Three leaders were appointed this week. Firstly, the announcement of a new headmaster, after a five month search and a no doubt rigorous selection procedure, who will soon be bringing his family from east coast to west, to take up residence on the magnificent school campus I also call home. Secondly, a group of some eighteen boys at the same school received notification that they were prefects-elect for 2017, news that was received in his usual quiet and understated manner by my son, but news which clearly made him pleased and proud. And then thirdly, in a different hemisphere, on the other side of the globe, a man called Trump was elected President of the United States; a nasty, narcissistic, egomaniacal, bully of a man had bludgeoned and bulldozed his way to one of the most important leadership roles on the planet.
I look forward to meeting our new headmaster and his family next year, to being his neighbour, to getting to know his children. He looks nice, in a headmasterly kind of way, looks the part. In common with four out of the five headmasters I have worked for, including the present, much respected, incumbent, he has very little hair. Does that help, I wonder, in interviews, the lack of hair? Does a bald cranium somehow convey gravitas and presence, an aptitude for decision-making, a penchant for policy, procedure and public-speaking?
I jest. I have a good feeling about this new headmaster. I have worked with quite a few school principals over the years. The majority have been excellent bosses. The first headmaster I worked for was one of the best, a man follically challenged but great of stature in every sense. He nurtured me through my first year of teaching in a friendly, almost fatherly or avuncular kind of way. He wanted to me to succeed, to feel comfortable in the unfamiliar territory of an English boys’ boarding school, to be at ease amongst the frighteningly intelligent Oxbridge graduates who formed the majority of the staff. I owe so much to that first headmaster and have never forgotten him. I met my husband because of him, was married in a beautiful English manor house on the school grounds because of him, and pursued a career in education because of him. The best school principals allow us to get on with our jobs rather than attempting to micro-manage, they lead by example and consensus, are happy to be challenged, use fairness and compassion, not fear and division, as their modus operandi.
In recent years I have worked as a relief teacher in several different schools. In most, I never get to meet the principal. I go in, pick up my work, teach my lessons and leave. But in one school this year, the prinicipal made a point of coming to see me in the staff room on my first day. A chat over coffee about this and that, and I went about the business of the day. No great surprise, then, to discover some of the nicest, most polite, students I have ever taught and one of the friendliest, most relaxed, yet supremely professional group of staff I have ever worked amongst. No surprise, also, to see this particular school rank very highly in a recently published national survey. A principal sets the tone for a school. I am certain that our board of governors, led by the chairman, a fine man with whom I once rode on a camel in Dubai, will have chosen wisely.
The new school prefects had written a detailed application, and had to undergo a fairly searching interview with a panel of three staff. My son told me a bit about the interview, the kind of questions he’d been asked. I was curious as to how he had responded to some of the more challenging questions. He told me what he could remember of his responses, and I was impressed. Gosh, I thought, I don’t think I could have given such honest, frank, mature and comprehensive answers. Where did this young man come from, when did he emerge from the little boy who stood at the front of the Junior School choir and sang his heart out, a beaming smile on his face?
Prior to the outcome, we underplayed the prefect role – yes, it would certainly be an honour, but it wasn’t everything, it wouldn’t make or break his final year of school, there would be boys equally worthy who might miss out for one reason or the other. You must think of them if you are selected, we said. In five years time, no-one will remember who the prefects of 2017 were. We talked about integrity, about being authentic, how it is not about the shiny badge, or about what you are seen to be doing, but about how you conduct yourself when no-one is watching. He agrees, he knows, he will do his very best, he will keep things in perspective. He has a good head on his shoulders. As he said to me yesterday,”it is not as if I am the leader of the free world”.
And what of that leader of the free world? How could this have happened? First Brexit, now Trump. What is going on? Wake up planet Earth, please explain. We need less division, fewer walls, more love, not more barriers and the politics of hate. We see it in this country, politicians who snipe and undermine each other, who seek revenge when ousted from office, who focus on all the wrong things, who seek to build their own empires and surround themselves with sycophants, who are consumed by their own venom and their own egos. But Trump trumps them all. We need leaders who will reach out and create bridges, who won’t make sweeping, grandiose statements and empty promises, who will build on previous legacies, not destroy them, who will respect the past while building for the future. Donald Trump would not be fit to serve as either a school principal, or a school prefect, and yet he is now the leader of the free world. Go figure.