It is out of boredom that creativity is born - a headteacher's letter to students
Updated: Apr 20
A friend of mine, Neil Tetley of Hasting Schools in Madrid, has just written to his students on the day he was forced to close the school. I think his letter is rather brilliant.
You are living through interesting times, and one day you will be able to look back and tell your own children about the time Spain, in fact much of the world, was in lockdown and your school was closed.
None of us would choose this situation - it brings many difficulties for you and your families. At the same time, there are ways in which you can use this opportunity to grow and develop as a person.
Here are 10 things – 10 positives – for you to consider at this time:
1. It is fantastically reassuring that, while young people may carry the virus (and you have responsibilities here to follow advice) it seems very unlikely you will get seriously ill.
2. Remember we are privileged to live at a time of peace in one of the greatest cities in the world. There are children in Syria, right now, who live daily under the threat of violence while we are quarantined in comfort and safety – so the war against the virus is something we should keep in perspective.
3. Linked with this I would encourage some of the older students (perhaps Year 10 upwards) to read Primo Levi ´If this is a Man´ - free download available https://epdf.pub/if-this-is-a-man.html. Of all the books I have ever read, it is probably the book that has had the single greatest impact on me. It shows what humans are capable of surviving.
4. Your generation has led the fight against environmental catastrophe; it may be that these months are a gift to the world as carbon emissions are drastically reduced; we may lose a couple of months of normality, but in exchange we may gain years of healthier life, and perhaps even help to save the planet – which is not a bad swap.
5. As the next generation of leaders in the world, you should see recent events as an example of how quickly you can change people’s behavior - once this is all over, I hope you put pressure on the authorities to do other things. Many of you have recently shown this leadership with your contributions to COP 25 and International Women´s Day.
6. You will these last few weeks have realised that, although technology is a wonderful thing, there is no substitute for personal human interaction and face-to-face contact; we should cherish our ‘real world’ relationships with family and friends.
7. There will be times you find yourselves bored – yet it is out of boredom that creativity is born; it is from staring at a wall for hours that ideas come and imagination quickens. This is a time when you can learn something new – a dance routine, a new language, a musical instrument, how to cook...
8. At the moment you will be spending a lot of time with your family and this can bring its challenges – my family are struggling spending so much time with me! However, you will come to treasure this time when you look back later in life. Why not take the time to Skype grandparents every day? I am calling my mum every day whereas normally I am rather poor at keeping in touch.
9. Thanks to your parents you go to a great school (I am biased here of course) and so your future, while it may seem suspended for the moment, is incredibly bright – you will have the advantage of being global citizens equipped with the knowledge and skills to be successful in life.
10. You have the opportunity during this period to develop your inner life, to become a stronger person mentally, to learn to be independent, to cope with frustrations, and this will make you a more mature, fully-rounded and resilient human being.
We miss seeing you all at school – your cheerfulness, your energy, your talents and sense of joy. We look forward very much to welcoming you back through the school gates and saying ‘good morning’ again.
In the meantime, please listen to your teachers, keep learning, and support your family and friends through this challenging time.
And this is what I replied to Neil:
What a wonderful letter! I was imagining – when you offered to send it to me – that you would exhort your students to use the time to 'take back control' of their own learning; to go looking for their own materials and stimuli to follow the curriculum - discovering Stanford University MOOCs and Khan Academy and forming Sugata Mitra style 'self-organising learning communities' to help each other out... and so on. But your letter was much deeper and richer than that! I wonder whether this time of enforced independent learning can help to change the culture of the school - and surprise your teachers at how much the students can do for themselves!