Headmasters Blog

The reopening of Durston after the Summer Holidays didn’t follow the normal preparations for a new academic year. Detailed work in fact began before the end of the summer term and throughout the summer holidays. It was thanks to the meticulous planning of the Bursar and the Senior Management team so ably assisted by our estates department that we were able to welcome back pupils and teachers safely at the beginning of September. As I reflect on my first half of the Autumn term there have been many lessons that we have been able to draw upon. I want to talk about two of them in this my first blog, and suggest how their application can bring benefits to us personally to help us all to be effective and productive in whatever we do; well beyond being COVID-safe!

Firstly, take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.

For many pupils, especially in the current climate and restrictions, the idea of being successful at school, successful in assessments, on the sports field, on the school council, in the school choir, successful in getting a place to their chosen senior school can, at times, seem overwhelming. Our world has become a great deal more complicated and uncertain.

To be successful, we must be able to get things done and do them well. Ultimate success is earned, built and cultivated in small steps, with small things done successfully every day.

Emily Dickinson once said, “If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.”

In 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired) gave a (now very famous) graduation speech at the University of Texas. A simple message which has been watched millions of times on social media, begins with the statement, ‘if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.’ Wise words indeed.

So how do we take care of the little things so that the big things take care of themselves? At school I have been impressed by so much. The collective determination by everyone at school to get the little things right has allowed for as near normal an experience for the boys at school as possible. Whether that be washing hands, following the easy flow system of movement around the buildings, or simply being at the right place, at the right time with the right equipment. The individual contributions of every boy from Reception to Year 8 has made an enormous difference. And it has been done with such good grace, positivity and respect for other around them. These ‘little things’ are very much under our own control, a fact that is reassuring in itself.

Start doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.-St. Francis of Assisi

The second learning point is connected, and it refers to the importance of these small but highly relevant behaviours becoming ingrained as positive habits. Whilst we encourage the boys at Durston to think big and have a greater vision for themselves, to achieve this we have to start small and start with ourselves.

It was Napoleon who said“The only conquests which are permanent and leave no regrets are our conquests over ourselves.”

Much has been written on the power of developing and maintaining positive habits, that disconnected may seem to have little impact, but taken as a whole can be life changing. Little things that we can do every day, that don’t take up too much time but make all the difference in the long term. When looking at successful outcomes for pupils and the habits they have developed from those earliest and formative years at school, certain themes become apparent. Here are a couple to consider:

Allowing for time to think about forward planning, referring regularly to their pupil planner and using it to record assignments, assessment dates, and knowing what is coming up over the week and planning ahead. (A skill we hope they will have mastered well before the boys depart for their chosen Senior School).

Another fabulous habit to form is that of regular reading for pleasure, and is a theme I will come back to in future blogs.

Getting habits to stick is often a challenge, especially if the results are not immediate. What I am talking about here however, is discovering those small changes or tweaks to our routines, that may seem insignificant, but that create huge differences in outcomes. A question to begin with may be: ‘What small things can I focus on today that will allow us to become a better version of ourselves?

At school I witness many of these behaviours, developed and engrained into the character of each boy here and in the way they go about their business and conduct themselves. Small actions but underpinned by the values of kindness, consideration and respect for themselves and others.