Be a participant not a spectator: Vice Captain’s Assembly

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In common with every other Year Thirteen pupil, I am about to sit my A level exams. It would be easy to evaluate my time at the school purely in terms of what awaits me when I open my results envelope in August. But I fervently believe that Nottingham High School offers a much greater range of benefits to all of us here. What makes this school different is that we are offered many opportunities to develop a wider range of skills for life. And so  I would like to speak to you about some of the opportunities I have had, and their impact upon me.

At the top of my list I would put opportunities to develop teamwork. This may sound quite clichéd. But, undoubtedly, effective teams will always achieve more than a collection of individuals, however well-motivated they may be. This was exemplified on my last D of E Expedition, when we arrived at a campsite to find a swarm of midges and pouring rain. This, combined with tensions building between two members of the group, could have proved a recipe for disaster. But we paused, made a plan and every team member made their contribution to the task. It didn’t make the rain or midges disappear, but we soon had our camp established and a meal prepared. The school offers abundant opportunities for people to work in teams.  Everyone can be an active member of a team of some description. Look around. Dare to be different. There are many opportunities just waiting for you to get involved.

Closely following teamwork is leadership. The school has offered me many leadership opportunities, ranging from captaining the Orienteering Team at two British Schools’ Championships, to managing car parks for parents evenings as a School Officer. It provides a relatively safe environment in which leadership skills can be honed. Everyone can be a leader in something. All that is required is to be confident in what you want to achieve and brave enough to urge people to come along with you. You may make mistakes. But you will learn far more from the mistakes that you make than the successes you might occasionally enjoy.

Next on my list would be the opportunity to make a contribution to the life of the school. Nearly 5 years ago, I kept passing an empty notice board marked ‘Eco Schools’ and wondered what it was all about. Ben Hollis and I recognised that there was an opportunity to re-form the group and from those small beginnings we have been able to bring the project to life and enact real change. Getting involved in the running of the school can be time consuming but it can also be very rewarding. If you want to make a contribution to the life of the school, don’t wait to be asked; look for your ‘empty notice board’ and start asking questions. You never know how rewarding it might prove to be.

Also vitally important are wider learning opportunities. These aren’t an alternative to academic achievement. But they are a vital ingredient in making learning enjoyable. It is all too easy to see learning as simply something which is done to us. But if we are to make best use of the excellent teaching we receive at this school, we must be willing to stretch ourselves academically, attend school societies, get involved in national competitions and challenges. Likewise, the school offers a fantastic programme of trips abroad. Learning Classics or History from books may pass you an exam, but it was only when I visited the historic monuments in Greece and Italy and spoke to those who had lived in Berlin prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall that I could gain a deeper understanding of these subjects. Being taught in a classroom to speak German, cannot compare with the experience of visiting Germany and attempting to converse with a German family. In many cases it is memories of the friendships I have made and the experiences we have shared that will remain with me when I go off to university.

To conclude, I would say that our time at this school can be whatever we wish to make it. We could be passive, do the minimum and just accept what is given to us. That is probably a recipe for just ‘getting by’; for avoiding personal inconvenience; for preserving short term happiness. But, I believe that by taking this approach we lose out on some great experiences, limit the range of skills and knowledge we acquire and fail to get the true benefit of a Nottingham High School education. The alternative approach is to be a participant, not a spectator. Be willing to try out new things. Never accept anything but your best. Take the longer view. Don’t get to the end of your school life wondering what might have been. Be clear about what you want to achieve and just go for it!

By Matthew Green, Vice Captain 2011 – 2012

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