End of Year Reflection
At the end of each year I deliver a prize-giving speech. It is a great chance for reflection and to deliver some key thoughts about what we should be focussing on in the future. I have printed most of the speech below.
The fundamental highlight is the tone and culture of the school year. The boys have been excellent and most have achieved personal bests. The staff has given their all to support the boys. Our long awaited school hall/gym/Chapel is well underway. However bricks and mortar and wonderful facilities do not make a high performing school. In May we had the Education Review Office spend three days with us assessing how Wellesley stood up to their well-honed national benchmark criteria for schools and we were delighted with their critique.
Not long after receiving the ERO review I attended the annual Independent Schools’ conference where I heard two speakers that made me reflect on our ERO assessment.
We often talk to the boys about personal bests, and the habits of resilience, perseverance, and controlling our impulsivity. One of the speakers spoke about the importance of building up the ‘grit’ factor in children. I like that word ‘grit’! It’s a small word but it packs a punch and says a lot. The Outward Bound founder, Kurt Hahn’s quote of ‘we are all better than we know’ is so true!
Author Jocelyn Glei wrote an interesting article arguing ‘grit is more important than talent’! (The Future of Self-Improvement, Part1: Grit Is More Important Than Talent) She recounts that, “In the late ’60s, Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel performed a now-iconic experiment called the Marshmallow Test, which analyzed the ability of four year olds to exhibit “delayed gratification.” Each child was brought into the room and sat down at a table with a delicious treat on it (maybe a marshmallow, maybe a donut). The scientists told the children that they could have a treat now, or, if they waited 15 minutes, they could have two treats.
All of the children wanted to wait. (Who doesn’t want more treats?) But many couldn’t. After just a few minutes or less, their resolve would break down and they would eat the marshmallow. But some children were better at delaying gratification: They were able to hold out for the full 15 minutes.
When the researchers subsequently checked in on these same children in high school, it turned out that those with more self-control — that is, those who held out for 15 minutes — were better behaved, less prone to addiction, and scored higher on the SAT.”
The children who were able to hang out and not succumb to the temptation used all sorts of strategies to deflect their temptation such as singing to themselves or covering their eyes. To use the vernacular, ‘they guts’d it out’ anyway they could so they could have the bigger prize at the end.
Since time began, we’ve all known that talent will only get you so far. The old Aesop’s fable of the hare and the tortoise is an often told story that powerfully sums up all this up. The hare knew he could win the race in a canter and chose to have a bit of a lie down on the way. Meanwhile the gritty and steady determination of the tortoise saw her win the race.
It has been found through research that there is a strong link between grit and a growth mindset. Those people who have a more optimistic view of the world have a tendency to sustain effort towards their goals. (True Grit-Association for Psychological Science by Angela Lee Duckworth and Lauren Eskreis-Winkler)
Having ‘true grit’ is only part of the story. As the saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Dr Tony Fernando is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer in psychiatry at the University of Auckland. He also spoke at the conference I referred to earlier. He works with many of the top students that come out of secondary school. He told us most of them are keen learners, energetic, enthusiastic, reliable and driven to do well and what else could a teacher ask for? However despite being gifted intellectually and a willingness to work hard, a fair number of Dr Fernando’s students suffer from depression, anxiety, perfectionism, drug abuse, a lack of self-compassion and generally are not happy. They have the grit but not the balance! He effectively argued that you can work hard but if you can’t take some joy from it and view your life through a more positive lens then life can be tough.
Dr Fernando talked about ‘Mindfulness’ and the importance of optimism.
He described mindfulness as a state of active, open attention on the present. When you are being mindful you are actively living in the moment and not allowing life to pass you by as you are distracted by negative thoughts, worries or things that need to be done. (I could learn a lot by this advice) It’s finding time in our busy world to have some ‘stillness and silence’ to bring us back to our calm essence. It’s about dealing with life’s conflicts and challenges in a calm manner, avoiding habitual responses when life doesn’t go our way. It’s about perspective and the acknowledgement of the simple pleasures of life including laughter. It’s about being a compassionate person to yourself and to others. And it is definitely about being non-judgemental, kind, optimistic and being grateful.
This concept of gratitude was particularly promoted and Dr Fernando encouraged all his students to keep a gratitude diary where each day they would find 5-10 minutes quiet time to write down things they were happy or grateful for. He said the discipline of this can be powerful in training our minds to be positive. It’s akin to saying prayers of gratitude that some families practice each evening. Even saying grace before a meal makes us stop and be grateful. ‘For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly grateful’ Now your Lord may be different from my Lord but that doesn’t matter, we are stopping to be grateful.
I was taken by these two themes of grit and mindfulness as they are important ‘work in progress’ aspects of Wellesley but yet we have not labelled them as such. There is a culture at Wellesley where it is cool to learn and to do your personal best. The culture is strong and the tide carries it in. Of course, individuals can wax and wane and after considerable effort and commitment, the occasional boy will ‘slip and slide’ but the big picture is extremely positive.
When we read the ERO report we were delighted to see commentary that supported everything we are trying to achieve with the boys. In summary the report said there is a climate at Wellesley whereby boys are nurtured to be resilient and self-motivated learners and that the modelling of respect, loyalty and integrity by students and staff is highly apparent.
The report praised the school for providing ‘high quality teaching’ and for having ‘high expectations for learning and behaviour’. That Wellesley’s ‘vision is to promote intellectual curiosity and creativity’.
That Wellesley is future focused and the team work in close partnership to promote continuous improvement. Special mention was made of the very evident learning community and the high priority given to professional learning.
Wellesley is in very good heart and we believe that we have a good weighting of grit and mindfulness to ensure it goes into its second century in excellent shape.
I want to thank all our staff, teaching and non-teaching for working together to create an environment where it is not good enough to lean on the past but strive for continuous improvement.