October 7, 2020

Rector’s eNews – 07 October 2020

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During this week your sons have returned to school for the 4th quarter and we will have our Speech Day streamed to parents on Friday afternoon as we have indicated would be the case last term. The link for the virtual Speech Day is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ugl1jkiN5U&feature=youtu.be.
In connection with the latter, I recall the story of a visiting Oxford academic who had been invited to a Speech Day at a British school to award the prizes. Just before his address, he turned to the Head and said, “Tell me, Mr X, what happens in the course of their lives to those students who do not win any prizes?” Quick as a flash, the Head retorted, “Well, Professor Y, they employ those who do.”

This response may seem a little cynical in relation to the prize winners whom we congratulate warmly, but it does reflect the fact that we will all know many people who have not been amongst the prize winners at school, but have gone on to excel at university or in the workplace or in a combination of the two. There are many factors which drive that success and, dipping into the work of Daniel Goleman on emotional intelligence over the break, consolidated some thinking on this matter.

What is hardly ever reviewed in much of the literature on emotional intelligence, most of which admittedly emanates from American sources, is that boarding plays an enormous role in the teenage years in developing the emotional intelligence that is necessary to be able to succeed in leading people then and in later life. Is this perhaps why so many companies/organisations in this country or worldwide are led by people who went to schools such as Michaelhouse?

For some, leadership may be innate and natural but, for others, the experience of needing to establish or confirm or amend relationships with peers or seniors or juniors on a daily basis, to respect space, to understand the highs and lows of others, to follow and to be followed depending on the situation is what teaches one about human endeavour and human capacity. My observations are that relationships are much stronger between pupils in boarding schools because of the importance of the “investment” that each has to make in interaction with others. Whereas day pupils have a haven at home where they can metaphorically kick off their shoes and forget about the day, boarders have to contend with and sort out issues that may have arisen with friends or those with whom they find it difficult to establish a bond and, through this, an understanding of others grows. Admittedly, the ambience in the boarding school has to be essentially positive, nurturing and supportive with appropriate role models and with an atmosphere conducive to emotional growth as well as to growth in other areas. But, given that environment, a boarding school is the place where teenagers will, I believe, best grapple with the human challenges that face leaders in the workplace. A leader of a major South African organization told me some time ago that he had learned more about leadership at boarding school than he did until he went into a fairly senior management role.

I make a distinction between a boarding school and a school which has boarders because the focus of the former impacts so much more fully on the nature or ethos of the school than the latter which may seem to have different priorities and where boarders may be a part of but not intrinsic to the essence of the school.

I am particularly aware that many parents are vilified by peers who may seek to undermine their aspiration for their children by saying, “I didn’t have children to send them away to boarding school.” I wonder how many of you have been faced with the challenge at a dinner party of answering that sort of jibe. However, those are the very people who so often have an inkling, rather than a deep understanding, of the many benefits of boarding and who witness with amazement in boarders a strong and mutual respect between parents and their children. They envy the ease of interaction and are mystified as to how that is achieved. Parents may be missing their children in this week when they have returned to school, but you are enhancing the possibility, whether or not they are prize winners, of their being leaders in life through your sacrifice.

“It is with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince.

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