Headmaster’s Headlines

Headmaster’s Headlines

7th February, 2018

It was marvellous to welcome Mr Lynn, the founding Head of Merchiston Castle International School, Shenzhen, to experience our Headmaster’s Assembly this week. We covered a huge amount of material: listening to Radio 4’s Prayer for the Day, which was led by Alison Murdoch, a Tibetan Buddhist; going through once again my words on bouncebackability; let alone listening to Brodan and Max speaking to us all on Safer Internet Day. It is well known that students listen more to each other than to members of staff! And of course, with half term looming, I gave the School a timely reminder of “What IS half term for?” Before I leave you to read the entry, I have one highlight from last week.

Merchiston Burns supper 2018
The contrasts within Merchiston, and often in the same building, are wondrous. So, on Saturday night, many of us had the pleasure and privilege of attending our annual Burns Supper.
I loved the way we were greeted at the School by members of the School who made us feel so much at home as we embarked upon the evening. I have so many top 100 moments of being the Headmaster of this School, but listening to the Pipe Band in the Memorial Hall is definitely right up there! I marvel at the wit and intelligence of speakers at such a function, like Chris Gray, Laura Stewart and our own Chaplain Rev Blair. And of course, thank you to so many for attending this event. We spend a lot of time concentrating on the importance of the relationship between Merchiston and the home of every young man attending Merchiston. I know that not everybody can attend our functions, but we also think of you. Then on Sunday morning, Barbara and I, alongside all the boarders and other members of staff, were back in the Memorial Hall for our Chapel Service at 10.30am. The pupils voted for this change! The ceremony, drama, glamour and pageantry of the previous night was replaced with a peacefulness. We had the Chaplain of Fettes College, Rev Dr Tony Clark, speaking to us. He took as his theme, “What it meant to be human”, and came up with a truly cross cultural reflection, challenging perhaps a perceived western individualism. His talk concentrated on the assertion that we truly know what it is to be human when we come into community relationship with others. Rev Clark illustrated this with this video, which contains the word ‘Ubuntu’ – a southern African philosophy that a person is only a person through other people. And that’s a mantra we are always endeavouring to live at Merchiston. Enjoy the video and Ubuntu is explained so clearly in this short clip!

Headmaster’s Message
As you know, I have some interesting habits! One of them is listening to Radio 4’s News Briefing of a morning at 5.30am to 5.45am. These 15 minutes give a very crisp summary of the world news, a summary of what’s in the press, business, sport, and it always finishes with a moment of reflection. A speaker is usually on Prayer for the Day for a week, so one builds up an understanding of the person’s approach. And I am fascinated by the fact that speakers represent a diverse and wide range of opinions. So the speaker at the moment is Alison Murdoch, a Tibetan Buddhist. Saturday morning’s talk made me smile! Please follow the link to have a listen.

Now you’ve heard me speak so often about this topic, and Alison Murdoch spoke about it so much better! What happens if you fall short; you come second; you feel as if you have failed? Well, that’s when we have to remember to bounce back to bounce forwards! Bouncebackability gives us resilience so we can keep going when we have knock-backs and disappointments. One has to do the following and go through the “Bouncebackability Anchor Points”:

Merchiston anchor points humbleFirst up, my first anchor point is always: When we do well, or we come second, how do we react and behave?





Merchsiton anchor points betterNumber 2: What did the other person do better than me or my team in this instance?






Merchsiton anchor points less wellNumber 3: What did I do less well than the other person or that team?






Merchiston anchor points learningNumber 4: What am I learning from this?






Merchsiton anchor 5Finally, number 5: What am I going to take forwards from this experience for the next time when I or my team, come second?




There are some new approaches to this topic of bouncebackability, and one of them is called ‘building resilience’. I recently read Mr Tim Wilbur indicating that putting it simply, he believes teaching young people to be resilient is only the start; we need to teach them to not only conquer whatever they are troubled by, but also, on some occasions, to carry the battle back. Read Mr Wilbur’s article here.

resilience v antifragileTim Wilbur recommends to all of us (and I have read it) Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book ‘Antifragility’ which was first published in 2012. Taleb states in this his third book that resilience simply is not enough. Taleb’s point, Tim Wilbur writes, is that the opposite of ‘fragile’ is not ‘resilient’, it is ‘antifragile’, and hence the title of the book.

He states “Antifragility is beyond resilience and robustness. The resilient resist shocks and stay the same; the antifragile get better.” In Taleb’s words, “We don’t just want to survive uncertainty to just about make it. We want to survive uncertainty, and, in addition, have the last word.” So Tim Wilbur indicates that looking beyond ‘repair’ is so important in offering sustained support to all of you in real terms.

antifragilityIt’s not about the concept of creating the superhuman. But it is about creating a level playing field so that you can live, if you choose, ‘ordinary lives’ free from interference and harm. And we must not put unfair pressure on you to exceed expectations that are simply unattainable. But rather, like the Tibetan Buddhist said to us in Prayer for the Day, let’s all of us share our successes with the countless others who are not finding it so easy.

safer internet day


Safer Internet Day
Tuesday 6 February was Safer Internet Day, and it was wonderful to hear two of our Fifth Form pupils, Brodan and Max, do a presentation to the School. Their speech was a great example of ‘antifragility’ in action, for they not only spoke about how to protect yourself on the internet, but also how to make the most of this technology. I have replicated their words here:

“Good Morning, Max and I will be talking about your personal online security as part of Safer Internet Day. I personally will be talking about the practical aspects of keeping yourself safe online.
I am fully aware of the bombardment of information hurled at you constantly about this area, as I have sat through much of it, but hopefully this will be a welcome break in the monotony of being told that the internet is a scary place full of evil and destruction, for I do not believe that. The internet is a wondrous world of discovery and intrigue. You could in fact say that about Reddit alone, but as a whole, the internet is like our world. There are different places, different people and different challenges wherever you go, but hopefully, as we are people who have grown up in this world like you, we can offer some advice on the subject from a standpoint similar to yours.
To start with, I will talk about walls, not putting bricks in the wall but putting fire on it, firewalls.
Firewalls are a wondrous construction of computation, they take in every little packet of information attempting to enter your computer and compare it to a list of known-to-be-dangerous packets, filtering out the known offenders. Much like a bouncer at a night club has a list of people not allowed in – firewalls work along much of the same lines.
Having said this, it should be quite obvious why you need a firewall: it is your front line of defence against the online world, and much like a front door, it is probably a good idea to have one installed with a nice hefty lock.
And to end, here are a couple of personal recommendations about which firewall to install: Comodo Firewall, the only firewall the CIA couldn’t get through; and Glass wire, a good all-round defender with lots of flexibility.”

“I wanted to show you how easy it can be for strangers to find out a lot of information about you, and how to prevent that.
I started an experiment on a good friend of mine to find as much information as possible. This is illegal, but as I have her permission, it is legal to do so. She didn’t know when I was going to start and how I was going to do this, so she wasn’t really prepared to do anything against it.
First of all, as you can see, I’m Maximilian, and I was born in April 2002 and live in Austria. But in the Internet, you don’t see the other person, like you see me now. So I can easily be someone else, like in this example, the woman Manuela Manst, who is 33 years old and was born in October 1984 and lives In Germany. But it is impossible for you to say if this information is true, because you can’t see me.
With this fake identity, I created an Instagram account and requested to follow my friend.
Then she made the mistake to allow a person, of whom she never had heard in her life, to view and do anything with her pictures. As she linked her Facebook profile to her Instagram account, I was able to find her profile easily. And as she is following her parents on Facebook, I could find out everything about them. For example, the company they work for, the location of the company, which university they went to and a lot of other information, which I shouldn’t have.
But as my friend mentioned her Snapchat account in her Instagram account, I could add her as a friend on Snapchat as well. She added me, and so allowed me to see her location. With that tool I could find out where she lives and as she mentioned her school on her Facebook account, I could reconstruct her daily way to school via Google maps.
Overall, I found her place of residence, her school, 53 pictures of her, which can never be deleted, a lot of information about her and even more about her parents. I managed to find her way to school and I am able to track her at any time and I just worked efficiently for 25 minutes. And now think about what other people might do with this information. But again, it is illegal to do this, as long as you don’t have the permission of the other person.
Lastly, I want to tell you how to avoid this. First of all you should never use your full name as a username, because you are too easy to find. You should set your profile on private mode so you can decide who can see your pictures, and you should only let people follow you, who you know. You shouldn’t mention other accounts or your parents because this makes it easier to trace back. And lastly, you should deactivate your location services for Snapchat, because everyone is able to track your location at any time.”Merchiston Max and Brodan


Merchiston StuartCongratulations
The Senior Kangaroo paper is one of the follow-on rounds to the Senior Challenge. Over 6,000 candidates in the UK, who have not qualified for the Olympiad, are invited to take part in the Kangaroo.
In this competition, the top 25% of scorers receive a Certificate of Merit. Many congratulations to Stuart for achieving a Merit. Dr Steen joined me on Tuesday morning to congratulate him.

Sports Roundup
There were a number of hockey fixtures last week. The 1XI defeated Fettes College 3XI, and the U14As defeated ESMS B Team and lost to Fettes College B Team. The U13A and B XIs lost to Cargilfield, and the U15 team drew with Loretto in the semi-final of the Scottish School’s plate competition, but lost on penalty flicks. This was reported to me as being a wonderful game of hockey and was a reflection of how this game is growing at Merchiston.
In rugby, the U16As defeated Barker College, Argentina and in swimming, the U10s came fourth in the Compass Swim Gala and in a whole school swimming fixture, we lost out to Stewart’s Melville College. Finally, the U18 squash team lost to Fettes and the 1XI football team lost to Heriots.

The half term break starts on Friday afternoon, and at Headmaster’s Assembly I took the opportunity to speak to the School about “What IS Half Term for?” I am indebted to Mr Backhouse, the Principal of Berkhamsted School, formerly the Headmaster of Monkton Combe, for this was originally his blog. I worked with Mr Backhouse when we were both at Bradfield College, Berkshire. I urge you to read his blog, but, essentially, Mr Backhouse says that there are three things that half term is definitely for, and three things which half term sometimes seems to be, implicitly or explicitly, which it is not. At Headmaster’s Assembly, I concentrated on the three things that half term is for:

  1. Part of the rhythm of learning – active learning (cognitive skills) followed by reflective learning (metacognition)
  2. Settling and sorting of memories and skills
  3. Self-directed learning

With regards to number 3, I suggested to the School that they follow Mr Backhouse’s advice. During half term, every pupil should make sure that they:

  • read a book;
  • read a newspaper;
  • listen to a whole news bulletin;
  • spend half an hour thinking about one of their school topics – not doing anything, but thinking.

I totally agree that rest is undervalued in many quarters, yet it is a precious part of life. Indeed, it could be said that an important part of developing ‘antifragility’ is to take time out, have a rest and take some breathing space. So I urged the School to find the balance of activity and reflection during their half term break, and of course, to represent the values of themselves, their family and their school to the highest level.

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