As I write, it is the weekend of Tu B’shevat: bang on cue the snow has melted, a few green shoots dare to poke through (if not yet, it seems, the type that might signal an economic recovery) and minute by tiny minute the hours of daylight increase. The festival of New Year for Trees is a good time to think about what we are building and planning for the future: the lesson change bell for the first few weeks of term has been the late great Debbie Friedman singing that nursery classic, “Let’s dig a hole and plant a tree” (especially popular with the more sophisticated members of Year 9…) and in this my first newsletter as the permanent Headteacher of JCoSS it is a good time to show the shape of the orchard that I hope JCoSS will be.
Firstly, for those of you who don’t know me so well, I thought you might like to know my journey to get to this role: my 22 years in teaching has included schools that are selective and non-selective, mixed and single sex, independent and maintained, faith-based and non-faith-based. With a degree in Philosophy and Theology from Oxford, my teaching subject is Religious Studies and I have in my time led two academic departments and was responsible for 7 years for the pastoral and academic wellbeing of a 250-strong 6th form at Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls. My first interview at JCoSS in 2009 began with a hard hat and wellies as we toured the building site (still minus a roof) and since starting as Deputy Head the school has been a big part of my life.
As I take the reins as Headteacher, JCoSS remains committed to its unrelenting drive for high academic standards, its cross-communal Jewish ethos, its welcoming inclusive atmosphere and its pursuit of excellence. The key question, however, is, “And what’s that all for?” My reply – and as an educator what motivates me – is that it is to enable human beings to become whatever they have it in them to become. This of course varies from one person to another, and we often need help to identify the shape of our own potential: we need to disentangle our own hopes and dreams from those that surround us. But it is important to keep the big picture in our sights, and not be solely limited by obvious outcomes, important as they are. Not everything valuable can be measured, and not everything that can be measured is of lasting value.
It’s a vision that has a wide scope – and deliberately so. Not all of it will be achieved in our school years; but then becoming ourselves is a life-long process, and we should keep in mind the words of Pirkei Avot: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it”. Both halves of that are important!
In 4½ years’ time our first cohort will finish their education at JCoSS. I want them and all our students to leave feeling they have been stretched, supported, nudged and prodded a little; to be accomplished and well-qualified, able to defend their integrity and to respect that of others, confident of their roots and aware of the perceptions of others. I want them, in other words, to leave us equipped for the world and equipped to make the world better. But above all I want them to be conscious of the big picture – the goal of fulfilled human lives, their own and others’, which will give shape to all they do.
Back to the melting snow: thank you for your forbearance during the difficult weather and disruptions of recent weeks, and let us work together to ensure that the various seeds we are planting and tending will grow and flourish in the months and years ahead.