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New Year, New Shoes

I remember my outrage as a nine-year-old when I learnt that the Queen has two birthdays. Two?! That’s two sets of presents, two parties, two days of unbridled attention and fun, and of course two cakes. Totally unfair.

I’ve calmed down a bit since then, now that I understand it a bit better. There’s her actual birthday (the one with the presents and cake) and there’s her official birthday – an additional one popped into the calendar so that we can all celebrate with her according to want and wont.

Still, official or otherwise, two birthdays is still pretty lucky.

But then we are lucky in schools, too. We may not get to celebrate two birthdays, but we do get two goes at celebrating the New Year: one on the 1 January, the other usually in the first week of September.

Just as there are traditions that accompany the marking of the calendar New Year – think fireworks, a special meal, staying up late, more fizz than is good for us, Clive James’ review of the year on the telly (a staple of a 1990s New Year in the Featherstone household) – so there are certain rituals with which we mark the start of the pedagogical New Year. There were a lot of hands that went up in our first Head’s Assembly of the year (and the first in 18 months – it was quite a moment) when I asked how many people had: got new shoes; spent time foraging for stationery and restocking their pencil case; had a row at home about where their tie was; packed their bag the night before; made plans to spring into action at the sound of their alarm clock; failed to carry out those plans and instead hit snooze. New starts bring freshness and aspiration.

There’s another similarity between our two New Years, of course: the opportunity they both bring to reflect on what has been and think about what will be. January 1 is a day for New Year’s resolutions – self-made commitments to making little changes for the better in how we go about things. The start of the New School Year brings that opportunity, too. Now that we have a clean slate in front of us and a bit more experience behind us, what will we do differently as we start the cycle again? Perhaps we’ll be a bit more organised; perhaps we’ll get our homework done on the day it’s set; perhaps we’ll put our hand up more in lessons; perhaps we’ll take a vegetarian meal at lunch; perhaps we’ll never ever forget our music lesson ever again.

These are excellent resolutions. They are commendable and admirable, and I take my hat off to anyone who’s still going with theirs at half term. But I suspect we can go one better. I think there’s a New Year’s resolution that each of us can make that serves not only us but everyone we meet: to bring kindness with us every day.

The way we speak to people; the way we speak about people; the words that we use; the gestures that we make; the looks that we give; the help that we offer; the inclusivity that we show; the courtesies that we model; the thinking about others that we do – that’s all summed up by the word kindness. And that’s the boldest and most impactful resolution of them all. As Bishop Martin said in the same Assembly: ‘you have two tasks this term: think about kindness; and then use it’.

We are a school where people matter: like music, spirituality, hard work and fun, kindness (tolerance, acceptance, compassion, love – call it what you will) is in the walls and in the blood. The start of the New Year is a good moment to remind ourselves of that and of what we should all be bringing to Team ECS every day. And every time I see a pair of shiny new shoes around school, I am reassured and thankful that we are all set and ready for our mission.

11 September 2021
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