Every contact leaves a trace

A version of this article was first published back in July 2017

When Whitney Houston sang about children being our future back in 1986 I paid little attention. It was the year I turned 17 and I was busy casting off the shackles of childhood. As far as I was concerned, the future was all about me and what I was going to be in it.

It took thirty years and the words of another powerhouse woman, Miriam González Durántez, before I got the point: I may be part of the ‘now’ but the future is in the hands of those much younger and more specifically, those who inhabit our education system. I’ve never been interested in working as a teacher and in Miriam’s words, I could see that perhaps there was another way for me to contribute.

In the weeks that followed I signed up for Inspiring the Future, an initiative connecting schools with the world of work and before long I was involved as a business volunteer with the Barnet Business and Education Partnership. Since June 2016, I’d been spending time in local secondary schools supporting programs - like presentation skills, interview skills and how to make the most of work experience - designed to help students prepare for life after they leave school.

Participating in this way has been hugely motivating. It has also got me thinking about how we prepare young adults to tackle life’s challenges beyond the academic curriculum. What other things can we do to help them to be resilient, resourceful and responsible in their adult lives?

Earlier this year, I returned to the Inspiring the Future website in response to their call for school governors. I wasn't sure that this step would be right for me. What I did know was how passionately I felt about the contribution to be made and wanted to explore it further. In the words of change leadership guru Deborah Rowland (who I met in March):

” …having set up these initial conditions for emergence,

you have to let the change come towards you, not go chasing it.”

from Still Moving: How to Lead Mindful Change by Deborah Rowland

So, I ticked the box on Inspiring the Future and went on with exploring a range of other interesting opportunities that had been emerging in parallel.

In June, I attended the TEDx London conference and among the line-up of speakers was Teach First’s Executive Director of Delivery, Ndidi Okezie. Teach First has over 10,000 ambassadors in schools creating equal educational experiences for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances. Okezie spoke about the vision for ending educational inequality and creating a world where all children have an “equalising educational experience”. She also spoke of feeling overwhelmed by the scale of change required. One statistic she shared was that the proportion of UK children who go on to attend Oxbridge is roughly 1:20 but in poorer schools that this opportunity falls to 1:1,500. That's not very equal.

As I listened to Okezie speak, I was taken back to my school years where a couple of teachers were particularly instrumental in helping me navigate the path to adulthood, guiding me as I prepared to take flight in a world that I didn’t know much about (despite my insistence to the contrary). I jotted a few notes down as the talk ended, thinking that they might come in useful at some point. One of the things life has taught me is that you never know which pieces of the puzzle might eventually come together.

How timely this was. By the end of June, I had joined the Board of Governors at Copthall School in North London, joining their Educational Standards Committee and becoming the link-governor for the school’s performing arts curriculum.

I feel passionately about the student community – these women of the future – being equipped and empowered for the adventure ahead and am especially keen to encourage the development of these three qualities:

Resilience in the face of life’s challenges;

Resourcefulness despite what might stand in the way;

Responsibility for stewarding themselves and the world through tumultuous times and inspiring the generations to follow to be the authors of their own success, whatever that may be.

Three more R’s to supplement the three – reading, [w]riting, and [a]rithmetic – that began their education over a dozen years ago.

Without a doubt, my life is the sum of all the people and experiences that have left their mark on me and it was another speaker from the TEDx London conference in June – from the world of policing and forensics no less – that captured this perfectly:

“Every contact leaves a trace.”

John Sutherland

With the new term and school year now underway, I will attend my first full Board of Governors meeting in September as well as a Board strategy and planning day. There will be a lot for me to learn and a lot of work to be done. At the same time, I’m excited to be working with the team of passionate and committed governors and teachers at Copthall. I'm also looking forward to leaving a positive and worthwhile mark on the generations to follow.

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