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Headmaster’s Blog

Last weekend I swam from Dover to Cran aux Oeufs in France in just under 16 hours.

Is a line that my friend Sam can now say. I admire him enormously for this mammoth undertaking and even more so for somehow posting several updates on his progress onto social media from the middle of La Manche. He’s ex-Army and ex-Rugby, which means – and I know he won’t mind me saying this – that he is ex-fit. He trained hard for the Channel swim and was getting anxious as the day loomed into view, and it is fair to say that he found it tough. He made it to the Gallic shoreline enfin at five past five in the evening having set off just after 11pm.

And then later in the week I read in the news of the extraordinary feat of Sarah Thomas, the 37-year-old who has become the first person ever to swim the Channel four times non-stop. That’s right: she swam to France and immediately turned around and swam back again. Twice. This super-human effort took her 54 hours and has been described in the broadcast media as ‘one of the greatest feats of mental and physical endurance in human history’.

These two triumphs are astonishing examples – each in its own way – of two of the most important attributes of all of the ‘soft skills’: perseverance and resilience. The mental and physical strength required to train for and complete such significant milestones is considerable: the resilience required to get back in the training pool again and again even after a bad session or a difficult day, along with the perseverance needed to just keep going even when things are really tough (and there’s not much to pause and rest against in the middle of the English Channel) are shining examples of these two important qualities.

Resilience and perseverance are crucial in schools, too, and they are important parts of our ‘hidden curriculum’. They are known by various names – stickability, bounceability, tenacity, grit, determination – and they feature in the daily lives of the pupils and staff here at ECS. We expect our pupils to work hard, to have a go, to strive for excellence, to keep going with a challenge even when it’s getting tricky. Crucially, of course, we are collectively on standby to offer the requisite levels of encouragement, help, guidance and advice along the way: the combination of appropriate challenge, resilience and perseverance, and support from skilled staff is a powerful one, and one which plays its part in helping ECS pupils meet with current and future success. As ever, we can look to the ECS Habits to guide our expectations, interactions and decision-making; in this case, the habit of hard work and the habit of keeping going.

Whether it’s covering yourself in Vaseline and swimming fish-like across 80 miles of sea, battling with the latest maths problem to be served up, struggling with your school spellings, memorising French vocab for Prep, coming into school the day after a fallout with a friend, getting up in the morning when you’re tired from a concert the night before, or flinging a rugby ball around ad infinitum until you can pass off the wrong hand – calls for resilience and perseverance abound. We are always proud of our pupils when, through a combination of facing-up to a problem, asking for help, and keeping on trying, they reach their own shoreline of success.

20 September 2019
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