Human beings are social animals. We don’t need the Darwin statue to remind us of this evolutionary characteristic. Whether we like the company of many, or a select few, the truth is we have built modern society through social interactions, granted not always positive. Every fragment of communication we create builds or weakens social bonds. As a race we enjoy coming together to share common values and beliefs. There is no better environment than the comforting arms of a community. It is only at our most comfortable that we are willing to fail, to try something different, because we know we will be caught.
One of the best things about working or studying at Shrewsbury is that you get to feel part of a community, in a time when some might argue that community in its traditional sense has been eroded, dislodged by faster paced lives and online communications.
Shrewsbury School has and always will prioritise the importance of community.
The more time we spend apart, the more the moments that stitch our community together become apparent to me, and I find myself reflecting that these moments aren’t the big show pieces, however wonderful the House Singing, Tucks and Bumps might be in the wider community picture. It’s the things like informal chats with my GCSE sets before and after lessons, the pupil’s banter with Julie in Grot Shop, the after supper footballers illegally using the goalmouths, the sound of an impromptu chorus of ‘Libera me’ in KH.
For the Housemasters and Housemistresses it’s the sounds and smells (!) associated with a house full of energetic, fun loving and interesting personalities, the joy of having a thousand different conversations daily about a range of topics, and being taught new things everyday by the pupils in their care. But most of all its the moments when we help each other. So much of what staff do to help is a subtle blend of social clues, reading of body language and timing. As useful as zoom is, with its amusing renaming options and mute function, it is not socially satisfying. You don’t get the humorous asides, the supportive glances, the feel of a hand on the shoulder.
Never have I been prouder of the quality of our Housemistresses and Housemasters than in the past few weeks. The energy, creativity, adaptability, and tenacity they have shown on the pupil’s behalf to shape the care currently being provided is incredible. This can be seen through the 1:1 support they offer, spending hours on the phone each week and the way in which they continue to reinvent virtual group meetings to keep things fresh. They continue to produce activities to keep their communities engaged; I am particularly impressed by the novel and creative ways they are currently assembling this year’s house photos. These master pieces will adorn the walls of houses, in stark contrast the more regimented traditional ones. A historic reminder of the year that was different. The support they are showing families is outstanding, always there at the end of the phone to listen when people need someone outside their family to talk to, even if all that is needed is agreement that this situation is, to put it politely, ‘just a bit rubbish’. They are keeping the backbone of our community in place, continuing to create moments that bond us together.
Therefore, this week my pastoral update is not about the pupils. It’s about those caring for them and championing them in their physical absence. It is a ‘thank you’ to those that prioritise the planning ahead for when we reopen, remember birthdays, contact tutees when they see something on the TV that reminds them of them, those that sense someone is not themselves in a lesson and drop them a private message afterwards to check all is ok. It’s a thank you to a friend of mine who refocused my perspective and reminded me about the importance of community and how lucky I am.
It’s a ‘thank you’ to all the Shrewsbury staff. They are not just subject teachers. They understand that supportive communication and showing you care is part of our school DNA. We are after all social animals and this is what community is built on.