Usually, by this point in the term, I am worried about losing my marbles. This year is different, however, thanks to an initiative I have launched, inspired by the American lecturer, author and researcher, Brené Brown. This year, I am gaining marbles daily.
Brown uses the marble jar as a metaphor for how we build trust. We trust people who demonstrate regularly that they are listening, or frequently make us feel noticed, or repeatedly make us feel that our views are important. Trust is not formed through grand gestures but is built “in the smallest of moments” as researcher John Gottman writes. Or, as Brené Brown explained it to her daughter, trust is acquired when someone does “thing, after thing, after thing” to show they care. Trust can only be gained gradually, over time, like marbles being placed in a jar.
Trust has been on our agenda since the start of term. Outside school, our trust and faith in politics has been well-and-truly put to the test (think, “in Liz we Truss” and other associated puns); inside we have been working on creating more efficient channels of communication between the staff and the student body. A few weeks ago, Mr Bashford addressed students to share feedback from last term’s Undivided Survey, which gauges our students’ sense of belonging, and gave an honest appraisal of the results: we have made great progress, but there is work to do, in particular to convince the student body that “changes will be made” as a result of the survey. Mr Bashford has now launched an Allies Club every Tuesday lunchtime, to which students are encouraged to bring ideas and observations to help us move forward in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. In addition to this, we have introduced student focus groups every Tuesday at morning break, and we are trialling an anonymous reporting system (initially with Year 8) to provide an alternative way of reaching the pastoral team.
This year, I am keen to give students more opportunities to have their voices heard. I spoke to the Prep and Senior schools at the start of term about the importance of giving us honest feedback and introduced them to the marble jar – and this is more than just a metaphor. Mrs Comerford and I both now have actual jars and real marbles in our respective offices and we are encouraging students to come to us with ideas and observations about school life. After each suggestion, we place a marble in the jar – a visual representation of the amount of trust we are building. If we listen – and, crucially, if we act on what we hear – the marble count, the level of trust, will grow. Alongside this, we are encouraging a culture of feeding forward, knowing that the best feedback is accompanied by an idea or suggestion.
During one day last week, I had a Year 9 student (accompanied by 6 friends) call in to talk about giving an assembly on the Iranian protests, after which some Year 8s arrived with some feedback on lunch, followed swiftly by the Head Girl team meeting, where we discussed the burning issues of the day: oat milk; soft furnishings; the delights of House Song. Other queries that have come my way have included the need for more water fountains (something that is already on the list for the Estates Team) and the pros and cons of energy-efficient LED lighting in classrooms.
This year, the Head’s office has returned to its original place in the heart of the Temple building, and my door is always open – if not always literally, then certainly in a metaphorical sense.