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22 February 2021

The Monday Briefing: Across the Universe

The Monday Briefing: Across the Universe

A bitterly cold, snowy winter. A new US President inaugurated. A pervading notion around the world of the fragility of human life. In many ways, 2021 echoes 1961. Substitute Biden for Kennedy and the Coronavirus for the Cold War, and those who say that history repeats itself may feel vindicated. As a well known song of the sixties correctly prophesied, ‘the times, they are a changin’, and that sense of inevitability seems as true now as it was then, particularly in education.

Then, JFK’s inauguration address ushered in a new era. Widely praised as one of the greatest ever: meticulously planned; expertly executed; an explicit example of the concept of Kairos.

Now, revisiting the speech sixty years later as a Principal is timely. The enforced separation of teacher and student over the last year could easily have turned into something resembling an educational Cold War, where mistrust festered behind a turned off camera; where any submitted work was viewed with suspicion of plagiarism; where previously ebullient communication slowed to a minimum. Granted, Mutually Assured Destruction may never have been a threat between the two parties, but the planning for a process of ‘detente’ and enhanced relations following the virus is necessary: a review of our processes in the education sector is inescapable. 

With early indications of a successful widespread vaccination programme, the elusive feeling of hope for a brighter future is beginning to emerge. Obviously, the nation is not out of the woods yet, but we seem to have found our bearings, identified the right means of escape and are now carefully plotting our course to a path of progress. It is, however, incumbent for leaders in education to question whether there may be a better path ahead than the one traditionally most travelled. The key determining factor in everything we do must be for the students under our care. Going the extra mile should no longer be considered extra.

Many of Kennedy’s visionary statements in his Presidential acceptance speech offered a blueprint for the future, and it is at this time, perhaps more than ever, that adopting his idealism would not be misplaced. Recognising that Coronavirus has altered the playing field and accepting that we must adapt to prosper is fundamental to creating the grounds for positive change. At Ealing Independent College, we’ll continue to utilise many of his words as inspiration:

“The torch has been passed to a new generation”

We must find as many ways as possible to encourage our student body to become leaders, comfortable in taking responsibility and not shrinking from duty. They are navigating their way, during their formative years, through a uniquely challenging period, emboldened to face an uncertain future. Our student council vehemently pushed for funding to make change earlier in the year, and, when it was granted, delivered on it - redecorating the interior of the building whilst supporting several charities. Our College magazine - Distinct - emerged from the lockdown, typifying a passionate group of student contributors - and I’m excited to see how they will exercise their voice as passionately in future. 

“United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do. Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belabouring those problems which divide us...Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”

The intimate nature at Ealing, with small classes and an abundance of opportunities for one-to-one guidance encourages a strong sense of trust, and, as staff, that must be at the forefront of everything we do: shared goals, shared learning experiences, shared resilience and transparency when engaging with problems and a shared sense of fulfilment when we succeed. As part of Bellevue Education, we have readily accessible partnerships where expertise can easily be shared, broadening our dedication to collaboration.

“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors.”

Every student at the College is welcomed as an individual - valued for their own beliefs, but tolerant of those of others. We work quickly to identify the strengths and areas for development of everyone here, and ensure support is in place for those who need it. The sense of community, and an understanding that if one student is struggling, then we all have a duty to assist, is key to our success. The evolution of the remote learning platform here has enabled students to collaborate amongst themselves, forming their own study groups and revision hubs. We’ve extended this by creating the EIC Hub, with freely available resources for students learning outside the College. We understand that many schools and colleges work under far less favourable circumstances than we do.

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

We are defined by our legacy, and when I walk the corridors of the College, adorned with photographs of students, both past and current, it inspires me when I reflect on their impact here. I’ve taken great pleasure in reconnecting with a number of former students in our AZoomni series too - and they have been able to impart priceless wisdom on those apprehensive about following in their footsteps through the series.

To paraphrase another of Kennedy’s famous speeches, ‘we choose to go to the moon...not because it is easy but because it is hard.’ Initially envisaging such a mission as a partnership between the US and the Soviet Union, it seemed outlandish to even consider such an aim on several grounds: of being able to work collaboratively with a sworn enemy; of dealing with the cost of such an expedition; of getting somewhere so seemingly intangible.

In a similar vein, goals which seemed impossible before the pandemic should be strived for now. Only with the highest levels of ambition, commitment and a pioneering spirit can supposed frontiers be surpassed. On a micro level, I am fully engaged in ensuring that the College which I lead is a measurably better place as my tenure progresses: more engaging; more supportive; more inspiring. Moving to the macro, as an educator, I’m of the belief that we must use this pandemic as a prompt to recalibrate our goals for the sector as a whole, investing in this generation the skills to successfully strive for a better future. Robust relationships, between students and staff, must be at the heart of that.

Kennedy’s vision was realised within a decade - we should hold ourselves to the same standards.

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