“Greetings, loved ones”.

So started Katy Perry’s California Gurls, which went straight in at number one in the charts exactly (and amazingly!) eight years ago today.  That was the summer of 2010, just before our eldest daughter started at The Holt, in September that year.  Where did those eight years go?

As a Holt Parent or Guardian, your family will similarly have its own unique “Holt timeline”.  Maybe your daughter is nearing the end of Year 7 and will therefore leave The Holt in 2024, just before the Paris Olympics.  Or maybe you have several children spread over a number of years and it feels like you’ve been coming to Holt Parents Evenings for ever!

Our two girls’ secondary education career is now at an end as Daughter 2 has just completed her A level exams.  Also ending is my four-year term of office on The Holt’s Governing Body.  Given all these endings, Mrs Kennedy and Mrs Pearce have kindly lent me their weekly blog slot to share some reflections on being a Governor at The Holt.

What I’ve noticed is that, in at least three ways, governing is quite analogous to parenting:

  1. It’s about them, not me

Crowd singing with Dua Lipa at Glastonbury

Even though ultimate accountability for the school lies with the Governors, it’s Mrs Kennedy & Mrs Pearce, with their leadership team and all the teaching & support staff, who run The Holt.

If I ever start feeling a little self-important and find myself wanting to get a bit too involved with operational matters, I remember that governing a school is about providing strategic leadership.  It’s also about collaborating as a “critical friend”, by providing constructive challenge and support to the Co-Headteachers and their team.

This sort of “friendly oversight” is similar to parenting.  It’s not for us as parents to over-control our children’s lives.  It’s their life, for them to live, using our guidance as they grow.

Easier said than done, though, right?  If you’ve followed my two previous guest blog articles you’ll know all about the ongoing feud in our household around mobile devices (and in many other households with teenagers, I’m guessing?).  I see the latest research, from Glasgow University last month, indicates we should all turn off our mobiles by 10:00pm each night.

For years, I’ve regularly thrown a huge tissy about this whole topic with our three children.  Which is weird, because TISSY is an acronym for all the things that I struggle with which tend to eat up their lives: Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify and YouTube.

A glimmer of hope, though, the other day, reinforcing the notion that it’s often best to trust those around us to (eventually) do the right thing: Daughter 1 messaged me from University saying, “I’ve deleted Instagram from my phone as it wastes too much time”.  Hallejulah!

  1. It’s a long-term path, but taken a step at a time

Walking the long-distance Camino de Santiago

All schools have a set of operating policies.  The Holt has about 70: you can see most of them here, covering everything from Attendance, to Equality, to Relationships & Sex Education.

Governors review all the policies on cyclical basis every three years or so, amending them as required so they remain up to date and relevant.  But it’s all The Holt’s staff who diligently apply the policies, day in, day out.  Over the long term, this consistency and balance help the students develop and grow into mature young adults.

So it is, once again, with parenting.  We make rules (or policies) at home which we adapt over time as our children grow up.  But, scarily, we teach them values every day: not through our words, but by all our actions.  Children learn by observing what we do and drawing their own conclusions about what we think is important in life.  So beware how you behave each day!

As I’m the English Department Link Governor I’m tempted to quote the former Poet Laurate Philip Larkin’s famous poem This Be The Verse, but won’t on account of its colourful language.  Perhaps more helpful are the hints & tips from American psychologist Dr Laura Markham who reiterates how children’s character comes from observing their parents over the long term.

  1. We’re incredibly lucky

Saying thank you at the end of each & every day

Finally, being a Governor provides a window onto how hard it is to run a secondary school, particularly in times of austerity.  But as a Holt Governor, what I’ve witnessed is just how incredibly hard the entire team work to meet this challenge for our children.

Even just thinking about the daily workload is exhausting.  Every day Holt teachers deliver multiple lessons to classes from varying years, meeting the diverse and complex needs of different students within each class.  This involves making many hundreds of educational decisions each day – teaching is thinking on your feet.

Many Holt staff also make themselves available to answer questions from students at break and lunchtime and after school, when they’re highly focussed on marking and grading.  Later in the day, there are often phone calls to parents to make, discussions with colleagues about the curriculum, and tomorrow’s lessons either to craft from scratch or to update (so they remain relevant to the students’ fast-changing lives).  All of this is done to exacting Ofsted standards, of course, whilst also thinking about continuing professional development to remain current.

And then there are all the extra-curricular activities and community events that we read so much about each week in this blog.  Holt teachers, and the wider support and leadership team, must be amongst some of the hardest working and relentlessly diligent individuals anywhere.

Many times during the last four years of being a Governor I’ve felt both gratified and inspired, and frankly incredibly lucky, to witness the commitment and passion of the entire Holt team.

So the final analogy with parenting is, of course, that we’re all really lucky to be Holt parents.

Overheard recently at my barbers (who generally knows what’s what): “The best school here in Wokingham is The Holt.”  Hang on, our children attend one of the best schools in the what might be the best town to raise a family: could we actually be any luckier?

That’s not to say everything’s rosy.  Looking wider than the “Wokingham bubble” our young people will face considerable challenges during their 21st century global lives.  These include the economic impacts of globalisation, technology, the growing and ageing population, the scarcity of resources, pollution, climate change, house prices, and so on and so forth.  It’s a scary list, isn’t it? (and I haven’t even mentioned physical and mental health issues).  Or Brexit!

I found the Archbishop of Canterbury’s new book, Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope, a fantastically rich and well-informed articulation of the problems facing Britain and the wider world.  Justin then identifies the values that will enable us to reimagine a more hopeful future.

My hope for all our collective children is that The Holt’s principles of aiming high, working hard, and being kind will stand them in good stead for their future lives.  I’m sure the resilience and grit instilled in them during their time at The Holt will help them face whatever the future holds, with creativity, confidence and compassion.  And humour – it’s important to laugh!

Conclusion

Spookily, my three reflections above almost exactly echo the three character traits which the Holt team have been discussing with the students this year: Humility to recognise the efforts of others around us doing the right thing; Stoicism to calmly do the right thing each and every day, and Gratitude for our incredible luck at belonging to such a hard-working community.

If being a Holt Governor sounds interesting to you, have a look at the National Governance Association website for more information.  And details for how to get in touch with the Clerk to the Holt Governors (Katie Warner) can be found here.

Thank you very much to Mrs Kennedy and Mrs Pearce for letting me guest author this blog article (and to Miss Richards for the same over the last two years).  And thank you to you for reading right to the end.

Wherever your family is on its unique Holt timeline, just ending or just starting or somewhere in between, I wish you and your family well for the future.  Be assured that everyone in the Holt team is working incredibly hard each and every day for the benefit of all your children.

As for me, in September our son goes into Year 11 at Forest: could this be my final chance to try and get parenting right?

Farewell, loved ones.

Richard Smith

Holt Parent Governor, October 2014 – October 2018

X