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Principal's Blog - Riverside Reflections

Riverside Reflections: Fictional Stories, Real Rewards


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

42 years ago as a very young boy I sat in a cinema theatre and my life changed.  Those words above, the blast of brass that introduced the John Williams soundtrack, the escaping starship followed by an Imperial Cruiser that filled the screen, made the speakers rumble and seemed to take minutes to enter the screen - Star Wars!  If you haven’t seen the opening moments of the first film of 1977, you must.  Great cinema is remembered and revered and I’m not the only one who has spent the last 42 years closely linked to this wonderful fiction.

In speaking about this in my assemblies recently, I enjoyed showing the students that opening few minutes, but hopefully they took the message that the wonderful world created by George Lucas over the course of 9 films is part of a genre that all students should explore - fiction.  In recent years, and as I get older, I have become a little distant from the Skywalker-led rebellion.  Equally middle age has put me further away from another favourite fiction involving Middle Earth - the Hobbit.  However, the return of the Jedi in the most recent outing Rise of Skywalker reminded me of my youth and the fascination for great stories that I developed then.  Looking back it was fantasy, sci-fi and heroic tales that hooked me on reading.

For this I will always be grateful.  Those stories drew me in, they let my imagination run wild, they inspired me to find more and perhaps most importantly develop a love for reading.  This love has stayed with me throughout those 42 years, through a degree in English Literature and the worthy classics that this involved and now in a fascination with politics, business and psychology.  In 2019, I promised myself that I would read more, and I did ok managing 27 books across flights, holidays and evenings when I vowed to put my phone down!  For 2020 I make the same commitment, but this time with a new edge - more fiction.  I can commend this to you all, and I hope our students take the bait and find their love of reading too. 

Riverside Reflections: The Power of Performance

All the world’s a stage - William Shakespeare

Why do we perform?  This is a question that was rebounding around my head in the days after the conclusion to our wonderful Term 1.

Large numbers of staff across the school took to the stage to royally entertain the students in the return of the staff Christmas Pantomimes.  There is a prosaic ‘why’ to this development - the staff wanted to do it, and I felt we needed to change our end of term celebrations.  My part in this is easy, get out of the way - one of the key tenets of empowering others.  

What I struggled with a little over time is why the staff wanted this.  Their busy lives do not tail off as the end of the term approaches, indeed this is a chaotic, emotional and intense period could easily be considered the worst possible time to embark upon a production of this type.  And yet, the quality of the productions was extraordinary, some of the acting really quite good, the scripts well conceived and delivered resulting in palpable enjoyment of the students.  Bravo!

So what is behind this, and why do we feel compelled to perform?  Recently I read If I could Tell You Just One Thing an aggregation of advice from a range of successful people by entrepreneur Richard Reed.  James Corden the convener of the hugely successful Carpool Karoake offered this simple advice - ‘find what you are good at’.  In this might be the secret to performance.  When we perform as young people we gain affirmation, especially if we are good at it.  This affirmation encourages you to perform again, reinforcing the feeling of success, value and self-worth.  In turn, this breeds the confidence to keep performing and ultimately to excel in this domain.  

Witnessing this process is one of the great joys of working with young people, and also recognising our value as educators, parents, colleagues and friends in saying ‘well done’ and in delivering the affirmation that is so important to our self worth.  It is easy to underestimate the importance of those two words, but we witness the impact of them every day.    


Riverside Reflections: Giving, Gaining


"Golf is a Good Walk Spoiled" - Mark Twain

I am not a natural golfer.  With a frame more suited to colliding with other people or projecting missiles at pace, I am an uncomfortable sight on the tee.  There are tall golfers, Ernie Els known as ‘the big easy’, played with style and grace and of course, Tiger Woods is over six feet tall.  Sadly though, I make my way around the course finding areas hitherto unexplored vacillating between the sublime and the ridiculous.  But does it matter?

On Sunday, I played the first round of golf since back surgery in December 2018.  The titanium stayed in place, and I was accompanied by a colleague and two Shrewsbury students. The journeys we took to and around Suwan Golf and Country Club were different, the outcome broadly the same.  An experience that we all enjoyed and can reflect on with some pride.  We were all playing in the Riverside Charity Golf day and by simply being there were contributing to the 70,000 Baht raised on the day.

Charity takes many forms.  Financial donations matter and we were touched last week when a group of parents at the golf event came together and gave the school a further gift of 15,000 Baht, embodying all that is well at Shrewsbury - making a contribution to others who are less fortunate.  This week in school we will provide gifts for charities across Bangkok and have purchased Christmas cards designed beautifully by our students.

However, we also know that perhaps the most valuable thing we can offer is time.  This gift is why Habitat for Humanity, A4D and Operation Smile and other projects are coming to the fore at Shrewsbury.  The opportunity to build a house for another, to educate a diabetic in healthy eating, and even the chance to learn how to support families with children born with cleft lips or palates.

The beauty of charity is also the beauty of sport.  There is no right or wrong.  Cash donation and putting from off the edge of the green, or time offered and hitting a four-iron off every tee.  The point is that it doesn’t matter how you get there, it just matters that you do.

On Sunday, over 60 people gathered to give of themselves.  Time and money were offered for those who need it, and into the bargain, we had great fun and proved to ourselves once again that we aren’t going to earn a living from golf and crucially that this does not matter!

Riverside Reflections: A few of my favourite things


In recent weeks I’ve started writing again.  Writing to express a view, writing in reaction, and writing for enjoyment.  I’ve missed it.  So, in the weeks to come I will be writing more.  Welcome to the Riverside Reflections.

This week I write following a wonderful weekend in Hua Hin with our admin staff.  The term ‘admin’ does not do this particular group of people justice.  They are the blood that keeps this body alive, the spine that keeps us straight, the lungs that allow us to breathe.  We exercised all of those elements with team building games culminating in an ‘egg drop’ challenge.  Senior managers working with couriers, Principals working with PAs, marketing executives working with housekeepers.  The bond that draws us together is Shrewsbury.  A school, a collection of buildings but most importantly a community.

For years I worked in boarding schools in the UK, building and enjoying community.  The theory goes that if you live together, the closeness brings a bond that becomes unbreakable.  But this slightly misses the point, proximity is not the key reason for community.  In our case, our community is built on pride.  Long serving staff working in varied roles in support of the teaching that goes on, and in turn teaching us what loyalty and pride in our great school really look like.  The ‘admin’ weekend is one of my favourite Shrewsbury things.

A more recent addition to the Shrewsbury community is Floreat.  This too is now a favourite.  The opportunity to take a break every Friday with high achievers is too good to be passed up, and most pleasingly the achievements are often outside the usual classisfications.  Tidying toys, overt and consistent kindness, and being the first to finish Gold IA are just some of the examples of our students flourishing and being great examples to others.  They’ve enjoyed meeting me (I think?) but have certainly enjoyed the incredible cakes provided by our developing catering team.  More pride taken and more learning has meant more doughnuts consumed in support of precious human contact celebrating all that is good in life.  Long may this continue.