possessions. They may have cost little, could appear worthless to anyone else, and yet are truly priceless. My beautiful tiger cowrie shell is not just valued as the spontaneous gift from my best friend at school, but as a constant reminder of the anecdote about a teacher in East Africa who was given a beautiful shell from a pupil and only realized afterwards the enormity of its significance. The rare shell could only have come from a beach 10 km away. The kid had no shoes. The gift wasn’t the shell – it was the walk to find it.

And so there we have it – give a little of yourself every day, and you’ll truly gain so, so much more.

But I won’t finish without a couple of thoughts specifically for all you parents, staff, trustees and everyone associated with Heathfield Knoll. My admiration is unconditional. You collectively work so tirelessly, care so much and repeatedly go that extra mile. And why? To ensure the essential – that, without exception, every unique, exciting, frustrating, surprising, talented pupil has every opportunity to realize their extraordinary potential, achieve their dreams, and enjoy every chance to give their all and make the world the better place. That’s quite a responsibility – but what a magical raison d’être! 

(And no, before someone delivers the coup de grâce, I won’t forget that compulsory School Speech Day chestnut … “Be nice to your kids – they’ll eventually choose your nursing home.”)

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Christmas Thoughts

04th January 2018

School is sometimes a strange place during any holiday period - whilst frequently very busy with scheduled works, the school is simply not the same without the children.

The winter term officially ended on Friday 15th December with the service at Wolverley church. This is always a special afternoon of spirituality and celebration. The children left with much festive cheer and into the arms and warm cars of their parents. The pupils will return to school on January 8th with many stories of the visit of Father Christmas, family festivities and time spent with loved ones.

In contrast, Age UK say that 873,000 people will have little or no contact with others on Christmas Day; the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates around 20% of the UK population is living in poverty. Jack Monroe, the popular food writer and activist once described Christmas as “a festival of all the things we couldn’t have … Adverts on telly show families spending loads of money and you’re just bombarded with it everywhere you go –  this faux festivity and cheer.’

Whilst perhaps an overused cliché, Heathfield Knoll School community is there for each other, and not just at Christmas but always - and the latest results of the pupil and staff wellbeing surveys support this. And whilst the school may currently feel rather empty, I know that the space will again be filled with the warmth of friendships when staff and pupils return in the new term.

A belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

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Are you tired?

14th December 2017

Are you tired? Are you reading this with a feeling that an extra few minutes (or longer) of sleep would have really helped this morning? Sleep deprivation is not ‘cool’ - despite the late night tweets of the US President, staying up late and then getting up next morning for work or school is not good for your health. Just how harmful sleeplessness can be is now only just beginning to emerge. Put simply, if you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, then the chances are that you didn’t have enough sleep the night before. Sleep deprivation is the term used for individuals who have 6 or less hours sleep. At this level, aside from the physiological impacts of sleep deprivation there are long-term negative consequences on our learning.

Research estimates that over 60% of British pupils are sleep deprived - and this figure worsens into teenage years (to the point whereby FE Colleges are beginning to trial late morning starts and later finishes to accommodate the sleep patterns of this age group).  Pupils who have longer and ‘quality’ sleep are statistically likely to achieve higher marks at school. Conversely, pupils who are sleep deprived are likely to be emotionally more volatile and disruptive. Studies are currently underway to try and quantify just how much learning is lost through sleeplessness. The impact on learning is not just on the individual but on others in the class whose learning is negatively affected by those suffering from sleep deprivation.

We are all guilty of not preparing for a good night’s sleep. Do please consider limiting screen time ahead of bedtime, avoid sugary drinks and allow your body to relax (reading a book is always good). Physical activity during the day is also important - even a short daily stretch outside is important for our wellbeing. And if proof were needed of the dangers of working late or sleep deprivation, then read the aforementioned tweets of Donald Trump, sent early in the hours of the morning….

 

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