Dear Parents,

Holidays always come a week too late! This is what I reminded the community in the Saturday assembly before we headed into our last seven days. The week before I read them Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata, something that I find helpful to read as the end of the term approaches as it helps to press the reset button and reduce one’s inner chatter.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. This is where Ehrmann starts. In the business of the term, this is something that we all find difficult to remember. We have so little time for reflection, and yet the school has some lovely spaces and places to be quiet and reflect. Time to reflect is time to recharge. When we hit the board exams next term, our Yoga teacher, Priyanka Singh, will be taking any boys (and masters) who need it, through a guided meditation each day that will provide opportunity and, she tells me, be as good as five hours of sleep; something that I worry they may not actually be getting when they are working so hard.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. This is the next message about the path to happiness that Ehrmann shares… something that is almost the antitiesis of our competitive world at Doon. The world outside can be competitive, but most of the time we find ourselves collaborating with others in order to achieve our goals. One of the things that the calendar committee has done this month is looked with the faculty and a team of boys at what elements of the treadmill like inter-house competitions can be done on a ladder system to dissipate some of the heat from the competitions.

Be yourself. This is how he starts the third stanza. This is something that I tell the boys appearing for their admissions interviews; they cannot come to the school and pretend to be someone else for six years. It is something that I hear very often from the boys, that they find it hard to remain themselves at school when they tease each other so much for being different in order to establish some sort of pecking order. Our desire to conform is so great, but in the world outside the walls of Chandbagh, value and competitive advantage come from differentiation and uniqueness. When we return in January, the faculty will be participating in a workshop that will help us see how we can nurture difference to keep it alive and kicking and  how we can support those quirky, curious boys who don’t easily find their place in school.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune; the message of the fourth stanza. This is something that we call resilience now (Desiderata was written in 1927) and it is something that we all need to develop to help us learn to manage failure constructively. Failure is a natural part of the learning process, but I see an expectation in many of our boys, and the teams they are part of, that they will just win. They see and feel failure as somehow a reflection of their weakness, their lack of capacity or, at worst, their supporters lack of engagement. We fail because others are better than us on the day, or made better use of the luck that they had, or because they were communicating really well with each other. You don’t win every day, and you certainly don’t learn as much by winning… and you don’t grow resilience.
You are a child of the universe, no less that the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. The message of the fifth stanza also talks to those who question their place and find it hard to fit in. This is a part of the human condition and is something that gnaws at everyone’s self image when they are alone. Ehrmann reminds us that we are all equal in our right to be, something that corresponds with our founding vision as a place where boys and teachers from all backgrounds would come and join a community as equal stakeholders in a six year journey together. The dream of being a microcosm of India was shared by those who started the school in 1935 and by those who work for it now, but even equality of opportunity does not guarantee that everyone will feel connected. Even knowing and feeling we have a right to be here doesn’t mean that we feel right being here. And like some of the things we were talking about during ‘No Shave November’ (depression, suicide, mental health, testicular and prostate cancer), talking about feeling out of place or out of time is something men and boys tend to avoid.
Ehrmann ends with the lines, “with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful, Strive to be happy.” It’s easy to feel overwhelmed sometimes, that there is so much ahead of us, so much expectation, perhaps that there is so much resistance to our ideas or that we are misunderstood or unable to stand up for what we know the right thing to be in the face of others. It is particularly at the end of a long term that the sham and drudgery gathers and we need to be reminded of the beauty there is in the world.
This is your job for the holiday; to provide the beauty for your sons, in all of its glorious forms. We have so many sensitive, gentle, curious boys at school who I know find the competition and some of the intensity and josh in school hard to manage and navigate. They need all of the love and time that you can give them to listen to them, help then reflect on their experience and learning and then recharge their various emotional, spiritual and moral energy levels.
I worry sometimes that we bring in a beautiful, diverse and intelligent group of boys to the school and expect them to fit into a mythological or stereotypical caricature of a Dosco. There is little point in looking for diversity if what we then offer seeks conformity and compliance. I think it was Steve Jobs who said, “it doesn't make sense to hire 
smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” This could equally well be applied to what we try to and need to be doing in school. My job as the head of the institution and the masters’ jobs as those responsible for the day-to-day delivery of the curriculum and the care of the students, is to make sure that their time at Doon is one in which they can tell us what they would like to do and we help to make it happen for them. We offer a broad and balanced programme through which they can experience and try many things, but we also need to provide the room for them to be themselves and share that with others. As well as responding to situations as they arise, our pastoral care team are increasingly becoming involved in the planning and delivery of workshops and events that are part of our approach to be more pre-emptive and preventative. If we are to increase the Happiness Quotient and EQ of the school, we have to make sure that we are doing the ground-work and helping the boys to understand and manage their feelings.
If there is anything that you think we can be doing more or less of to support the growth of well-being, happiness and emotional intelligence, please reach out and let me know. Attached to this email is our The Doon School Child Safety and Welfare Policy which, in accordance to the NCRCP guidelines, sets out our response to Bullying and to any claims or instances of behaviour covered under the POCSO Act. One aspect of making sure the school is as safe as possible is making sure that people are as aware as possible about Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination. Again, if there is anything that you would like to share about this, then please let me know.
In the meantime, have a wonderful holiday with your boy(s) at home or wherever you are with them. If you are celebrating Christmas, then have a very merry one, and best wishes for the New Year. I know that many of us are a similar age at the moment with children in school… do you remember being at school yourself and imagining how old you would be and where you would be in the year 2000? Just look at where we have got to!


Matthew Raggett
The Doon School
Mall Road
Dehradun-248 001
Uttarakhand (India)