I have a confession to make. A few years ago I banned fun in my school.
Let me give you a little context. I was speaking to all of our teachers, teaching assistants and support staff at the very start of the first INSET session of the new school year. My reasoning was straightforward: I wanted fun to be superseded by joy.
Please appreciate that, at least as far as the ban was concerned, my tongue was planted firmly in my cheek – I hope there will always be plenty of time set aside for fun in any school. I did want to make the point, though, that joy is something deeper and more meaningful.
Like most of my best ideas this one was stolen: during the summer break I’d watched a fascinating interview between Sir Michael Barber and Sir Dave Brailsford. If you’re interested you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOLuMRya4OM
In the interview Sir Michael asks if, given the brutal training regime, the high stakes and the physical demands of racing, there could ever be any fun in competitive cycling. in reply Brailsford suggests that at the time of execution all endurance sports are painful but that there’s a feel-good factor in getting it right and that afterwards you can never quite re-live the pain. He then goes on to consider the difference between fun, which he sees as something fleeting and shallow, and joy – something much more lasting and profound, something earned and richly deserved.
You don’t have to be an Olympic medallist or to have worn the maillot jaune to understand what Brailsford is getting at here. We have all found ourselves in situations where we have had to work hard to achieve a challenging goal. Think of the young pianist practising alone for all those hours before stepping out into the spotlight to perform a difficult piece in front of an audience, or the swimmer who completes length after painful length in early morning training before representing the school in a must-win race.
And the same applies in the classroom. The things that come easy to us tend not to be the things that give us the greatest pleasure or the greatest sense of achievement.
I said that this was a few years ago. At the start of this academic year one of my teachers introduced me to an intriguing twist to the concept. He is a keen climber and when he’s not teaching Chemistry he can usually be found hanging on by his finger-tips or dangling from the end of a rope on some impossible cliff-face. He is also an avid fan of those who have pushed the boundaries of his sport. During the holidays, probably in some mountainside bivouac, he had watched a short National Geographic film about the adventures of two extreme climbers in Antarctica, Mike Libecki and Cory Richards. Again, if you want to see the clip – and you really should – you can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EULc7RgnM4c
In the film Libecki and Richards describe their attempt to complete a ridiculously challenging climb in the most remote and inhospitable region on the planet. As you can imagine, just getting to the starting point is no easy feat and as for reaching the summit…
They come up with a great expression for all that effort and pain and fear – they call it pre-joy.
It’s an expression I’m going to use a lot this year, admittedly in much less trying circumstances. All that violin practice? Pre-joy. Fitness training every morning? Pre-joy. Hours of exam revision? Pre-joy.
I’m looking forward to all the joy to come here at school this year!