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Making Choices

Stephen Derwent Partington, aka "Mr. Steve"




FROM: Mr Steve, Principal, Lukenya British Curriculum



TOPIC: Making choices as a right and a pleasure…



Good Morning, Pupils,

And it’s the first Sunday morning after a week of online learning. How’s it going? Go on, ask yourself: ‘How are things going?’

I’ve already asked this question of teachers, and we’ve reflected and asked it of ourselves. I’ve also asked the Student Council in the form of a questionnaire, and they’ve responsibly sent me their replies, which will help us as a school to fine-tune what we’re doing for you as pupils. Thank you, Student Leaders – you did that work for the whole student body.

So: How ARE things going?

Well, it’s not for me to tell you, although it’s true that I DO have my own ideas. It’s for YOU to decide, and that’s all about CHOICES. Let’s briefly talk about choices, then.

This past week, you had a number of choices to make: to wake up early and attend assemblies or, in the absence of teachers, laze in bed; to attend lessons responsibly and participatively, or not; to be honest to your parents about the work you did, or not; to be enthusiastic about e-learning, or to instantly dislike it; to help out at home, or sulk; and so on. A lot of choices.

That’s the thing about life: we CAN do all sorts of things, but what SHOULD we do? This philosophical question is what forms the basis of all ethical systems, of all MORALITY. Almost every moment of your young lives, you’re presented with options, with choices.

Being young is a great thing (I was young once, or so I’m told; personally, I can’t remember when), but it’s also a tricky time because many of the things that are wrong for you and wrong for the community you live in, are very tempting, from laziness to fast food to all sorts of worse things. And too often we think that GROWING UP and becoming an adult is JUST about being allowed to do these things, or being ABLE to do them, now that you’re older. But NO, that’s not what growing up is about – growing up is about living well for yourself and others, and making responsible choices

I admire all of our students, but the ones who I particularly admire around the school compound are those who aren’t just getting OLDER (anybody can do THAT, hehe), but those who are growing wiser and more responsible. Those who, when faced with options, choose wisely and maturely.

Let’s consider this online study. If we entered day one, Monday 4th May, ONLY with the attitude that we weren’t going to like it, that it would interfere with our sleep, or that would be ‘difficult’, well, that is probably exactly what it became. Choosing the wrong attitude in this manner becomes what we call ‘a self-fulfilling prophesy’ – this means that the world WILL become how you approach it. As teachers, we knew that despite apprehensions and small concerns, and despite knowing that REAL SCHOOL is the best way for young people to learn, we’d attack the week of e-learning with enthusiasm and professional excitement. And we did so. Consequently, after a day or so of little struggles, we began to relax into things and managed a smooth flow (usually) of video lessons and Google Classroom tasks, and we’ve even come to enjoy it, even though our greatest hope is that you’ll be back as soon as possible. I thank the entire staffroom for this CHOICE we made together during this International Teacher Appreciation Week.

It’s all about making the right choice of the right attitude – some ‘old people’ will tell you that this is what you should do just because ‘YOU MUST’. The problem with that statement from older people is that it in FACT tells you that you have no choice but to make the right choice, or you’ll be punished. It’s called irony or hypocrisy when you tell somebody that they have NO CHOICE but to make a correct choice. That’s not a choice at all, is it?!

Well, I have a slightly different view. I’m suggesting that you DO have a choice, and that you would be well ADVISED to make the right choice for yourself, as both you and other people around you will find life MORE PLEASANT, more enjoyable. And I’d like you to enjoy your life, now and as often as possible in the future. You have a choice: make it. I’d like you to be advised, not forced.

I also believe that offering you choices now as a young person is better for you, your families and wider society for the FUTURE. I have always strongly believed, based upon evidence, that societies that FORCE pupils to act in a particular way at school find that those pupils grow into incompetent young adults AFTER school, who have no ability to thoughtfully or responsibly control their own actions. Such ‘adults’ who can’t make independent decisions haven’t grown up at all, and are just BIG CHILDREN. The key to growing up is thinking about the right choices NOW, so that as you grow you’ll be in full charge of your own thoughts and actions, so you don’t need a police officer to thwack you or a parent to chastise you or a spouse to frown at you, and so on. You have a right to avoid that – so, you have a duty to yourself and others to begin making right choices NOW.

Good luck with this: it isn’t easy. But you will be respected and admired as you struggle to do the correct thing, sometimes getting things right, sometimes getting it wrong. And you’ll be supported: that’s why we give House Points, praise, certificates and prizes for your successes in ALL areas of school life and Debits and other permitted sanctions when you ‘mess up’. That’s why, as teachers, and as a Principal, I respect and listen to and respond to your Student Council – because YOU have chosen them, and I respect your choices, even when I sometimes might have MYSELF voted for other Student Leaders.

So, as we enter this coming week, here’s my advice for YOUNG-YOU NOW and OLDER-YOU LATER, even though I’ll not shoot you: wake up early; exercise; enjoy your study, despite the challenges, and choose in advance that you will enjoy it; enjoy the various assemblies; enjoy seeing your schoolmates and teachers; enjoy the homework; listen to your family; think about EVERY decision or CHOICE that you have to make. Soon, making sensible decisions will come naturally, but not if you wait – start NOW.

And then, when school reopens, decide once more that you’ll study and that you’ll enjoy the struggle of learning in uniform again. You CAN change the world, young people, and at times you really SHOULD, and yet SOMETIMES, for example NOW when we’re locked down and schools are closed by government, I recall the simple and cheeky English phrase: ‘You can like it or lump it!, meaning that we can either make the best of the circumstances that we find ourselves in, or we can just moan. If I were you, I’d make the choice to ‘Like it’! That’s my ADVICE, and you can, well, ‘Like it or lump it!’ :-)

Choices have consequences, always, even if we can’t see them. But the consequences of just, wise, fair and responsible choices are usually good and pleasant; the consequences of poor, selfish and impulsive choices are usually much more unpleasant. And the choices we make even now can affect our lives years into the future. For example, a young person who turns to drink or whatever can very easily end up a broken, unimpressive adult whose own life is a misery, and who brings equal misery to others. No: cope positively, by making the right choices. CHOOSE to do so.

Here’s a short poem by the American poet Jane Hirshfield, entitled ‘Tree’. It’s not ONLY about a tree – it’s about how making a poor choice, or making no choice at all (and just letting things drift) can have huge consequences YEARS into the future:


It is foolish

to let a young redwood

grow next to a house.

Even in this

one lifetime,

you will have to choose.

That great calm being,

this clutter of soup pots and books –

Already, the first branch-tips brush at the window.

Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.


Years down the line, the redwood tree has grown so tall that the house occupant has to make the choice: to fell the tree or demolish the house – ‘immensity’, or big decisions and the consequences of poor decisions taken EARLIER, now ‘tap at your life’, and there are no pleasant choices left to make, as it’s too late!

Pupils, I want you to get more out of these coming weeks than any other pupils in this Republic. To an extent, that’s our job as teachers. To an extent, it’s your parents’ ‘job’ now. But, even MORE IMPORTANTLY as you grow into older children and young adulthood, it is YOUR job. And don’t think of making the right choice as a DULL job, as an inconvenience in life, as a deep problem, as an insurmountable struggle – NO, think of it as a pleasure, as a job you’ve chosen, because…well…the consequences of good choices can be wonderful. They include HAPPINESS. And whenever you have choices, be grateful – so many other people have FEWER of them.

Good luck, and be happy as we all, together, enter Week Two with enthusiasm, confidence, determination and a SMILE, even if that alarm clock seemed to go off earlier than we wanted!

Have a great week ahead.

With all best wishes, and looking forward to seeing you soon,

‘Mr Steve’, Principal.