Being asked to write the first ever staff weekly blog is a bit of a poisoned chalice. It’s a great honour to be asked, but as I write, there are so many questions that I am asking myself. How long do I make it? How much detail? What do I add in or omit? My blog is going to set the standard, but how high do I set the bar? In times like this I default to doing the best I possibly can. As I constantly tell the boys in School House, don’t compare yourself to others, set your own standard and then try to exceed it. So here goes….
There is no busier time in a Housemaster’s life than the start of term. Yes, the end of the summer term with prize day, final chapel and packing the boys off for summer is fairly hectic; but the start of any term is one of the busiest times in education. This January was no different. We have boys returning from all over England and from all four corners of the globe. They are literally travelling by planes, trains and automobiles. We also have new boys starting and so Mr Payne and I have to settle them in and ensure that they are all sorted for the start of term. There is always a sense of trepidation when a new boy starts, and this is on both sides. The house is a living, breathing beast. Its an organic mass that is the sum of its parts. So when a boy enters that throng, as a Houseparent you always worry on how the house will react. We are very lucky at Dover College with the calibre of pupils that we attract. The two boys that joined us this term have slotted in without the merest ripple and the house continues to harmoniously move forward as we enter the Lent term.
Its fair to say that I have a new (but old) rival this term. The eponymous Mr Hill has kindly agreed to take on the running of Leamington House until the end of the summer term and his retirement. Mr Hill is so adept at his job that ‘Mr Hill’ should be an adjective in the dictionary of Housemastering. The definition being ‘a man that is able to run any aspect of a boarding school without breaking a sweat’. For me, Mr Hill’s appointment and his success in galvanising the boys of Leamington has meant that the boys in my house now have a competition ahead of them and the game is now most definitely afoot and the swimming gala and steeplechase awaits.
The theme of this term across the school is ‘Connections’, I am an avid reader and I don’t tend to stick to any one genre. My wife moans about the stacks of books next to the bed that I have read, half read or about to read. I am currently reading the Guy Martin book ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead’. It’s a great read and Guy likes things in his life very black and white. Guy Martin is the truck mechanic from Lincolnshire that races superbikes round the TT course as well as breaking speed records, travelling and competing in insane endurance bike racing. His books are a great read and thoroughly recommended.
The reason why I mention this, and here’s the connection, is because he extolls the virtues of the work of Dr Steve Peters. Dr Peters wrote a brilliant book that I am (also) currently reading called the ‘Chimp Paradox’. He has worked with Team Sky on their mind management and helped them succeed in the world of road cycling and the Tour de France. The synopsis of the book (and this is a very very brief synopsis) is that we all have three parts to our brains. The computer side, the human side and the chimp side. The computer side is our analytical part, the human side is our everyday functioning part and the chimp side is our emotional response side. The book allows you to start to recognise when the chimp part of your brain is taking over or rearing its head and then for you to put him back in the box and allow the human or computer part of the brain to take over. I use this analogy when talking to pupils that are getting worked up or angry. I use it myself when getting wound up by traffic wardens or I hear the words ‘unexplained item in bagging area’. My chimp is called ‘Colin’ by the way.
An old Headmaster gave me some sage advice once. If you are angry with someone and written an email to them, stop re-read it and then delete it. Wait two days and then if you are still angry about it go and see the person direct. When you have 50 plus boys in your house keeping the lid on the pressure cooker, especially during exam season, is a difficult juggling act to maintain. But I am lucky to have the support of a great pastoral team that really know the boys and how they behave.
Hopefully this blog sets the right tone for others to follow and that I have given you a brief insight into the mind and psyche of a Housemaster at Dover College. This term the house is looking forward to the aforementioned competitions, house socials and many weekend trips, as well as exciting new developments within the curriculum and timetable. I know that as I start my 11th term and Mr Hill starts his 98th, that all of the houses and pupils within have a very special time ahead of us.