From the Head Master

From the Head Master

At the heart, schools are communities. Schools gather people; staff and students in the first instance, but also families. This is one of the reasons that the online learning that we experienced during the lockdown periods was satisfactory in the context, but not as good as gathering together – face to face – for learning. Coming together in community enables the School to carry forward its mission more effectively and powerfully.

I have made the observation before that we want our boys to learn how to do relationships well during their time at School. In their experience of this community, we want them to learn how to show respect to one another. We want them to learn the humility to listen and the confidence to speak. We want them to develop their capacity for empathy and to consider perspectives other than their own. We want them to learn that the good life consists in placing others before oneself. Learning these things in the school years will equip them for their relationships in decades to come.

One of the essential elements in good relationships is knowing how to apologise. The reality is that all of us will let others down at some point. We will fall short in one way or another, doing things we ought not do and failing to do things that we ought to have done. Good relationships are not dependent on unfailing perfection, but a willingness to seek, and to give, forgiveness.

We all know that there are lots of ways to say ‘Sorry’, whilst meaning the exact opposite. However, a genuine and well-structured apology is immensely helpful in making good where relational damage has been done.

With this in mind, I spoke to the Middle and Senior School boys on quad this week about asking for forgiveness. The structure that I presented to the boys is one that I came across somewhere when our children were very young. It is simple, but I think that the following scaffold is an excellent way to approach asking for forgiveness. I note that it is a scaffold, not a script to be recited verbatim, but we know the value of scaffolds in learning new skills.

“I am sorry for … It was wrong because … In the future I will …”

“I am sorry for …” This first element is crucial in that it identifies exactly what has been done. The challenge here is to ensure that the apology focusses on what the speaker has done. The focus is not on the effect of their actions, or on the other person. It is an apology for an action or inaction of mine.

“It was wrong because …” This second element requires the speaker to engage in reflection. Why was my action wrong? This is the point in which one is able to demonstrate that the apology is more than superficial lip-service. This element requires humility, as it is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

“In the future I will …” The third element entails a commitment to a different path in the future. Without the prospect of hope, it will be very difficult to restore trust in a positive relationship. This element also requires the speaker to articulate the future actions, which will help prompt the speaker to do the right thing in the future.

I have realistic expectations as to how much of what I might say on quad is remembered and internalised, so I do not think that this particular address is going to transform the way that our boys respond to their shortcomings and restore relationships. However, spending these formative years in a community that models and speaks about the importance of relationships, and the importance of forgiveness in maintaining relationships, will bear some long-term fruit. If you are so inclined, it may be worthwhile discussing this scaffold with your son and perhaps utilising it with him as opportunities arise.

I note that the element unspoken in the scaffold is the desire of the speaker for forgiveness and the willingness of the wronged to forgive. In Christian thinking, we learn from the Lord Jesus, who calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven.

Detur gloria soli Deo

Tim Bowden | Head Master

Share this post