Headmaster’s Headlines

Headmaster’s Headlines

8th May, 2018

First, we congratulated Ben on his birthday.

John F. Kennedy once said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Well, last week I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Annual London Conference, at which we spent the whole day on the topic of artificial intelligence. It is going to be fascinating watching real artificial intelligence have an impact on learning and teaching in the future! One of the first speakers was Sir Anthony Seldon, who was the Headmaster at Brighton College, then Master of Wellington College and in “retirement” he is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham. He has also written numerous, numerous books on British prime ministers and I particularly enjoyed one of his books entitled Beyond Happiness. His most recent book is entitled The Fourth Education Revolution, how artificial intelligence is changing the face of education. But what was fascinating was that he started his session in front of 400 Heads, requesting silence. He reminded us that at Wellington College, Berkshire, every meeting of pupils and staff, and indeed parents, starts with a few moments of silence. And last year I really enjoyed visiting Bootham School, York, a Quaker school – at which I learned about the concept of the Quaker meeting. “We first gather together in silence to quiet our minds. In the stillness we open our hearts and lives in new insights and guidance.”
So, we experimented with this idea and at our staff briefing meeting on Monday morning, and indeed, with the whole School on Tuesday morning. I then moved, paradoxically, to a few moments of Slip Slidin’ Away by those legends, Simon and Garfunkel. I particularly like this version! But I posed the question to the School, “Do we wish to be perceived as slip-sliding away and not caring?” This was the prelude to go over several aspects of appearance as in hair; shirts out; badly tied ties; wrong coloured charcoal grey trousers; wrong jackets; attire on the way to School by day pupils; shoes; incorrect PE kit; and jewellery. I moved on to manners and the importance of always standing up in classes to visitors; holding doors open; not going through doors first; and two of my bête noires, spitting and chewing gum; remembering the School’s mobile phone policy which acknowledges the wonderful impact of technology at its best, yet how we remain a school which looks up; and finally the importance of engaging with visitors.
Some would say that we are a rather old-fashioned school as we always look at appearance and manners. As I said to the School, it is not the question of looking right, it is a question of doing the right thing.
I then moved on to spend a little time on leadership. Leadership is not reserved for those in the Upper Sixth. It is not reserved for those in the Lower Sixth who for most of the year are known as Lower Sixth helpers. It is beholden upon all of us to try and learn aspects of leadership and to bear in mind that each one of us has the capacity to lead. It is beholden upon all of us (pupils and staff, of course!) to try and learn.
So I started with some simple thoughts, some of which I delivered to the Lower Sixth recently and based on an incredible presentation I heard as long ago as 2003 by the now retired Headmaster of The King’s School, Parramatta, Australia, Dr Tim Hawkes. Some examples of the hard bits of leadership:-
* Dealing with difficult people
* Developing Emotional Intelligence
* Recognising the Sacredness of the Individual (It is the lot of the leader to “love the unlovely”.)
* Moving away from the herd by Disassociation, Discouragement and Distraction
* Noticing institutional evil (lack of a culture of care; culture of abuse by senior students; a culture of “not dobbing” and the existence of a “code of silence” amongst students; lack of an acceptable mechanism by which bullying can be reported and dealt with; existence of waring cultural groups within the school; a hard, unfeeling, competitive culture; lack of tolerance for the student who is different)
* Knowing the difference between good and bad silence
* Knowing the difference between management and leadership

In conclusion, we need to recognise that the definition of a leader has changed over the years and each one of us must continue to adopt the leadership style which is appropriate.
Dr Hawkes produced this amazing paradox of the old style of leadership, the heroic, versus the new style of leadership, the post heroic.

(Heroic) (Post Heroic)
One person has the solutions The team has the solutions
Accent on individualism Accent on collaboration
The leader is empowered The team is empowered
The leader is at the top of the organisational pyramid The leader is at the centre of collaborative group
Autocratic Democratic
Hierarchical Flatter with more people at the same level
The leader is more of a dictator The leader is more a facilitator
The leader creates a sense of dependency The leader creates a sense of empowerment
More mechanical and impersonal More relational and personal
The leader is served The leader serves others
The leader values conformity The leader values diversity
The end matters more than the means by which it is achieved The means by which objectives are met are also important

It is a style that involves washing other people’s feet, of being a servant leader.
And then, when I was in London, I was tipped off by another Head to look at aspects of Rebels at Work. You can look up this concept yourself here.

Merchiston Bad Rebels vs Good RebelsThe differences between bad rebels and good rebels, and the very simple table makes the points. I guess in many ways, the differences between heroic and post-heroic leadership, bad rebels and good rebels have the same message.
And to conclude on this section, I spent some time on what is it that makes a good leader a truly great one? It’s well-known that traditional qualities such as intelligence, determination, toughness and a clear vision that is right for the times are essential. But author Daniel Goleman, in his 1998 article for the Harvard Business Review, (and I urged everyone in the Memorial Hall to look at this incredible publication) argues that although these assets are necessary, they are insufficient. Here we go again, for exceptional leaders must also possess what he called “emotional intelligence”, or EQ, a skill comprised of five factors.
The first is motivation, passion to achieve goals that are more important to us than status or material gain. When we are highly motivated, we refuse to give up, remaining determined and optimistic.
Self-awareness is second. This is a recognition of our strengths and weaknesses, needs and desires, and the effect we have on others.
Third is self-regulation, the ability to control or redirect any disruptive mood or impulses we have so we can continue to work towards our goals effectively. Self-regulators know how to wait, to allow emotions to settle so we can think before we act.
Social skill is the fourth quality, the ability to communicate clearly, to persuade others to join our cause, to identify common ground and manage relationships so those around us, work with us.
Finally, and probably the most important, a great leader must possess empathy. This is the ability to understand the emotions, needs and desires of others, seeing things from their viewpoint, to have compassion for, to know the unspoken feelings of others.
So to conclude, I urged the members of the School to give some thought to the differences between heroic and post-heroic leadership, and bad and good rebels, and the five factors of “emotional intelligence” oriented leadership.

Merchiston Old and new TriumvirateFirst, it was most appropriate and apt that we congratulated the Triumvirate for next year; Jamie (Captain of School); Chris (Head of Chalmers West and Vice-Captain of School) and Matthew (Head of Laidlaw South and Vice-Captain of School).
I also thank Oliver, Rufus and Calum for their leadership this year, and of course, whilst they also concentrate on their public examinations, their good work, and indeed the good work of all of the present Upper Sixth Student Leaders is not yet finished! But we begin the handing over of the baton!

Merchiston FraserMoving to academic subjects and the Biology Olympiad. The Biology Olympiad is set annually by the Royal Society of Biology. It is an online secure test taken in the computer rooms comprising 90 very tough university undergraduate standard questions. Over 7800 Year 12 and 13 students (our Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth) took part in the British Biology Olympiad 2018. So we congratulated two pupils who achieved very good scores, Fraser, Silver (in the top 10.7% of 7800 students) and Benjamin, who is only in the Lower Sixth, so will challenge himself again next year, was commended for being in the top 18.5% of students.

Merchiston Biology Challenge pupils

With regards to the Biology Challenge, 40,000 Year 9 and 10 students took part in the Royal Society of Biology’s Biology Challenge in 2018. So, Mr King, our Head of Biology, helped me congratulate the pupils in Shell who achieved a Commended, Highly Commended, Bronze, Silver or Gold award.

Thomas           Silver
Neil                  Silver
Freddie            Bronze
Lachlan            Bronze
Ben                  Highly commended
John                Highly commended
Adam               Commended

Merchiston Thomas and DanielSecondly, in the academic part of the School, the UKMT Intermediate Maths Olympiad and Kangaroo. Two pupils, Daniel and Thomas, did extremely well in the Intermediate Maths Olympiad achieving a Distinction and a Merit, respectively. The aim of the competition is to provide encouragement and stimulation to mathematically able young people. Dr Steen helped me to congratulate Daniel and Thomas.

Moving to sport, in cricket, the 1XI won against Loretto and Glenalmond. Tom picked up his third successive T20 half century in a mature knock of 50 against Loretto. In the match against Glenalmond, Thomas was the key performer with the bat, scoring 80 off just 61 balls. Then it was the developing players, Max and 1XI debutant, Michael who picked up 4 wickets a piece to complete a 47 run victory. Thomas continued his fine form over weekend leave, scoring his maiden century for The Grange 3XI against Hawick. The U15As, U15Bs, U14As and U14Bs all won against Loretto. The U11As and U11Bs won against Craigclowan. In tennis, the 2VI won against Loretto and lost against Fettes.

Merchiston Parlauf relay teamIn athletics, it was the first of our three trips to Pitreavie stadium this summer. In the relay competition, the U15s won their 4x100m with a time of 51.07s and a Silver in their 4x400m. The U17s got a Silver in their 4x100m with a time of 48.2s. The O17s gained a Silver in their 4x400m with a time of 3.51s The final event of the day was the 2k parlauf which saw Rory, Harry and Connor with a gold winning performance. There was a nail biting finish from Rory who managed to maintain our lead as Strathallan pushed him all way at the finish line. Many congratulations to Rory, Harry and Connor.

The U14 and U15 athletics teams lost against Stewarts Melville College, 134-127. The U14s drew 64-64 and the U15s lost 70-61. Well done to all the pupils who competed in a very competitive match.

Many members of staff help me with Headmaster’s Assembly and trying to ensure that this is an inclusive, all-encompassing meeting of the whole School, and Mr McCann, our Director of Sports, spends time writing the review of the sport each week. He always endeavours to give a comprehensive review of all the achievements of the pupils. However, Mr McCann himself scored 123 not out to secure a win for Carlton Cricket Club against Watsonians at the weekend. As I said to the School, there is no better way to inspire young people than leading by example and I venture to suggest that so many of the practitioners at Merchiston endeavour to do this in so many different fields within and outwith the classroom, let alone outwith the school.

Incidentally, Mr McCann is a capped full Ireland Internationalist for cricket and it is apt that he is being invited back to Ireland this weekend to be part of the celebrations of Ireland playing its first Test Match against Pakistan.

First, I really do hope that one and all enjoyed some time of rest over our weekend leave and that each and every single pupil is Ready Ay Ready for the second quarter of this first half of term. External examinations are well under way and interesting aspects for the School such as Food Awareness Week finished yesterday, and our Bag a Book Week draws to a close. The pupils in Pringle Centre enjoyed a Games morning with the girls from St George’s.
We have a Summer Pipe Band Concert later in the week with J4 and J5 pupils performing music and poetry in the Pringle Centre. This weekend sees the first of the Pringle Camping weekends, and I am very grateful to Mr Harkins and Mrs Weaving for taking the pupils on this trip. On Saturday evening the Fundraising Dinner for the South Africa Rugby Tour takes place in town. It is important to note that any fundraising function in Merchiston also looks beyond our castle walls, and fundraising will be happening for a charity in South Africa, let alone Doddie Weir’s Charity. But, the highlight must be the glorious weather we have had for a few days now. On this beautiful campus, it creates joy and light when we have such wonderful weather! With hindsight, it was quite a tough winter and spring, but these extremes show the splendour of the campus of this School, Merchiston, Edinburgh, and of course, having a 100+ acres within touching distance of such a cosmopolitan, cultural, university and capital city helps us so much. I am told that there is a phrase that describes Edinburgh as an “attack brand”. That phrase reads somewhat awkwardly but it makes its point. How fortunate we all are on this campus!

Merchiston campus 2Merchiston cricketersMerchiston campus 1

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