Head, Lucy Pearson asks us what the spark that ignited our inspiration for learning was, in this extract from her speech at the Annual Celebration at The Bridgewater Hall, 2016.
President and CEO of Search Institute and one of the world’s leading authorities on positive human development, Peter Benson in his TEDx talk adapted a quotation from Plutarch: “youth is not a vessel to be filled,” he argues, “but a fire to be lit”.
And to get a fire started you need a spark.
Through everything we do – our teaching, our learning, our activity, our leadership, our values – we are about helping young people find and foster their sparks and give them every opportunity to pursue them as broadly, as widely and as deeply as they can.
The education and educational philosophy of Cheadle Hulme School is about igniting sparks. It is why we keep our curriculum as broad as we can; we give students the opportunity to make choices at various points along their academic life but we don’t dictate those choices, we don’t try to force them into option blocks because it makes it easier for us.
In fact, we do completely the opposite, we keep it open. Every year our timetable is built from scratch. We do it because we are trying to make sure that every single student can study the subjects that they want to, if at all possible.
It’s why at CHS we put on such a broad range of co-curricular activities that we are constantly encouraging young people to take part in, to sign up to, to get involved with. It’s why we organise trips, and why Departments will take students to the theatre, the museum or the exhibition. It’s why we encourage leadership and responsibility and service and philanthropy.
We are doing it not because we want every student to be brilliant at every single one of those things, or that we think these things are more important than academic study. But rather, we want every single student to give themselves the very best chance of finding their spark.
For some it will be in the classroom or the laboratory, for others it will be on the sports field, or in the ensembles, or on the stage; for others it will be through their peer mentoring, or work with Thorn Grove Primary School or advocacy of Amnesty International. We are all different.
The spark is the very beginning of purpose and Peter Benson’s research showed him that “the core idea of thriving is the identification of that fire or purpose. When you have purpose, you thrive.”
A spark needs to be looked after. It needs to be cared for. You have to stay involved, remain connected and learn through failure; sometimes, of course, sparks can catch but then they fade. That happens, and that’s ok. What none of us should do is stop trying to find your passion.
Benson asked thousands of young people “What is it that gives you joy and energy?” and the answers that came back fell into 3 categories. The first was a skill or a talent such as music, writing, drawing, leading. The second was a commitment such as of being part of the team or helping others or supporting a particular cause. And the third type of spark was a quality; such as empathy or kindness.
Our education system at its worst, at its most narrow, says the only thing that really matters, the only spark worth anything, is if you have a talent or a skill in an academic discipline. I think that’s a shame because it fails to see that qualification is not what education must only concern itself with.
It’s why I’m proud of CHS and what it stands for; what it has always stood for and what we will continue to strive to achieve, which is to understand that a great education is about balance. A great education is about exposing yourself to all sorts of learning and experience and discovering more about yourself, the people around you and the world you live in. A great education will help you begin to shape the role that you are going to take in the world. A great education will also show you where perhaps your path may not lie.
Benson believes that most of us discover our spark between the ages of 10 and 20. You know it when you feel it. You know it when you are doing something that makes you feel whole, when time stands still, when just doing it or being it is its own reward. Being great at it or impressing people with it is not the point. Just knowing it, affirming it and putting it into play is the point.
We all have sparks within us. We can each make a difference to ourselves, those around us and our world. But we have to work at it, we have to apply ourselves, we have to try, fail, learn and adapt. That’s what you learn at Cheadle Hulme School.