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Being Ambitious

23 February 2017

The exotic excitement of long flights soon wears off if you have to do quite a few, as I have recently. I have watched all the films I want to see and am now working my way through all the subtitled foreign language versions in the hope that it may improve my Mandarin.

  • Soloist Recital

On my latest flight I turned to a book. This may not sound as impressive as it feels. After having read every possible book and article ever written on cognitive development and philosophy of mind for my PhD several years ago, I felt as though I had ‘reading burnout’. I don’t know for sure that this is a real medical condition, a bit like man-flu, but it has been real in my life for some time. Although I love books, I often lose interest in them half way through. I have come to think that this is not solely due to my diminishing powers of concentration, but actually because most authors don’t seem to have enough to say to last them the usual book length. 

Imagine my delight then, when, on this recent trip I packed ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’ by eminent psychology professor, Angela Duckworth. What a fantastic read! I had read 100 pages almost without taking a breath, it is brilliantly written: entertaining, informative and inspirational. I heartily recommend it. I think my engagement with it was particularly inspired by the music recitals that were organised by our brilliant music department here and at which many of our students performed this last weekend. As we watched child after child come and, seemingly without nerves, perform their piece to the assembled parents and families I was struck by how important it is for people to have a purpose for their practice. Whilst hours spent at the keyboard, or music stand brings its own kind of satisfaction to a musician, it is not the same as playing to an audience and entertaining them with the results of your hours of toil. This element of our students’ work very much resonated with Professor Duckworth’s assertion that skill is determined in large part by the development of talent through effort. 

However, one particular student’s performance struck me even more powerfully. She was a skilled pianist, and as such was already using the piano pedals sensitively to affect the resonance and timbre of the performance of her piece. However, she was too short to reach the pedals and so had to play the whole piece balanced on the edge of the piano stool, so as to create the acoustic effect she desired. A small matter like not being able to reach the parts of the instrument that she needed to were certainly not going to stop this determined pianist from performing at her very best.

So it was, a few days later, I found myself reading a highly insightful explanation of something I had seen embodied in a young student here at BISS Puxi. This child, and many, many more here at school already understand the roadmap to greatness and it was inspiring to see. That is the result of talent, effort, support and great teaching and learning. It was ‘Being Ambitious’ and being unstoppable all in one. I left with a spring in my step and inspiration in my heart, the sign of a great learning community. 

By Dr Neil Hopkin, Principal