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From the Head

Last Friday was one of the seminal days in the Prep school calendar. The Common Entrance boys finished their final exam. Firstly, well done to all of you; we are very proud of you. The results are all now in and shared with the boys – what a wonderful set of performances. Secondly, well done to all the other boys, who have waited supportively these last few unusual weeks whilst they wait for their mates to be free too!

The end of the last exam signals a shift into the next stage of their lives, when they will no longer be current Pilgrims. However, they get these wonderful three and a half weeks in which they’ve finished, but have not actually left; they can let their hair down to some degree, and just enjoy their time with their mates. 

This time is filled with the Year 8 Leavers' Programme; a varied programme of fun and interesting challenges. As I write, the boys are at a week-long residential at Mount Kelly in Devon, doing all sorts of outdoor adventures; next week they have a variety of activities including the ‘Play in a Day’ and the ever-popular day out at Thorpe Park. The following week they are off to Bushcraft, and for a day on the water at Sandbanks. However, there are more ‘serious’ parts to the programme – a talk from Senior School Housemaster, a talk from an ex-pupil, some First Aid training.

Last Saturday, the Leavers' Programme kicked off with some Careers Talks. Two Year 8 parents came in to talk about their jobs and what they’ve learned, and Mr Rainer spoke to the boys about being a professional musician. Firstly, thank you to the parents (and Mr Rainer) for giving up their time, but also thank you for one of the central messages they delivered: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Recognise that they are an important part of learning, and can actually do you good.

This reminds me of one of my favourite stories on this theme – the creation of the Post-It Note. The story goes that an inventor called Spencer Silver at 3M was trying to create a super strong glue for aircraft construction. It did not go well, and he was struggling. Once a year the R&D department at 3M had a ‘failure party’ to which their designers were encouraged to bring along a ‘mistake’, so that they could all have a good laugh about it and make themselves feel better.  Spencer chose to take along his ‘super strong glue’, which was literally only barely tacky. Someone at the party (some versions say it was man named Art Fry who used the glue to stick his hymn notes together!) realised the potential benefits, and the Post-It note was born.

Now, the facts of this account are disputed, and is most likely apocryphal; however, we should never let the facts get in the way of a good story. The takeaway from this narrative, and what was outlined by those Year 8 parents in their Career Talk, is that mistakes are a natural part of life, and we should not be afraid of them. Furthermore, when we try new things and push ourselves hard, we are bound to make mistakes. 

The only real problem with mistakes is not that they happen, but that we fail to embrace them and to use them to improve. As Henry Ford said: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
Alistair Duncan

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