I can!

Have you seen this fabulous short film, made to support and promote the British Paralympic team who are coming to Brazil in a few weeks’ time?

It is inspiring. Watching Olympians is incredible – but to see para-athletes whose bodies cause them challenges and difficulties in their lives is awe inspiring, and reminds us how small our own difficulties are, encouraging us to look beyond what we can’t do, and think about what is possible.

In the Senior School we have ‘being hard working’ as our theme of the term and to kick this off I showed this video in assembly and recounted a story about a boy called John:

Some years ago, working in the UK I was teaching biology A level. Our new headmaster was determined to improve the academic profile of our school and become the best school we could be. A level biology is hard – in fact, all A levels are hard. Like the IB, they are rigorous, academic and challenging and if you don’t work very hard you will not be successful however gifted you might be. This message was clear to our sixth formers and the measure of success from our headmaster was a B grade. As teachers and heads of subject our aim was to get all our pupils a B or above. This was how we were measured by UK school league tables and we were all aiming for 100% A and B grades.

In my U6th class I had three boys who might not manage a B.

One of them was John, a gifted artist. In fact, I googled John and found that he is now a lighting and furniture designer, having studied design at university. He would probably be the first to admit (certainly during the 6th form) that he was happier in the art room, where he excelled, than in the science labs where he found the subject challenging. When I googled John I also found this image on the web of one of his A level art projects:

A truly spectacular piece which, whether you like art or not you can appreciate as beautiful.  Made as part of his final A level show when he was 18, each little insect is about 1 cm across, suspended on fishing wire in a clear perspex box and made of tiny pieces of old watches, pens and machinery.  I was awestruck by this piece – it is beautiful work indeed and it took him weeks to complete.  As you might imagine, in art he got a top grade.  John can do really difficult things and make exquisite pieces of art, this is clear.  He has incredible ability and is exceptionally committed and determined.

Sadly biology was a different story and John did not do so well in his mock exams.  As we entered the second half of the school year he was under pressure to focus on his art and give up his biology.  It was clear, according to the head of 6th form and assistant head academic that he would not get a B and so he was better off focusing on what he was really good at.  He did not need his A level biology grade to enter university and he would enjoy school more without the science lessons.

But, he was not going to give up.  John refused to say ‘I can’t!’ and took on the more positive message of ‘I can!’  He hit the books and worked hard, really hard.  Motivated to prove the teachers wrong, John did not give up, in fact he proved himself to be one of the most committed pupils I have every taught.  Over the next few months he did all I that I suggested, turning up to extra classes, answering question paper after question paper, day after day, focusing on his areas of weakness and developing confidence in the areas that he was already comfortable with so that he had a strong base from which to build.  He developed learning strategies to ensure that he knew all the biological terminology and definitions, so that he could label diagrams and analyse data successfully.  He remained motivated and driven – to prove us wrong.

In August of that year I waited with baited breath to see the results of the biology A level – and because we see them the day before the pupils receive them, it was a real pleasure to watch John open his envelope; I knew what was inside.  He had done it.  He had proved us wrong.

When we are motivated and determined and when we put the work in, we can achieve so much more than we thought we could.  This year will feel very challenging at times for all our pupils, whether in sport, music, D of E, making friends, drama productions, maths, English, French science or another area of school life.  But if they tell themselves that they can do it, and they put in the hard work, they can.  Just like John did.

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