Time to be a better version of ourselves

Welcome back everyone!

A particularly warm welcome to all our new pupils. We have people starting in every year from Year 7 to the Upper Sixth. Wherever you were before today, as far as I am concerned, you are now all “Fulneck”.

Congratulations to our new Lower Sixth pupils on your exceptional GCSE results, the outcome of such hard work. Now begins a new chapter in your education, with the chance to take only the subjects that they really want to study and you start to make key decisions on your careers.

Welcome also to our new members of staff. I know that you will be warmly welcomed into our close-knit, family-feel community.

I started last year’s first assembly with a quote from Michelangelo:

“The greatest danger is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

The message was really clear: let’s aim high and see what’s possible!

This year, I want to start with a quote from someone in a totally different field, Adam Peaty (who has won his 3rd World Gold in succession and become the first man to swim 100m breaststroke in under 57 seconds):

“I had to be a better version of myself. Unfortunately, I made a tiny mistake on the first length. But the most important lesson is I’m still learning. I’m always learning, always trying to improve and that’s the most important thing.”

This philosophy is what I want to instil in our community: an understanding that no-one in this room is the finished article, that we can all look to improve in everything we do. It reminded me of what that great German philosopher, Jurgen Klopp, had to say after Liverpool’s Champions League triumph in June:

“Regardless of what came before, you know there are new challenges and new memories to make.”

How do we do that? First, create yourself a vision – what is it you want to achieve this year? We associate goals and targets with sport, but they are just as relevant to you now: A Level grades and university places, top Attitude to Learning grades in your reports, your Silver Duke of Edinburgh, a place in the U13 netball team or your grade 5 piano.

Once you’ve created that vision, you’re on your way – but a dream is not enough. It’s the diligence with which you stick to that goal that enables you to succeed.

Before the holiday, I mentioned that we had a wonderful summer of sport coming up. The women’s football team and the netball team didn’t quite make it in their respective World Cups, but the men’s cricketers certainly did us proud.

If you thought it couldn’t get better, what Ben Stokes achieved at Headingley last week was truly astonishing. What I really liked after that match were the comments from his team-mates that he deserved his success because no-one in the team works harder than Ben Stokes. To the average viewer, he looks like a genius, but this is far from the truth – it’s just that we don’t get to see him in training.

That reminds me of another quote from Michelangelo: “If people only knew how hard I work to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”

One of my favourite modern athletes is Dina Asher Smith, surely now a favourite for Gold in Tokyo. Having overcome a series of injuries, she is now amongst the fastest women in the world. She is also a believer in the Japanese concept of Kaizan – continuous improvement - not so different to the concept of marginal gains that I talked about last year. In Japanese business, it means every employee, every member of the community, suggesting how they can improve just a little bit.

That should be our mindset too, especially when we consider just how fine the margins are between grades at GCSE and A Level.

The Finnish have a similar concept relating to their national character called sisu – bravery, ferocious tenacity, the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit – a kind of Finnish spirit

This concept should be familiar to us because we have something very similar - Yorkshire Grit. We know that we must display total commitment to the task – no shortcuts, no hiding places and, once made, stuck to. We know that we must put away the distractions and do the hard or boring stuff first. Our culture tells us that if at first you don’t succeed, you get up and try again differently. Setbacks are only temporary. Perhaps most stereotypically, we believe in “less talk, more action, more passion”.

Today’s final thought for the day comes from Karen Carney, my favourite women’s footballer, the holder of 144 England caps and an Olympian:

“As a player, I want people to remember me as exciting, passionate, dedicated and more so, I hope, humble and just a nice person.

My message is don’t have any regrets. I don’t have any and I can actually look myself in the mirror and know I gave everything I could and there’s nothing more for me to give.”

That’s all I want for you this year.

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