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Get in the wheelbarrow

A Board of Governors and the school’s Parents Committee were enjoying a social evening with drinks and snacks under the stars, in order for both groups to get to know each other and appreciate each other’s particular role in the school.

At the end of the evening, the Chairman of the Board gave a brief history of the school, as many of the Parents Committee members were new to the school, and then invited the Head to share his educational philosophy. The Head duly obliged and finished his talk by telling the following story about Charles Blondin, the famous tightrope walker.

On one occasion, in front of a huge crowd, Blondin walked on a tightrope high above the Niagara Falls. As he reached the other side, the crowds erupted in
applause, but after a while, Blondin indicated for them to be quiet and he asked them if they thought he could do the same, but this time pushing a
wheelbarrow. The crowd, who had naturally come to see excitement and the unexpected, roared their consent, so off he went with the wheelbarrow.

When he reached the other side, the applause was even louder and more passionate. Once again, though, he requested the audience be quiet and this time he asked if they thought he could push a wheelbarrow across the tightrope, with someone in the wheelbarrow. Again, the crowd screamed their agreement. “Can I have a volunteer, please?” he asked.

As the Head reached that point in telling the story, without in any way explaining why he had told it, one of the mothers got out of her chair, walked across
the grass and stood beside the Head. She said nothing, but she said everything. By her simple action, she was saying in front of everyone there: “I am in your
‘wheelbarrow’ at this school.” She was saying: “I believe in what you are trying to do; I believe in this school.”

What then is this wheelbarrow? It is not the Head’s personal philosophy, though that is important, but it is the school’s Vision and Mission which must be in
tandem with the Head’s own one. If a school is going to keep its balance successfully and provide high-quality education for its pupils, then it needs strong
parental support from within the wheelbarrow. A school that has its parents fully behind all that it seeks to do will flourish hugely — and, therefore, the
pupils will flourish too.

It needs to be clearly understood that this support is not based on the victories, but on the virtues (and values) of the school. Victories come and go, they mean very little. Who cares and who remembers who won a particular match years ago?

The victories a school may have in sporting events do not make a school strong; its values and virtues do. Its belief or value system is crucial and if parents are totally in agreement with them, then the school will fly.

By being in the “wheelbarrow” of the school, parents agree with the values of the school, they live out the values of the school at home as well as at work and they reinforce the values of the school at every opportunity.

Parents will respect referees’ decisions, guards’ directions and pupils’ differences. If parents do
not like the values and virtues of the school, they should not try to make the school change, but rather they should get out of the “wheelbarrow” and find the
school that does share their values.

More than that, parents will be in the “wheelbarrow” when they respond positively not to results, but to reasons; they should be concerned for the “whys” more
than the “whats” (why a school does what it does as opposed to what it does). Parents will understand the lessons being learned from sport rather than the
actual results; they will want the school to pursue the whole curriculum which includes learning to win and to lose.

Parents should not give up supporting the school just because results are going against them; the children may be learning the most important lessons through those experiences.

Schools are in many ways like a tightrope, trying very hard to keep the balance. It needs parents to believe in the school. It needs parents to be in the “wheelbarrow” of the school. Schools need believers (not be-leavers), people who are prepared to get on board with the school, to trust them and to delight in it. That is strong parental support. So, can we have a volunteer, please?

Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

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