The Headteacher: Taking the journey of discovery

Pocklington School headteacher Mark Ronan.
Pocklington School headteacher Mark Ronan.

One of our key responsibilities as teachers is to instil confidence in our pupils.

It is through handing over that responsibility to young people that they grow to be the sort of independent thinkers we celebrate at Pocklington School.

Young gliding instructor Will Blackburn with headteacher Mark Ronan at Pocklington Glider Club.

Young gliding instructor Will Blackburn with headteacher Mark Ronan at Pocklington Glider Club.

We provide the stimulus and the tools to learn, and the reward is watching them combine these with their own skills to soar into new realms of knowledge and discovery.

This firm belief of mine was tested in remarkable fashion recently when a 16-year-old pupil offered to take me on a glider flight piloted by him.

Will, whose ambition is to be a jet fighter pilot, had recently qualified as the youngest gliding instructor at Pocklington Gliding Club and was keen to share his enthusiasm for the skies.

I ought to point out that I am an apprehensive flyer. I am not good with heights and only leave terra firma when absolutely necessary. But Will’s challenge was one I didn’t hesitate to accept. Okay, I might have had the odd jittery moment after agreeing to his kind offer, but our school motto, Virtute et Veritate (With Courage and with Truth), strengthened my resolve.

And so Will and I found ourselves one afternoon this summer, standing beside the glider at Pocklington Airfield; me in a mild state of terror, Will the reassuring teacher.

With impressive maturity, Will calmly talked me through exactly what would take place during the flight to come. He was clear in his instructions and very good at putting me at ease. Oscar Hammerstein II said “If you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught,” and I remember, in my anxious state, thinking Pocklington School had done a good job with Will – even if the subject wasn’t of my choosing.

Once in the air, I was taken by the serenity and calmness of the skies. As we glided smoothly above the Yorkshire Wolds, it came to me how this flight reflected many of the values we hold dear at Pocklington School, epitomised by ‘Courage and Truth’.

We provide a caring environment to allow our pupils to remain true to themselves and pursue their passions, along with the academic support and encouragement necessary to instil the confidence and courage to take control of their learning.

All of this requires mutual trust. Pupils have to trust the teacher’s guidance and judgement, and teachers must trust the pupil to find their own approach and their own voice.

It takes courage to take risks in learning because, especially for young people, it’s easier to keep our heads down and stick with the familiar. But branching out from a secure academic footing to further explore a subject or theory is stimulating, exciting and ultimately rewarding.

This pupil-led education creates entrepreneurial, confident individuals with the resilience and flexibility to thrive in any environment.

Schools are ultimately succeeding if our pupils become our teachers – and teaching is most effective when we learn. But when our pupils are trusted with the controls, then our journey of discovery really takes off.