I sat down to reflect on the first week back after the holiday and noticed that a couple of recent blog posts had mysteriously disappeared from this site. I had an early draft of last week’s (Respect: Humility and Tolerance), so I post it after this one for the sake of posterity!
Last week was eventful as we now enter, with a vengeance, the season of planning for next year. This includes planning the curriculum, timetable and staffing and of course, the interview process (more intense for a school that is still growing!). As many of you may have seen in the national news, it is getting tougher and tougher for schools to recruit good, experienced teachers – with a track-record of success. And this i most notably the case in subjects such as mathematics, English, modern foreign languages, IT and science. Headteachers across Harrow and beyond constantly bemoan the situation in which we currently find ourselves. There is a real and growing shortage of classroom talent. For one maternity cover in a core subject, towards the end of last year, we interviewed five times without securing a suitable candidate. We then secured successful candidates from supply agencies – but of course they are on day to day contracts with all the insecurity that goes with that. We are not alone in this.
However, it is really encouraging to report that the advertisement for the new Assistant Principal (Head of Sixth Form and Careers Education) has drawn a large number of excellent candidates and 6 have been shortlisted to be interviewed next week. Our more recent national advertisement for 11 new, full-time teachers across a range of subjects and key stages [Link Here] is also drawing an encouraging amount of interest with applications already. If you know of any teacher who might fit well with our unique school, please point them in the right direction.
Sixth Form – Next Steps
As discussed in an earlier blog posting, we of course open our sixth form provision in September 2017 (some of our current year 10 students will be our first). We are discussing and planning two scenarios – the first being opening the sixth form in additional accommodation provided by the DfE at Pinner (assuming the worse case that the building at Whitchurch is a little delayed) and the second (less likely) that we open straight into a fully commissioned building at Whitchurch already handed over. In the event that we do remain at Pinner for a term in 2017/18 as our building nears completion, we plan to open with around 100 students in year 12 (our PAN, going forward, is 180). Up to 40 of these students can arrive from other schools – the majority of places being made available of course, for our own students currently on roll. So that we can be ready to open this new and exciting phase in the Avanti House provision, we hope to have appointed (interviews next week for September 2016 start) an experienced Assistant Principal (Head of Post-16 and Careers Education). (S)he will then be best placed to work with me and the Governing Body on the curriculum, the infrastructure, the careers education, links with top Universities, the technology, the international links, the business and internship opportunities etc. (S)he will have a full year to ensure that staff are well trained, the right post-16 staff are recruited and we are well placed to get off to the best possible start in 2017/18. These are really exciting times. I shall keep you posted.
Returning to the Fold
Last week we attracted a good selection of candidates for the position of Principal’s PA – with the long-standing and excellent Justine Reilly heading off to a promoted position in another sector. In the event, following a day of tasks, student and staff panel interviews and final panel interviews we decided to not appoint on this occasion and to go again with an advertisement. A follow up conversation between me and Justine in the early evening offered a very pleasant surprise, with Justine now eager to retract her resignation and to return to the fold. Friday was meant to be Justine’s final day with us but we are all pleased to learn that she will be continuing as part of the Avanti House family from Monday. I know that parents, students and staff alike will be very pleased to hear this news.
Action without Attachment to the Results
To close this week, I had the good fortune last week to spend a half-day in the company of a visiting Professor and a good friend of the school and the Trust. Professor Graham Schweig (Garuda Das) is a long-time initiated devotee of ISKCON, a Harvard graduate and is now a Professor of Philosophy and Religion in the USA. Graham spent the morning in PRE lessons and touring the secondary site, for the first time. He had some wonderful things to report regarding what he saw and heard in the school – praise indeed from a high academic with a real understanding of the faith. A published author of an excellent (and highly recommended) copy of the Bhagavad Gita (Link HERE). When talking with Graham last week and reflecting on the relentless challenges we face in setting up a new school such as this, I was reminded of the recurring theme of Karma Yoga, in the Gita; Chapter 2, Verse 47 for example, when Krishna said to Arjuna:
You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions.
Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.
A wonderful teaching for us all and picking up the theme from last week’s blog (below) regarding humility.
Four lessons are learned from this popular verse, for me:
i) We should do your duty; our good works, but not concern ourselves with the results – just do our best and do the right thing. (Karma)
ii) The fruits of our actions are not for our enjoyment – if a life of service is being led, this is true. There may be enjoyment – but there should not be attachment to that enjoyment. (Non-attachment)
iii) Whilst doing our good works, we should not give into the pride of being the ‘do-er’. (Humility)
iv) Neither should we be attached to inaction – procrastination, being overwhelmed or lazy.
Have a great week…
Blogpost – 10th April 2016 (Recovered Early Draft)
Respect: Humility and Tolerance
I hope all the friends and families of Avanti House School enjoyed a restful break and a happy Easter – hopefully not having to burn off too many ‘chocolate calories’ as we move into the summer. We look forward to welcoming back our students into the summer term with lots of exciting times ahead of us.
Each term, at Avanti House, we focus on one of our six core values. In the secondary school, this term, we are focussing on respect. Amongst other themes, we shall explore the idea as to whether respect needs to ‘be earned’. We meet people every day who are similar to us and many, in so many ways, who are very different from us. Some we instantly like; some to whom we take an instant dislike. The question needs to be asked – do all people need to ‘earn our respect’ or should this be something that we give, unconditionally?
Most would agree that it is generally easier for us to give respect and to have high regard to those whom are similar to us in character and behaviour and to be more wary with those who seem radically different. For young people, whose characters are still forming, these are really important ideas. Within the Avanti Schools faith tradition, the Krishna Consciousness movement, the main teacher of the tradition, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, although not a lot was written down that He said, one thing he is reported to have said was that we should…
‘be more humble than a blade of grass, more tolerant than a tree, always offering respect unto others and never expecting any in return’
These are interesting ethical ideas. More tolerant than a tree? What does that mean? A tree suffers from wind, wild rains, heat, cold, snow – birds nesting, animals eating away at the bark, humans cutting branches – but it stays there, unmoved, rooted to the ground – unaffected by all of this activity going on around it. Perhaps this level of tolerance (especially towards those things for which we have no control) is something to which we might aspire. More humble than a blade of grass? In the West, ‘humility’ is a loaded word; and not often considered a very positive ideal. We often consider that it means having a low self worth, being prepared perhaps to be trampled all over. But it doesn’t mean that at all. In fact, humility it is tied up with respect and some acceptance of the things that we cannot change. We shall, in assemblies look at some of the most inspirational people in the public eye, who had the courage to show authentic humility when it was necessary – Nelson Mandela, Stephen Sutton, Mother Theresa to name but three.
I was reminded in the papers recently of Stephen Sutton, who died two years ago. Stephen learned that he had incurable cancer when he was only 15 years of age. He went on to squeeze more into the remaining five years of his life than many of us fit into our entire lives. He had humility and tolerance – towards his illness and the fact that he was mortal – recognising that we all eventually die, but that he was going to die before his time – and he accepted that – but not by giving up. He accepted it by taking and giving. He took all that life had to offer him in the time that he had and and he gave genuine hope and inspiration to others He respected himself, others and even his own illness. A remarkable young man – we can learn from his precious, short life – a life summarised here. His journey to the end of his life was no different than ours – just shorter. I think he was a perfect example of Chaitanya’s quote.
The author C.S Lewis (Narnia) said something about humility – he said that…
“Humility is not about thinking less of yourself it’s about thinking ABOUT yourself less” – in other words, thinking more of others.
Showing respect is fundamentally an act of inclusion rather than one of exclusion. As I mentioned in a recent radio broadcast on BBC Asian Radio (link HERE), whilst we are, at Avanti House, a state-funded Hindu faith school, we both accept and indeed warmly welcome families from all faiths and from those of none. There might need to be, by some, a tolerance of some of our faith-based requirements (our vegetarian ethos is a good example) but this does not seem to pose a problem to any of our families. The majority of children really enjoy the healthy, vegetarian fare they are offered each day. First and foremost, we seek to be an inclusive school – celebrating the faith but with no specific faith-based admissions. And we also look to celebrate our differences as well as the common humanity and values which we all share. We are preparing young people for a diverse, pluralist and multi-ethnic, global society after all.
Finally, we look forward to hearing how our Head of History Mick Heffernan and Head of PE, Luke Hindes, got on in their charity ride from London to Bruges. I did hear that just before setting off, they had raised £1100.
Mick and Luke were setting out on this event for the worthy cause of Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice. All donations go towards:
· Caring for children with life limiting illnesses
· Funding a hospice building
· Training nurses to deliver vital services
Attached is a video on great work Noah’s Ark do for children in North London:
Although the ride will have happened by now, it is never to late to contribute – please just visit the Just Giving Page in the link below:
Any support will be greatly appreciated.
Have a great week