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Victories come in different forms

Victories come in different forms. Montgomery at El Alamein; Obama over McCain; Kanneh-Mason in Young Musician of the Year; finding that rogue Malteser when you thought the bag was empty…  

Last Saturday, we saw something special of the sporting variety played out on both Pilgrims’ and Cothill pitches. Some were victories by scoreline (all of our ‘A’ teams, as well as some others won against tough opposition); some were victories in maintaining an optimistic, keep-at-it mindset. Some were both. With a whopping eight senior teams out in the field (we think that’s a record), there was also a significant ‘victory’ in the name of participation too, and this is just as worthy of celebration.  

Leading the claims to have epitomised both a victory of mindset and scoreline, however, were the 1st XI. This hapless Headmaster, Dear Reader, continued his rounds of the matches that afternoon moving on from the 1st XI match with 15 minutes left to play and with the Pilgrims’ boys 3-1 down. A short while later, at match tea, I discovered I had missed what turned out to be perhaps the match of these boys’ Pilgrims’ playing careers. Through inspired teamwork and great individual moments, the score had been pulled back to a 4-3 win; and over Cothill that is no mean feat. Digging deep, keeping positive and never giving up had won the day; and what a great outcome to show for it! 

But a few days later there was another entirely different type of victory. One that illustrates how some of the most profound lessons in character are sometimes learned. Occasionally in a school children can get things very wrong. This should not be a surprise, nor cast as a reflection on the particular school. (Which of us as parents has not had to pick up the pieces from one of our own children’s mistakes desperately hoping others would not read it as a reflection of us?!) They are children. They are ‘apprentice adults’. They are learning. Their brains are developing, and for years the activity of the amygdala (promoting impulsivity) is outpacing that of the pre-frontal cortex (promoting rationale, control, regulation). About 27 years, in fact, for males. (Cue a dawning understanding for anyone who may not have been previously aware of this…) 

Last week, a not-insignificant amount of money was brought into school by one or two boys for broadly understandable – if very misguided – reasons. (For clarity, this is not permitted.) This money was subsequently taken by an unknown other, with no viable means of ascertaining by whom or even precisely when. 

At Monday’s assembly, pitched openly and neutrally, I made it clear to all the boys that there was still a way back for this unknown other, that they could do the right thing, reverse and make up for their action, and use the amnesty I offered to return the money anonymously, perhaps in an envelope outside my office or that of Mr Duncan or Mr Rainer. With nothing else in the armoury, I felt – against hope – that it was unlikely to result in anything. Indeed by lunch on Tuesday, it hadn’t. I repeated the appeal at end-of-meal notices, asking that boy to search his conscience and do the right thing.  

At the end of the day, I left my office and picked up some paper that looked like it had been accidentally dropped outside the door. Wrapped up inside was the money. And I have to say that in that moment I felt the rush of victory. Not my victory, but the victory of the right thing being done in the end, of real learning of the moral variety having taken place. Right there, what an enormous step that boy had achieved.  

There will be other mistakes from other boys in the future (24 years in the profession teaches me that), but each one gives that all-important chance to learn to make the right choice in the future; that chance for a victory.  

Tim Butcher

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