Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 5th may 2017
I spent the early part of this week at a conference for the Heads of schools with choral foundations. It’s always an interesting gathering, with delegates drawn from both prep and senior schools, united by our common (and often ancient) origins. As with most good conferences, the mixture of speakers and informal exchange of views with those doing similar jobs elsewhere was highly energising: it’s good to reflect upon where we’re ahead of the game and where we can develop our provision further. One of the speakers spoke most interestingly about habit and habitual actions, concepts which would have been entirely familiar to our medieval founder who emphasised the virtue in a regular, repeated round of services still inherent in our chorister schedule today. But the notion of doing something habitually has become derided in subsequent centuries, such that the French writer Marcel Proust once commented that habit is ‘a heavy curtain which conceals us from the whole universe and prevents us from knowing ourselves.’ And yet in school and at home, do we not often talk of promoting good habits in our children? As our speaker reminded us, we would do well to remember how important habit is in informing lifelong skills and behaviour. The norms of productive learning and civilised behaviour ought not to be things we have to think about every time we engage with them, but ought to be instinctive and habitual. In my experience, children are much more settled, but no less creative, if they have a routine and structure to their lives. So, rather than giving out a message that habit and routine are tedious, it’s worth affirming that if children have a bedrock of good habits and regular routine, I’m as convinced as our medieval forebears that they will be more powerfully equipped to deal with the ‘whole universe’ in all its diversity and complexity.