From the head's desk: 29 November 2019

Sarah Warner

Dear parents

One of the reasons November is a disagreeable month at times for me (and my apologies to everyone, including my one-year-old daughter, who celebrates a birthday around about now) is that it is a month of seemingly relentless list-making and box-ticking. Neither activity is objectionable in itself; in fact, as a student of literature, I have nothing but admiration for the creative potential of lists and their presence in some of the most memorable prose and poetry you will ever read.

The act of ticking, also, is a hugely satisfying thing: the more flamboyant the upward motion of the wrist when noting our approval of something, the more conclusive the experience of despatching it from our immediate consciousness into the realm of the done, the altogether satisfactory, the smugly fulfilled. Interestingly, the origin of the tick (or swoosh as Nike reboots it) is debatable: unlike the redoubtable ampersand, visible on papyrus from as early as 45AD, the provenance of the tick is uncertain. It might be representative of the first letter of the Latin word Veritas, meaning true; it also might not.

My ambivalence in response to the drive to get things done and move on definitively at this time of year relates to the surprisingly provisional nature of the things that confront us as the year draws to a close: the measurement of performance over a period of time, the recognition of achievement through the awarding of accolades, the reviewing of relationships that accompanies the act of leave-taking and valedictory ritual.

In other words, the problem with November is its tendency to monumentalise a moment in time as the moment, to offer the last word on a process or a relationship or a venture that truly, despite the appearance of a tick on a list, is far from over. And I say this not out of some sort of squeamishness about decision-making or assessment, but out of a fear of how outcomes, especially end-of-year outcomes, come to be viewed as the whole story instead of one episode in a story that continues to unfold.

For this reason, as we end our year in the Junior School with you and your daughters, I would like to offer a different image of a list and its purpose in our lives: in place of a column of neatly ticked-off items and the triumphant gesture of “done”, I would like to propose a list of items finished, half-finished and not-yet-attempted – a list that reflects the truly process-driven nature of learning and teaching, with its curious collection of full ticks, half ticks, and ticks so ambiguous they come to resemble crosses. A list that does not pretend to fix everything, limit itself or celebrate the end of all endeavour, but which allows for something completely, stupendously otherwise: growth.

It is in this spirit that I invite you to join us in celebrating the efforts of the girls and staff at the various events that mark the end of another year in the Junior School: celebration evening and morning, the Grade 7 valedictory service and leavers’ party, and the combined carol service. It is in this spirt, also, that we say farewell to the families who are leaving our care, and the teachers who are leaving our service: our heartfelt thanks for the time we have spent together and our continued interest in what happens next. Until we meet again, enjoy holiday time spent together, travel safely, read widely, play and rest.

Dr Sarah Warner
Junior School headmistress

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