Principal’s Assembly 16 Oct 2018

I have used previous assemblies to explain what I think you need in order to be successful at school and throughout life. I’ve hardly been subtle – I want you to understand the value of hard work and I’ve purposefully downplayed the significance of talent.

I can understand though if you have question marks over my examples:

Was the Hamburg experience just a coincidence?  Weren’t Lennon and McCartney just two of the most gifted musicians ever?

Didn’t Jonny Bairstow’s Dad also play cricket for Yorkshire and England?  Does Jonny have a genetic advantage?

Didn’t Bill Gates just happen to be an early computer geek at the right time in the right place?  Another coincidence?

I can’t deny that there will be some truth in all of these points.

I want to tell you one more story, though, before we move onto a different theme after the holiday.

Laszlo Polgar is Hungarian and was a teacher in the 1960s & 70s. He got fed up – too many teachers in the staff room saying things like “They’ll never be any good at this” or “They’re not capable of making any progress in my subject” Not such common views today, thankfully, now that teachers know so much more about the brain.

He got so fed up he gave up teaching.  Instead, he decided to teach his own daughters to play chess.

Laszlo was not a chess player – he even had to buy a chess set and a book with the rules in.

Over several years he oversaw his daughters’ practice and progress.  It turned out his oldest daughter was quite good:


1981 World U16 champion (aged 12)
1984 No 1 woman in the world
4 world championships at 5 Olympiads
Only person ever to win a chess ‘Triple Crown’.

His middle daughter Sofia was also quite useful:

1980 Hungarian U11 champion (aged 5!)
1 Olympiad
Famous for the ‘Miracle in Rome’ – 8 straight wins against the best male players

Until Judit came along:

1988 U12 World Champion
1994-2004 World Number 1 – until she was replaced by … Susan!

Geniuses?  Maybe, but as Laszlo put it “Geniuses are made, not born”.

Made through repetition.

You’ve heard the phrase, ‘Practice makes perfect’ – total rubbish.
You’ve also heard the phrase, ‘Muscle memory’ – also rubbish.

The brain makes connections as you have new memories, learn knowledge or try new skills.  As you repeat the skill, myelin coating builds up around the connection.  The more repetition, the more myelin, the more solid the connection, the better.

‘Practice then makes myelin which makes permanent’.  You build ‘brain memory’
That phrase about knowledgeable people having a lot of ‘grey matter’ up there – that’s right, it’s the myelin.

I started this term with a quote from Michelangelo – about setting yourself high targets – and I’ll finish with another from him, this time as he described one of his greatest achievements, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican:

“If people knew how hard I had to work to give my mastery it would not seem so wonderful at all”

Let us pray
May half term bring a well-deserved break for your hard work.
May it bring quality time with our friends and family.
May those with long journeys travel safely home.

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