Adam Williams | 24 November 2023

It’s the stuff of nightmares, the dinner-party opening gambit that invariably guarantees the person I’m sitting next to quickly turns their shoulder away and begins a conversation across the table with someone else. I’ve tried a range of answers over the years, from dolphin trainer to trainee astronaut, golf caddy to underground train driver.

All elicit a pretty decent, though mildly incredulous response of “really?” followed by a subsidiary question or two before my cover is blown.  And so to the truth… “actually, I’m a teacher.” With these words, their exit strategy from the conversation begins (it’s even quicker if you say you’re a Head). But the thing is, and on behalf of all teachers out there, I should really be saying (with a large chunk of tongue in cheek) that “I’m a model” – I could say ‘modeller’ but that has slightly different connotations…

To my untutored eye, the world (and the UK in particular) appears in total flux presently and I must confess to not quite understanding it. Socially, politically, economically, environmentally and demographically.  And golf…  All are like spinning tops.

Society and people seem quicker to criticise, to demand, to expect and to require.  And to shout at someone if it’s not right. Ouch.  And this is beyond the age-old differential societal debates of Baby boomers (1946-64), Generation X (1965-1980) Millennials (1981-1996), Gen Z (1997-2012) and Gen Alpha (2013-2025). There is also a group called the Xennials (those of the same age as Rishi Sunak) –  and are leading the nation, straddling Gen X and the Millennials. They were the first generation to grow up with computers and the internet at home.  They witnessed the release of the Star Wars Trilogy (lucky things), but didn’t have Twitter or Facebook to hand (again, lucky things).   They used rotary phones as teenagers, but loved an email to socialise later on.  They’ve had more than their fair share of collapses from dot coms to financials, and still manage a great work-life balance.  Their transformational years were instructed by the Jedi Padawan, Luke Skywalker.   I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing.

And this swirling world is one our quite remarkable and wonderful teenagers are stepping into; a world of beauty in so many parts, but also of confusion and nuance. A world with static noise and the ability to offend and upset with every sentence and statement, but also with immense opportunity.

The world of education must stand firm and remain a reassuring constant and rock for them.  It is exhausting and inspiring in equal measure to be a part of this, as society’s tide of insecurity rushes past. In time though, the tide will turn and pull the other way as it does on the Thames and any other tidal river or estuary. It always does.

Our teenagers today need to look really hard for the right role models, and when they find them, our media are often quick to highlight flaws in their character, often skipping the good stuff. I must confess, I am somewhat bemused as to how judgmental society has become, though having just turned 50, I am still many years away from moving to Tunbridge Wells and writing weekly correspondence to the editor of the Telegraph… (though wide-of-the-mark WhatsApp wonderings bring that ever closer…) Don’t get me wrong, outstanding role models are out there, but there is simply not a perfect package in any one individual.

Our challenge (which we accept) as teachers and as parents is that we must ensure our character demonstrates those which are eulogy traits, not resumé ones.

One needs to précis, distil and assimilate characteristics with care and attention – it’s a personality-led version of Yo Sushi. Teenagers (in fact all of us) need role models; they help us to become even better people, they help inspire and challenge our own outlook and at times even make us feel better.   I can see Alicia Drummond nodding in agreement.

In my nearly 30 year teaching career, I have seen the incredible impact of inspirational staff, though they are not always the folk one would expect.  A school and a community needs its Miss Jean Brodies, Brian Cox’s, Ben Stokes’, brooding dramatists, inspirational musicians, outward-bound champions and iconic matrons. Their modelling impacts on different pupils at different stages of their lives and as a Head, it is wonderful to see such staff all in one school, even though one’s management skillset can be put through its paces, notably in mid-November and later, in March every year.  That’s a different blog on the rhythm of human behaviours …

Teenagers need a voice, and watching them involved in taking genuine responsibility at LWC, I am consistently amazed and impressed by the way in which they undertake their responsibilities.  From campus master planning, social and societal leadership, writing policies, creating school films, interviewing teachers for appointments, designing our landscape and buildings, peer mentoring, volunteering and coaching sport.  They have a platform in which they role model for our younger years and genuinely embed their beliefs into our school culture.  It is counterintuitive perhaps, but the more responsibility one gives teenagers, the more conservative they become – creating an environment where risk-taking is stimulated is very much our modus vivendi.

Our pupils live such fast-paced lives with a constant smorgasbord of conflicting images and opinions on view, it is up to us as teachers to model consistently the behaviours that will provide the basis for their future lives. We must be motivators and optimists, demonstrate integrity and loyalty, trust and self-control each and every day. We must model what it is to be energetic, upset, resilient and courageous, to name but just a few. Pupils and parents are all too quick to pick up (and tell me) when we’re not modelling properly, but we strive to do our very best…

LWC’s complete immersion into Character Education provides a mandate for this and it is something we feel a strong connection to. Pupils (in fact, all at LWC) deserve for us to model character attributes constantly. That is why the teachers here are so committed, not only through their work in the classroom, but also to the co-curricular programme and pastoral life of our school.  It is our way of life.  The broader educational sector may be exhibiting all the signs of implosion before leading to a paradigm shift (and the upcoming election will only serve to intensify this), but our staff, both business and teaching, are utterly committed and love what they do. They are becoming ever braver and more ambitious too, which is incredibly exciting.

And so, as the twinkle of Christmas lights begin to hover into view, we can pause and reflect.  Alas, our looks may not get us onto the catwalks of Milan or feel the soft red carpet under our feet, and we will certainly never know what it is like to be Taylor Swift, George Clooney, Nat Sciver-Brunt, Idris Elba, Ellen MacArthur or Daniel Craig, but we do have the right when asked “what do you do?” to say “I’m a model”… and then pass the bread rolls.