It was wonderful to see colleagues and children returning to our schools at the start of the month.  I have felt a palpable sense of resolve to meet the challenges of the term ahead, and an excitement at the re-engagement with friends and acquaintances after a summer break which, for many within our school communities, included a significant amount of work as preparation for the onset of the new academic year.

Looking back at my blog for September 2020, I concluded with the following: “But let us all hope for calmer waters and more favourable tides than those we’ve encountered most recently.”  This time last year many of us, or arguably most of us, looked forward to 2020-21 as the time when schools would return to a “new normal” and examinations and tests would determine the final outcomes for the children of Years 6, 11 and 13.  This wasn’t mere wishful thinking, but a reasoned series of assumptions based on the information that was forthcoming at the time. 

Today, we also look forward to “calmer waters and more favourable tides” and with greater confidence than this time last year.  It is our innate optimism as educators that drives us to look at the future positively.  Within John Taylor MAT, our statement of intent is that “we believe in the power of education to improve lives – and the world.” That is an inherently optimistic view of both education and the future, and I continue to subscribe to it unashamedly.

Whilst on a lengthy run a couple of weeks ago (more of running in a supplemental blog in a fortnight’s time!) I was struck by a quotation from American moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer (pictured below) that featured in the audiobook I was “reading” at the time (by another American social philosopher, Thomas Sowell).  I bookmarked the section, and have found the quotation subsequently and transcribed it here:

“There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day; we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.”

Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State of Mind: And Other Aphorisms [1954]

One doesn’t have to have worked in a school to recognise the above as being a succinct but highly accurate attitude to life that some individuals will exhibit and seek to exploit.  It is in no small part the work of the “rest of us” – young and old – in school and beyond to challenge the alibis and settle for nothing less than achievement.  And having sought achievement, recognise and celebrate it when it is evident – and then insist on greater accomplishment still. 

In our school communities we want everyone to become the best version of themselves they can.  This means comparison between their past self and their present, and the comparison between their present self and their future.  “Comparison is the thief of joy”, as the ancient Sufis claimed.  But in that context the comparison is with others – their wealth, their status, their achievements, and even their happiness.  In our schools, we avoid comparison with others when it comes to an individual and their progress.  To do otherwise, opens the door to the “good alibi” that Hoffer seeks to guard us against.

So, let today be your best day – except for tomorrow, which will be better still!

Thanks for reading.