Fundamental truths

I had so many inspiring meetings in the States, at the National Coalition of Girls’ School’s Global Forum which brought together Heads, leaders and teachers in girls’ education from 22 different countries and 156 schools. It was genuinely moving to watch delegates from as far flung as Iran and Israel and Tanzania stand as they were introduced in the opening ceremony and it was a privilege indeed to share a platform with other GSA and GDST British Heads and hear from luminaries like, the Icelandic presidential candidate Halla Tomasdottir, the writer Azar Nafisi and (one of my ‘she-roes’) Billie Jean King.

It a powerful reminder of the value of keeping our pupils and our staff culturally adventurous, getting out there, bursting the bubblewrap of our cossetted lives by making connections and sharing ideas with people from very different places and lives.

I suspect many ideas and blogs will swim out of the experience I had last week in Washington, but here are some of my immediate observations. As my wonderful Head of PSHEE, Hannah McSherry and I swung down the vast corridors of the Mariott Hotel, (one had to work hard to not feel one was in The Shining at times) I could not help reflecting on the two faces of Washington presented to us.

Leaders from across the world convened in Washington DC to build the best possible educational future for girls; while down the road the Republican administration were exposed in abhorrent mismanagement of immigrant children. The responsibility for all of us, as well-resourced and resourceful educators, to do what we can to diminish the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children feels acute.

Secondly, and oddly, not entirely unconnected… Amid much bleak observation about the state of society and how we can prepare young women for a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world (VUCA in US military terms) one message about joy rang out for me.

I met a clown from Pasadena – I kid you not. He was a remarkable English teacher, who uses clowning techniques at the start of lessons to get his pupils out of a comfortable, unquestioning space into an open, agile and alert state of mind. He wears a wooden red nose around his neck, and applies it when the mood or situation demands it. He made me laugh. He makes his pupils laugh. He uses the power of that laughter. He was rather extraordinary.

I hope that our pupils ‘take themselves seriously and hold themselves lightly at the same time’. How essential it is to keep the fun, the incredible joy of this profession, of our lives and of our learning. That is not to say it is always easy and we all have to rest on the disappointment mat at times (#probablythenextblog?), but surely one of the most creative questions ever asked is ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if…?.’ Holding onto the creativity, the comedy and the fun of learning is one of the most valuable things we can teach.

Jenny Brown, Headmistress, St Albans High School for Girls

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