Team Before Self

Taken from the Headmaster’s words at Speech Day, 6th July 2019

Chairman of Governors, Principal, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, Sedberghians.

It’s sometimes said that the headmaster’s speech should be like a comet: dazzling, eye-opening, but over before you know it. I’m not sure that I can do the first two, but I will try and achieve the third…

With that in mind, it is simply an impossible job to summarise all of the amazing things that our pupils have achieved this year. To try and run through them all is only an exercise in what you have to leave out. And so, and rather like last year, I will instead pick out a theme and perhaps point out some examples of where the Prep School fits into this.

This time last year, as the School was getting ready for a new curriculum and moving beyond Common Entrance, I spoke about the importance of singular turning points. This year, as we near its conclusion, I am going to reflect on what I see as one of Sedbergh’s greatest values:

The sense of team before self.

I recently heard the Principal say to someone that Sedbergh is unapologetically tribal. Around the same time, I heard a speaker at conference refer to the ‘tribal classroom’ as a route to happiness. A need to belong to a tribe is woven into our DNA from the time that we were hunter gatherers.

In the Senior School it is said that the children will ‘bleed for the School but die for the House.’ In the Prep School we also enjoy this deep sense of community that is enhanced by, but not limited to, the boarding Houses of Cressbrook, Beale and Thornfield. Day pupils and boarders all share the same feelings of belonging to something bigger and older than them, to something special; a loyalty to The Brown.

And I hope that parents feel it too. There has been plenty of that over the last few weeks as the summer schedule fills our social diaries, but also plenty through the preceding terms, whether that be Mums on Tour, Mums on Skis, Mums on Another Tour, Mums at a Dinner, or Mums Huddled on the Touchline. The Glamour and Gold Ball held at Roundthorn Country House was perhaps the highlight in this regard and took us over the finish line in our race to build the Space Net climbing frame. On behalf of the many happy children that use it, day in and day out, can I please say another big thank you to all the Friends who organised events like this and to all of you who have come along in support.

So, what are a few things that make the Sedbergh Prep team so successful?

I would say the first is the strength of our relationships; between children, between staff. This stems from our shared experience in the classroom, in the dining hall, in the boarding houses, on the stage and on the sports pitch. These moments strengthen the bonds between us all, help us to understand each other as learners – and as staff – and reinforce the sense of team.

There is no chance at Sedbergh Prep that we might see the same Latin report that was once written about my father: ‘I have no idea who this boy is. This reflects badly on both of us.’

Most of mankind’s greatest achievements were reached through the power of teams, perhaps unseen, rather than individuals. Neil Armstrong would never have got to the moon without Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins or the team back at the Kennedy Space Centre.

And Steve Jobs once said, ‘Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.’

This is why our children collaborate in their lessons, why teams of boys and girls work together to build a crane or sumo robot in DTE, why children work together to problem solve from Pre-Prep onwards. We know this collaborative approach is effective: various year groups show up to 69% of pupils working at a mastery level in maths and our Pre-Prep pupils finish this summer with a reading age, on average, that is a year ahead of themselves. As well as high standards, however, our children leave School knowing how to operate as a team, ready for the world of work described by Steve Jobs.

We also understand the value of service. Year 7s applying for positions of responsibility have had to show that they are, in the words of the All Blacks, willing to ‘sweep the sheds.’ Everyone in this team knows the value of their individual contribution and can see its impact on our School.

The Senior Chamber Choir enjoyed a fabulous tour to Cambridge University. Many parents here were there to support, the rest of us had to wait for the exeat concert on their return. The choir that afternoon gave performances that made the hairs stand up on the back of our necks and sent shivers down our spines. Everyone in this special team plays their part and each voice – no matter how small – adds to the magic.

As the famous American football coach, Vince Lombardi once said: ‘Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilisation work.’ He might have added: ‘what makes Sedbergh work.’

Our team also finds power in diversity. Our children are a proud mix of academic, musical, Continental, dramatic, boy, girl, sporty, creative. We round off each other’s sharper edges and compliment each other’s strength’s and weaknesses. To borrow an analogy from Mrs Prall in Senior Chapel this term: you cannot have a netball team full of shooters, nor a rugby team full of backs – no matter how much Mr Moss might wish it were so.

Never was this diversity so apparent as when the Year 6 and 7 children brought the Lion King so vividly to life last week. Every animal of the savannah graced the stage, and the team that gave them life were a mix of brilliant actors, beautiful singers, graceful dancers and – crucially – the chorus line. We were treated to some terrific performances and yet my favourite moment still had to be watching the mass of rugby players dancing the hula with such raw passion!

Every team needs leaders, and at Sedbergh Prep we have many. Here, I would like to thank the Chairman of Governors, the Principal and Chief Operating Officer for their continued support. Without their devotion and focus, we simply would not enjoy the School we live in today.

We also have a body of staff – your children’s leaders day by day – that never fail to surprise me with their commitment to the job. But ‘job’ or ‘work’ is not the right word to describe what they feel about the School and its pupils. Nor does ‘going the extra mile’ seem sufficient to sum up all that they do. Not when they cancel family plans to take children on overnight tours, stay up late to put together video stories, then get up early to take an extra practice. Not when they drive all over the country to riding competitions, helping Tink to become a national runner up. Not when they so deserve the latest outstanding Ofsted report in the Mulberry Bush. Not when they choke up with emotion just talking about the achievements of your children at the Sportsmen’s and Sportswomen’s Dinners.

Nor does ‘thank you’ seem to say enough, but – nevertheless – on behalf of us all, ‘thank you’.

Still on the theme of teams and leaders, the importance of a hard-working and cohesive group of Year 8s cannot be overstated. The school is a special place because of the value that is added by these young men and women who blossom in their last two years here – and this generation of Year 8s have been quite superb. They have set the tone for the School, judged perfectly the balance between pupils and staff and have excelled. You have played no small part in the success of the School this year and you deserve our congratulations.

The Year 8s also epitomise another strong feature of successful teams in their strength in depth. Some have held offices of responsibility and some – on the face of it – have not. But all have played their part. The Year 7s following in their footsteps have some very big shoes to fill – quite literally in the case of the Year 8 girls – but I know they will rise to the challenge. Later on, I will announce further positions of responsibility for next year. Some of you will be successful, some not – yet – but you will all play your part at the top end of the School. Indeed some, like JJ Kouadio next year, may go on to be Head of School.

Great teams also share a clear sense of identity. Our team are so clear in our ethos that we have generated a new word; a new adjective. I don’t know of many prep schools that are so firmly rooted in their values with such a clear sense of what makes us who we are. We refer to ourselves as being ‘typically Sedberghian’. And we do so with our chins up and our chests out. We are proud of what that means; to be ‘Sedberghian’.

If you put this into words, it means that we are confident but not arrogant, we celebrate the success of our friends even when it comes at a cost to us, we know that seeing the race through to the end will bring reward. We show kindness to our fellow man.

To be Sedberghian is also about taking risks and showing a sense of adventure. With 128 runners – including every Year 7 and 8 pupil – completing the now legendary Prep School Epic just a few weeks ago, it is hard to think of another School – either Prep or Senior – that so embraces its own spectacular surroundings. That so embraces a challenge well met. That so embraces each other’s sheer determination and bravery in the face of adversity. In stark contrast to the heat wave of last year, however, I hadn’t anticipated the greatest risk on this year’s run to have been that of drowning.

I will leave you with the words of an American journalist, Robert Fulsham, reflecting on the importance of early education and the value of the team. As our Year 8s move into Year 9 I would like them to remember this:

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be – I learned in kindergarten. These are the things I learned. Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Live a balanced life. Live a little, think a little, and draw and paint and dance and play and work a little every day.

And it is still true no matter how old you are: …when you go out into the world it is best to hold hands and stick together.’

Thank you.

Following their outing at a recent assessment day, the pair will attend the training sessions at the performance centre in Fylde.

The England Hockey performance centres are strategically located across England to maximise opportunity and player development. Through this programme, England Hockey want to move talent development to a higher level.

Newman, in his last year at Sedbergh Prep School, will be one of the youngest to attend the performance centre training sessions. Director of Sport at Sedbergh Prep School, Mr Rupert Bunday, was delighted to hear the news.

This is a fantastic achievement for Tom and one that we at Sedbergh Prep School are incredibly proud of. We wish him the best of luck as he plays at performance centre level.” Said Mr Bunday.

When asked what he thinks it is that has made Newman excel this year, Mr Bunday was under no illusions. “This is down to the commitment that Tom has shown to his hockey – early morning sessions, games sessions and club training. He has worked hard on his individual skills, as well as his team play”.

Players at the performance centre will take part in 10 evening sessions, five day sessions and up to four competitions totalling an incredible 88 hours of coaching time.

Follow Sedbergh: