Welcome back – I hope that you had a good holiday and were able to catch up with friends and family and to rest, relax, and rejuvenate. Last term was a very full and busy one and, by any measure, a success. It was our best-ever sporting term with a significant number of our teams winning their leagues. These accomplishments have done much to strengthen school spirit and pride: there is nothing like being a member of a winning team. Our Model United Nations team travelled to Athens to participate in a regional event. In these events each team has to present and defend or oppose a motion that is currently being discussed at the UN. The process teaches the students extraordinary public speaking, debating and critical thinking skills and they return with a wider international perspective and global-mindedness. Thank you to Dolores Allison and Gemelyn Paolo for leading the team.
Yesterday we hosted the opening ceremony of our Primary Mindfulness & Well Being Room. We were very pleased to have as our honoured guests, the Minister of Happiness, her Excellency Ohood Al Roumi and KHDA chairman, Dr Abdulla Al Karam. Ros Marshall, Taaleem CEO, together with Maggie Wright, Director of Education and Performance and Clive Pierrepont, Director of Communications, joined us for the event. Thanks to Rola Ghadban (one of our Grade 2 teachers) and her team of student and parent volunteers who made the bold idea a reality. It is the first of its kind in the UAE. The room is place where children can find a pool of tranquility in a busy school, somewhere to slow down, pause and focus. In my opening address I shared some thoughts on the balance that we need to fight for in schools and education. Here is a summary of what I had to say:
Good schools should be counter-cultural. We live in an era where ruthless competitiveness is the mantra of business ethics, and where the pursuit of one’s personal pleasure and gain is apparently the purpose of business and leisure. The media brings us daily reports of greed, violence and self-seeking. Schools need to be different; places where courtesy is important, where playing fair and respect for the rules and the referee are central, and where we care for one another. In a world where trust and respect are scarce commodities, schools need to be places where children, teachers and parents trust one another. They ought to be old-fashioned, where we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and where decisions are made on values. In a world motivated by profit, we need to teach our children to work hard in order to enjoy the inner feeling of satisfaction that comes from doing well in a test or mastering a musical instrument. The best rewards are intrinsic and not monetary. One of the IB Learner Profile attributes is that we seek to teach our children to be principled. Our children need to see the adults in their lives modelling principled behaviour: children learn from the example that we set rather than the words we say. They must learn to make good choices not because it makes us look good or will benefit us but because it is the right thing to do. That makes parenting and teaching an enormous responsibility: everything we do and say is being watched by impressionable young people. Fortunately they are forgiving.
For schools this creates a paradox: on the one hand we need to be conservative and traditional in the values we espouse and on the other to be up to date and innovative in our teaching and use of technology. I believe that the two do not stand in opposition to one another, but rather that the latter is meaningless without the former. Listen in to the conversation in most school playgrounds and you will hear many discussions about ethics: ‘it’s my soccer ball and you can’t play with it’, ‘oh yes I can, the field belongs to the school’, ‘hey, you’re sitting on my bench’. If we can teach our children to engage with such issues on the basis of principle and fairness rather than ‘might is right’, then we have given them the tools and skills to be people of character. If we have forged strong character and taught sound values then we have given our children an education that will last a lifetime.