From the Head Master
One of the activities that always takes up a significant chunk of my time in the first week back after a break is catching up on birthday cards and gifts for the boys.
Most families will be aware that each boy receives a card and a small gift from me for their birthday. The boys get to choose from a range that usually includes Kinder Surprise, Skittles, M&Ms and Curly-Wurlys. The Kinder Surprise tends to be the gift of choice for our younger boys, but Skittles are the most popular choice across the School.
In the normal course of events, I deliver this gift to the boys whilst they are in a classroom at some point in the week of their birthday. For various reasons, this pattern can break down because of student absences, excursions, music lessons and my busyness. However, the biggest disruption to the system is caused by the term breaks, which necessitate some extra deliveries in the weeks preceding or following a break.
There are a number of reasons that I have made this practice a priority. First and foremost, it ensures that I have a face-to-face interaction with every boy in the school at least once each year. Given the size of the school, it is inevitable that I am not closely in touch with all the students; the pastoral care and role modelling that the boys experience is delivered primarily by those staff with whom they have close contact from day to day. However, I think the fact that the Head Master comes to see each boy for his birthday provides some symbolic emphasis to our espoused conviction that every boy matters.
There are other benefits to the practice as well. It helps me to continue in my never-ending quest to attach names and stories to faces. It gets me out of my office and increases my visibility around the School, including the Preparatory and Junior Schools. It provides a reason for me to visit classrooms unannounced and to observe the life of the School. It helps me to get my steps up. Hopefully, it also humanises and personalises me a little to the boys, who primarily encounter me at a lectern.
I do not claim originality for the practice. I observed something similar from the Headmaster at St Andrew’s Cathedral School when I worked there nearly twenty years ago, and his expression of the tradition had come from his observation of Trinity Head Master Rod West some forty years ago. Imitation continues to be the sincerest form of flattery.
There are complications involved with this practice. Generally speaking, we teach the boys to stop and to stand as a mark of respect when an adult enters the room. However, my preference for my visits is to ‘ghost’ in and out with a minimum of disruption to the learning that is underway. The boys probably experience some confusion with the two different sets of expectations!
There are also logistical challenges involved in ensuring that cards are designed and printed each year, that we have an adequate supply of goodies (you may be aware that there has been a recent nation-wide shortage of Skittles!), that I make time to sign the cards, that we are able to schedule deliveries around my other commitments, and that we know where the boys will be at the time of delivery. Nonetheless, we persevere with the practice.
Of course, the symbolism and intended benefits are probably lost on most of the boys. I heard of a conversation between a Pre-K boy and a teacher a while ago; the boy wanted to known why ‘Uncle Mike’ had not come to visit. The teacher was a little bemused, having absolutely no idea who ‘Uncle Mike’ might be and why he would be visiting the class. Eventually, it emerged that ‘Uncle Mike’ was the man with a beard who turns up on random occasions to hand out birthday gifts. At another time I was presented with a list, compiled by Kindergarten, outlining what a Head Master does. Top of the list was ‘Hand out birthday cards.’
All of which is to say, I had some great opportunities to wander around the School this week. It is wonderful to see the community gather in the playgrounds, in the classrooms and in the corridors once again. The buzz and chatter that characterises reconnecting with friends and teachers never fails to lift my spirits. School should be a positive place where the boys and the staff feel as though they belong. It appeared to me, whilst on my birthday rounds, that this is the case.
Detur gloria soli Deo
Tim Bowden | Head Master