From the Head of School

11 January 2019

Good afternoon School,

Today you may be happy to know that I will not be reporting on any of the 1st XI's Hockey results or updating you on any of the team’s injuries, even if I did find myself gravitating towards, ‘Last week the 1st XI played…’ as my opening line.

I hope you have all had a restful and enjoyable Christmas break and amongst all the typical Christmas excesses, have had some time to squeeze in a little preparation for what I know is going to be a busy term for many of us. 

During the holiday, in between helping my family demolish the third box of Quality Street, I have been deliberating on the rather daunting task of what I should speak to you all about today. Having sat through what I have calculated to be nineteen inspiring Head of School’s speeches myself, I know that unfortunately just talking about the joys of Christmas eating probably isn’t in itself all that insightful. 

Having been in the SVS community since the age of four, when I first toddled into Kindergarten at Sutton Valence Prep School, I can quite honestly say that I have loved my time here. Not every moment admittedly (... sorry Mr Howell but I have to admit your bleep tests were never a real favourite of mine...) but now as I am in my final year and reflecting on my time at the School, I can begin to understand why so many people have told me that their school years were some of the best times of their lives. 

Writing this speech, the realisation that this is my fourteenth, and sadly, my final year of being part of the SVS community, really began to sink in. This is a bit scary and exciting all at the same time, but having so many years to reflect upon has provided me with the opportunity to really appreciate what amazing opportunities and experiences our School has to offer and how fortunate we all are. 

Stephen Covey, a Business School Professor, wrote a famous book called, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Today I want to borrow his theme, while I reflect on my fourteen years being part of Sutton Valence and talk to you about what I regard as, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective SVS Students.’

When referring to “effectiveness” I am not just referring to achieving academic success. Of course, without a doubt, achieving your potential academically is very important at SVS but I am referring to success in far broader terms as I believe if you come out of SVS with solely academic qualifications you really have missed out.

The first habit that I have witnessed as highly effective in SVS students is ‘positive thinking.’

Rather than thinking negatively about what you don’t like and the reasons you cannot do something, that you are too busy, that you aren’t good enough, or that it’s not my kind of thing; think positively about what you could achieve, what’s good about something and what you can learn from the experience and then go for it!

If I could learn to think positively, and even learnt to actually enjoy Maths by the time I took my GCSE, (somewhat assisted by Mr Cope’s hot chocolates on a Saturday morning, and Mrs Mitchell’s endless patience) I know it must be possible for anyone!

The second habit and in my view one of the most important to being a highly effective SVS student, is making the most of the all the diverse and wonderful opportunities that the School has to offer. By doing so you begin to discover new skills and new passions. In other words, you begin to learn more and understand more about yourself. At SVS there are so many opportunities beyond the classroom: amazing trips (which, for me, have included spending seven amazing weeks in Australia,) opportunities in the CCF, through DofE, in Music, in the Art block, in Drama, in public speaking and of course on the sports field to name but a few.

I am not going to stand here and say that everything you have a go at is going to be your new-found passion or an undiscovered talent. After all, I am the one who took the opportunity to learn to play the piano, which although I did really enjoy it, I played it for six years without ever even reaching Grade One. Although it may be hard to believe, my piano playing still beats my experience playing the recorder at the Prep School which really ‘peaked’ when I was asked politely if I could just mime playing in a concert that I had actually sadly been practising for for most of the year.

On my very first induction day at SVS, I was given the chance to try something new and try my hand at cooking. Although I don’t think anyone expected me to literally put my hand into the oven and grab the burning hot tray, but the idea of oven gloves had temporarily escaped me and seemingly my cooking partner as well, so that’s exactly what we did! 

‘It’s safe to say’, (although that probably is the wrong phrase to use following this story) that we were quite rightly classed as the group’s cooking liabilities after the incident, for being far from safe!

However, I have found that it is those opportunities that you are most apprehensive about, that create the biggest challenges; that are indeed the ones that can become some of the most memorable, most rewarding and the ones that you can learn most from. 

Which leads me nicely onto my third habit of highly effective SVS students, which is being prepared to take a risk, being prepared to go outside your comfort zone, to try something new and not being afraid of failure but to be prepared to learn from it. 

Dancing as many of my friends will know was never one of my strengths, so I am not exactly sure how I got talked into signing up for Mrs Mathews end of term dance show. However, I can now say I have ‘danced’, or I should probably more accurately say ‘I have attempted to dance’, with one-half of the sixth best ballroom dance pairs in the world.  Although this was a great experience and certainly well outside my comfort zone, I do want to take this opportunity to say publicly, in my own defence, (while realising that many still won't believe me) that it was the world-class dancer’s error (not mine!) which resulted in us colliding on stage and me nearly toppling over at the end of our performance. However, when she becomes the world number one, I suppose that may become my claim to fame.

Speaking of working outside my comfort zone, if someone had told me in the First Form that I would be delivering speeches in front of the whole school I certainly would not have believed them (but then perhaps again with hindsight, if I had known that was a possibility, I may have decided to take up more of the public speaking opportunities available at SVS in preparation – something that I am regretting a little at this present moment in time!)

The fourth habit of highly effective SVS students I have observed in my time at SVS is ‘tenacity’ – being prepared to persevere even when the going gets tough.

I am sure we have all been tempted at some point to consider giving up when things get tough whether it be when trying a new activity, in the classroom or on the sports field. Being tenacious and determined I really do think is a key to success. 

There is nowhere that this was more evident to me than in the opportunities that my first Gold DofE expedition provided. Hiking through the frozen hillsides in the Lake District, in the freezing cold snow, soaked to the skin and with pretty spectacular blisters on both my heels, our team’s tenacity was really tested. It was definitely one of the hardest things I have done, but we achieved success as a team through helping one another, a few teary hugs, and motivating each other to just keep going. 

This brings me nicely on to the fifth habit of highly effective SVS students - kindness and valuing the importance of true friendships. Treating others as you would want to be treated yourself. I can remember this message of kindness to others being instilled into me at the Prep School. There are so many things that fourteen years at Sutton Valence has not only taught me but also given me. I have made so many long-lasting, and hopefully lifelong, friendships and I have learnt the importance of surrounding yourself with people who bring out the best version of yourself and who encourage you to make the most of your time at school.

I read recently that, apparently, you are the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time, and so though unfortunately I now realise there is no hope left for me! The only thing that I can now recommend is that the rest of you choose your close friends wisely.

The sixth habit of highly effective SVS students is being true to yourself and your values and not feeling we have to follow one another - in other words it’s all about our individuality. Although I do not intend to dwell on this now as Lars spoke at some length about this in his Head of School speech, I do believe that individuality is the cornerstone of a highly effective SVS student. To quote Mr Grindlay, ‘Sutton Valence is not a sausage factory’, despite the message on those highly-amusing leavers’ day posters displayed a few years ago.

Lastly the seventh and final habit of a highly effective SVS student that I want to cover this afternoon, is not being afraid to ask for help when you need it, whether it be when you are struggling in the classroom or on the side of a mountain in the Lake District. Make the most of the help that is provided for you and don’t hesitate to ask for it.

In conclusion, after reflecting back on my fourteen years in the SVS community, today I have shared with you what I have identified as the seven habits of highly effective SVS students. In my view if you were to adopt even some of these habits they will stand you in great stead for making the most of your time here at SVS, which believe me, goes by far too quickly. 

So I challenge you to take advantage of as many opportunities as you can; give things a go by trying to take yourself out of your comfort zone and take a risk as you try something that you have not done before. 

Being in my last year here means that I and the rest of the Upper Sixth are experiencing a year of “lasts”, but for many of you who have just joined or are lower down the School, it is, or can still be, your year of “firsts”, so try and give as much a go as you can. 

So with this in mind, as we start the New Year I encourage you to set yourself perhaps one more realistic resolution of trying something new and seeing how it goes because even if you find it results in a similar situation to me with my dancing or my cooking disasters, you too will at least have had some fun and the bonus of some hopefully amusing anecdotes that you too can try and use in a speech in the future!

I will also be trying to follow my own advice of taking advantage of new opportunities even in my last year, which can come your way in all kinds of weird and wonderful forms, with a funny one presented to me only just last week. I have been offered the opportunity to borrow a goat, which apparently according to the School byelaws, the Head of School has a historic right to graze on Prefect’s Lawn.  However, I am still working out the logistics regarding how catering for a goat could fit in with my study periods!

As is the tradition with a Head of Schools speech, I will end my speech with a quote and although I have tried to bear in mind the quote, ‘No one ever complained about a too short speech!” whilst writing this, I will finish with a quote from Lewis Caroll, 

“In the end… we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”

Senior School Senior School Newsletter

Senior School, Senior School Newsletter

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  • The Great International Bake Off

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  • Sutton Valence School awarded the national Quality in Careers Standard

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