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Norwich School Blog

HEAD'S END OF MICHAELMAS TERM ADDRESS

The Head addressed pupils in the Cathedral on the last day of Michaelmas Term. You can read his Address below:

"Congratulations to all of you on getting to the end of term. If last year was characterized by pupils’ adaptability to restrictions and continued optimism in the face of external challenges, this term might be described as our pupil body making the most of a return to full service with a vengeance. It is dizzying to think of all the activities and the progress you have made in academic work, sport, music, drama, dance, visual art, creative writing, public speaking societies, clubs, community service and other partnership projects.

Like you, I am not sure what the next period of time will hold in terms of the pandemic. I suspect we will need to continue to be ready to adapt. However, my message to you amid such turbulence is one of hope as I am confident that our community will react appropriately to any challenges put in front of us. We have done so since March 2020 and, regardless of the exact circumstances, we will continue to do so. The pupils, parents and staff of Norwich School value education in its broadest sense and will take the necessary steps to ensure that positive progress is maintained. We do so with the same core values of love, compassion and inclusion as are always at the heart of our daily practice.

It may not always feel like it, certainly with some of the challenges of the last 18 months, but schools are places of joy. It is the energy, optimism and talent of young people which are at the heart of that; they are certainly the reasons why I feel it is such a privilege to work in the sphere of education. To give an example of the simple joy you are capable of bringing to our community, I’d like you to hear some music made by pupils. I heard it for the first time at the Unsigned concert for original music in the Blake Studio earlier in the term. Over to U5 pupils Herbie Hilyer and Rufus Sergent. It is a joy to hear...

I want to finish by inviting you all to think a bit more about the guiding principles I mentioned earlier: love, compassion and inclusion.

We have heard this afternoon from Mrs Dean about the World of Languages programme and our youngest pupils in L4 are certainly enjoying their WoLLoW lessons. Please pardon this Classicist a small moment on etymology, ie. where words come from; they were provoked by the address of the Bishop of Bedford at the Dyers Thanksgiving Service in London earlier in the term. The middle term, compassion, derives in essence from the deponent Latin verb patior which means “I suffer”. Related terms of sympathy and empathy stem from a similar Greek noun – pathe, meaning suffering. However, my interest is in the prefixes: compassion is to “suffer with someone”: sympathy is also “suffering with”, whereas empathy is “suffering in”, ie being right inside the suffering.

Teachers at our INSET just after half-term were told by the excellent Dick Moore that “suffering with”, sympathy, is not good enough and that we should strive to be inside the pain of another, ie. “suffering in”, empathy. I am not sure that I agree.

First, if one were to adopt an emergency response approach and the acronym of Dr ABC, the first thing one does is to assess danger to oneself so that one can be effective in assisting others. If empathy renders the responder in the same state as the person in distress, their assistance must risk becoming less effective.

Secondly, I am not sure about the potential accuracy of trying to be inside another’s suffering. When I am dealing with sensitive pastoral cases, I often find myself saying that I do not know exactly what it is like to be in the situation of the distressed pupil but am keen to record that I have sympathy for the difficulties the pupil and family are facing.

Thanks to the excellent work of our Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Miss Scott, other staff and many pupils, particularly those in Fem Soc, Pride Group and BAME Soc, I hope that we are starting to make healthy progress in the realm of one of our key principles, inclusion. As we continue to plot the path for our community, it is vital that we are brave enough to have conversations which are not always comfortable and work through differences of opinion with respect and dignity.

As a white, middle-aged man, I have benefitted from privilege and do not have lived experience of characteristics protected under the 2010 Equality Act. I am therefore wary of characterizing my reaction to those who are so affected as empathy; indeed, any such “I know how you feel” response sounds patronizing and trite. However, I certainly feel sympathy and want to listen to understand negative experiences so that I can help improve situations to make such experiences less likely, both in our community and the wider world. It is incumbent on me and people like me to reach across any gap so that people with protected characteristics feel welcome and included in any community with which I am involved. It seems that this was one of the key learnings from the global outcry in response to the murders of George Floyd and Sarah Everard; it is for the majority, for those in power to hear the disenfranchised and make changes to benefit them.

I am not sure I have answers on sympathy and empathy, “suffering with” or “suffering in”, and perhaps it does not matter how it is characterised. Rather, the key is genuinely trying to see the situation from another’s point of view. As such, helpful phrases include “walking in another’s shoes” and “do as you would be done by”. I hope that you will try this holiday to show love, compassion and inclusion by trying actively to see situations from other perspectives. I offer good wishes to you and your families for the upcoming holiday."