CEO’s Blog: December 2021: “The mind’s ear.”

I was recently reading a chapter from Martin Amis’ semi-autobiographical “Inside Story”, and found a particular section entitled “the mind’s ear” fascinating. 

We have all heard of “the mind’s eye”, an old and much-used phase that most famously can be found in “Hamlet”, when the protagonist of the title confides in Horatio that he sees his father in his “mind’s eye”.  We all know what this means, and also what it feels like to be able top picture something so vividly in our thoughts that it has all the characteristics of being genuinely “visible”.  Before Shakespeare, Chaucer used a similar turn of phrase in “The man of Law’s tale” and it was in common usage. 

Martin Amis describes the process of writing as drawing upon the “mind’s eye”, but also “the mind’s ear” – particularly in the creation of dialogue and settings.  Again, even before looking up the term to see whether Amis created it or deployed it, I knew what this meant.  As it happens, the expression dates back to the eighteenth century at least, being used by poet Matthew Green in 1733’s “The Grotto”.  However, unlike its Shakespearean counterpart, it has fallen out of favour.

The festive period is often, rightly, described as a feast for the senses.  Now fifty, when I think back to those magical times as a child, it is not only the sights – the tree and lights, the decorations and presents – that I remember.  There are the sounds in my “mind’s ear” too.  Laughter, or groans, at jokes read from Christmas crackers, the singing of old “music hall” songs with then elderly relatives long since passed, and songs by Paul McCartney or Wizzard that when played today still take me back to those Christmas holidays. 

As we grow older we can somehow lose sight, and sound, of the magic.  In ‘Herzog’, Saul Bellow wrote that “every treasure is guarded by dragons.  That’s how you can tell it’s valuable.” The treasure of our magical childhood memories is guarded by the dragons of responsibilities, pressures and world-weary cynicism.  But it’s still there, and working in schools – even in difficult times such as these – is as good a place as any to find it. 

As we move toward the end of term, I want to thank all those who keep the magic of childhood alive.  Parents, our school staff and all who want the memories that will be created in those “mind’s eyes”, and “mind’s ears”, to be a wonderful, and sustaining part of those young lives.  May they look back with fondness upon this season’s festivities and ensure that the dragons that guard their treasured memories in their future can be defeated!

As always, thanks for reading.

Mike

CEO’s Blog: 12th November 2021: “Flanders and Glasgow”

This week sees our news broadcasts dominated by our history and our future.

Yesterday our schools and our nation fell silent in an act of remembrance for the fallen of war.  With the Armistice, and the first Remembrance Day, being commemorated over a century ago the importance of society’s collective memory living on beyond those who bore witness to the events themselves becomes ever more important.  We are well-served in our locality by the inspiring National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas.  Taking my late father, himself a former servicemen in the Royal Artillery, to the Arboretum a number of years ago was a wonderful experience for us both – giving a time and a place for him to remember his own service and that of his comrades.  He was deeply moved to see the regimental motto of the Royal Artillery (“Ubique” – Latin for “everywhere”) writ large, and we sat on the bench with cannon motifs and spent some cherished time together.  It is a day I will never forget. 

Today marks the final day in the COP 26 global conference on climate change hosted in Glasgow.  At the time of writing, we await the conclusion of the summit, and our news stories are focused on whether a binding and meaningful agreement between nations can be reached.  Draped in the hyperbole of “eleventh hour”s and “last chance saloon”s, that provide an artificial sensationalism that the event really doesn’t require given its gravity, we all look to the world’s leaders to support changes that will make a positive impact on our world and all the species that inhabit it – now and into the future. 

Our Trust’s involvement in a net zero carbon new school project, supporting community regeneration on the site of the former power station in Rugeley is, as with the National Memorial Arboretum, a local response to a global issue.  We are hugely proud of our involvement as we see the school and wider site develop.  It promises to be an amazing school and community resource for children and young people aged three to nineteen. 

As educators, we have a sobering responsibility to the children in our schools to ensure they can look back into our collective history, to place their own lives into a wider and meaningful context and preserve our collective memory of our past.  We also have a similar duty to ensure those same children can look forward, and contribute positively, to a better world that is as free from the smoke of a burning rainforest as it is from the smoke of a Flanders field.  This is no minor undertaking, but it is something we must be resolute in our commitment to. 

I am currently reading “Ravelstein” by the American novelist and commentator Saul Bellow.  In it the main protagonist Abe Ravelstein, a university tutor of philosophy, quotes Friedrich Schiller: “Live with your century, but do not be its creature.”  For our young people, who one day will be not so young, we should wish this.  That they can see the horizons from which they come and the horizon to which they are heading.  For those of us already not so young, we can reflect that with regard to COP 26, as was the case in the Europe of 1914, it is the children that always pay the price for the sins of the fathers. 

As always, thanks for reading.

Mike

CEO’s Blog: October 2021: “The marble and the sculptor.”

For this month’s blog I wanted to recount a conversation that I had recently with a headteacher, working in a school outside our Trust, as part of a performance management review process I was invited to support.  Only a year into post, and with much of that disrupted by lockdown and restrictions, she wanted to update me with her translation of her approach to the school’s improvement priorities into a staff-wide ‘call to action’. 

We discussed the responses of staff to change, and the headteacher confirmed that “everyone wants the school to improve”.  Whilst that in itself is positive, my challenge was straightforward:  It is very easy to affirm that we’d like our school to be better.  Parents, children, and community members want their school to be better too.  In fact, almost everyone wants all schools to be better.  To want anything else would be difficult to fathom. 

However, we all know that wanting something and making it happen are not synonymous.  I once heard a goal described as “a dream with a deadline” – and we can all appreciate that both personal and corporate achievements need to be focussed on tangible activity or, in short, work. 

Work requires sacrifice.  In scientific terms, “work” is defined as the transfer of energy through the exertion of a force.  Such a transfer comes at a cost.  We transfer the energy we have within us to others.  To children, to their families, to our colleagues.  John C Maxwell wrote with regard to leadership that “a leader must give up to go up.”  Talk to any leader, and they will be able to identify with this, and cite examples of the sacrifices they have made on their leadership journey.  There is no success without sacrifice.

So, my challenge to the headteacher colleague was to ask what sacrifices her colleagues were prepared to make in their desire to see the school improve.  That is the true test of their commitment. 

I am truly humbled by the sacrifices so many colleagues in our schools make – daily, weekly, termly – in the pursuit of excellence for their communities.  Those sacrifices sometimes go unrecognised, but the impact of them is crystal clear. 

Finally, I was inspired to choose this theme (which I think is apt as we look towards a well-earned half term break) by a quotation I saw recently for the first time by the French surgeon and Nobel prize winner from the early twentieth century, Alexis Carrel:

Sometimes the sacrifices made are in self-improvement.  They can be the most challenging and yet amongst the most rewarding.  Again, I am proud to be surrounded by colleagues who are always learning, always growing, always seeking further ways to improve.  They “give up to go up”, and their schools and the children who attend them are better off for it.

As always, thanks for reading.

Mike