‘Talking Heads’ – Independent School Parent feature Spring 2018

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I was recently asked to contribute to an interesting article for the Independent School Parent magazine who posed the question:

“In light of Brexit, 2017’s horrific terror attacks and the backlash of Donald Trump’s presidency, we’ve had to wrap our heads around a lot of big news stories in the last year. But how can we engage and explain these kinds of events to Prep School-age children (who will inevitably have lots of questions) without confusing or alarming them?”

My full reply is as follows:

I advocate the significance of building a relationship with one’s pupils based on trust and respect. Consequently, rather than distancing oneself from difficult subject matter, I consider that it is more perceptive to seize the initiative and use adversity as an opportunity to reinforce a school’s core values because these are ultimately transferable from school to society; it is in all of our interests for young people to grow up with a deep understanding of how and why they can make a difference to others. For example, when the Paris terrorist attacks occurred in November 2015, I wrestled with the dilemma of whether to draw attention to them in my assembly the next morning – I was mindful that some children might have family or friends who lived or worked in Paris and it would have been the easier decision to omit any reference of the news story. However, this notion did not sit comfortably with me, either as a professional or a parent, so I thought long and hard about how to present the topic without creating any distress. I displayed the now iconic ‘Peace’ image of the Eiffel Tower:

by artist Jean Jullien, that was viral on social media and simply asked: “What does this image represent and why is it important?” I was genuinely proud to note that almost every child raised their hand. I did not have to enter into gratuitous detail because, with a little guidance at apposite moments, the older pupils were able to articulate, in their own words, a summary of what had occurred, how the image was symbolic and why the school’s shared values were so relevant. This example served as a precursor to addressing the London attacks of last year and is now the template I use as a default for presenting traumatic current affairs because it offers both a safeguard for my own professional integrity as well as reassurance and transparency for the children. In the light of a rapidly changing world beyond the school gate, as well as an equally dangerous virtual one, I believe that there has never been a more pressing need for schools to offer a rounded education that equips our charges with the character traits and life skills necessary for them to become responsible and tolerant citizens.

Mr Duncan Murphy

To read the article, and comments from other Heads, you can see the magazine on line here. Talking Heads is on pages 54-55.

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