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Balancing act

14/7/2017: This week Sarah Thomas reflects on the importance of balance - a topic she covered on Speech Day last weekend.

At Speech Day this year I spoke of balance and how to keep it in this turbulent and unpredictable world. I even made reference to Weebles. For those of you who were not children of the 1970s, Weebles were egg-shaped toys, weighted so that, if you pushed them over, they always bounced back upright. “Weebles wobble,” the advert ran, “but they don’t fall down.” I think Weebles could be the icon for these turbulent times. 

A year and a half ago would we have believed we would be coming out of Europe? Seeing scenes of terrorism and heroism again on the streets of Manchester and London? Enduring another inconclusive General Election? And let’s try not to mention President Trump. So how are we to deal with all this, in our own families and in school? How do we aim for our pupils to stay balanced? 

At Bryanston we offer the widest range of opportunities we can. We teach creatively and we offer the right level of encouragement and guidance, both inside and outside the classroom. We don’t expect anyone, child or adult, to be perfect. Indeed, to expect that creates a toxic effect for any child, however talented. We talk about our own wellbeing and are honest about our need for support, whether from exercise or music, or meditation, or God. Which reminds me of a Boris Johnson story I heard recently. In an interview about his Christian faith, he described it as “like tuning in to Virgin Radio 

whilst driving through the Chilterns. Sometimes the signal is strong; sometimes you lose it.” A really lovely metaphor. We encourage our pupils to keep tuning in to a support system which works for them, and we let them know that’s what we, in our imperfect way, do for ourselves. 

A key way we stay balanced at Bryanston is through positivity and this comes, in part, through engagement in good times. It is important to celebrate achievement and good times, as we did at Speech Day last weekend, and indeed do throughout the year. 

But finding balance isn’t easy. And it’s different for everyone. You can’t necessarily teach it in classrooms. You can’t measure it in exams. So it’s not something that many schools are prepared to shout about. Certainly not those which boast exclusively about their academic achievements. Or those which fail to recognise the connection between unreasonable academic pressure and mental health issues. Or those which shy away from the truth that so much of our educational landscape was designed to meet 20th- century challenges. In the future, our young people will need balance as 

much as they will need imagination; creativity; perspective; the ability to take a step back, to take a wider view, to make links and connections; to have good ideas; to make difficult and brave decisions. Show me how each A level can test those skills. Yet a school which is not passionate about these things is not, in my view, doing its job. 

As we wish our departing pupils farewell and look forward to welcoming a new intake in September, I hope that each Bryanstonian gets what they want from life and, above all, that they channel their own Weeble and find their individual balance. 

You can see more photos from Speech Day here.