“We Believe in the Power of Defining Moments…”

Several months ago, I read a compelling blog from a counterpart of mine on the Headteacher’s Board, in which he described the influence of his parents on his life and career.  As a parent myself, with my eldest son (in Year 13) making some pivotal decisions about his next steps in life and learning, I understand more now than I did when I was his age the importance of guidance – and taking heed of good advice.

To illustrate, I will recount an instance which I believe shaped my future considerably.  An incident which I did not witness, nor even know about until a few years ago. 

My parents grew up in Liverpool during and immediately after the Second World War.  In the post-war years in which my father had his own future to consider – a future which for him and his peers offered plentiful employment, but much of it unskilled and low paid in the reconstruction of the city and the recovery of industry and trade after the war – careers advice and guidance was effectively non-existent.  In this context, my father told me about a day when his father (my grandfather) received a letter from the headmaster of his school (St Margaret’s Boys School, Anfield) requesting he attend a meeting. 

“We believe that your son has the potential to achieve well next year if he stays on with us” was the message delivered by the headmaster to my grandfather.  My father was fourteen at the time, and eligible to leave school in the summer, as many of his peers intended to do, and take up employment – but without sitting examinations or achieving any qualifications.  The headmaster advised that staying on to “fifth form” and the achievement of the School Certificate would enhance my father’s prospects and opportunities considerably.  After discussion at home – presumably about the cost of staying on (by not earning a wage) compared to the opportunities staying on presented – my father stayed on into fifth form, and duly left school with his School Certificate and found employment with a firm that could offer career development and promotion.  This, in turn, changed both his life and those of the children he would have many years later. 

When I joined John Taylor, I was instantly captivated by the school’s mission statement: “We believe in the power of education to improve lives – and the world.”  For me, as a history graduate and teacher, the notion of causality has always been fascinating:  the choices we make, and those that we reject, those made by others around us, and by others before us.  These are the “sliding doors” defining moments that can be so influential, perhaps arguably most so during our ‘formative years’.  You will undoubtedly have your own, some of which you may not be aware of! 

As a teacher and leader in school, I reflect on the fact that the headmaster of St Margaret’s Boys School did not have to write that letter, and my grandfather didn’t have to respond.  My father could have rejected the idea of staying on too – especially when his classmates were leaving, and earning.  But they didn’t. 

However, this is not a blog about the fatalism of the choices of others and being somehow ‘swept along’.  There is a wonderful phrase that I heard used in a sporting context that is fitting here:  Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.  Similarly, that “things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out.”  We must not forget personal responsibility in defining ourselves and our young people, my own son included, have to accept that challenge.  But we, as parents and educators, can make those opportunities easier or harder for young people to take through the choices we have made, and how we prepare them for theirs.

Thank you for reading.