Dear Parents

I was reminded by reading another school headmaster’s blog last night about the value of our own core message, that simple phrase that encapsulates what we are trying to do in our workplace or in our life. As a school we have a mission and a vision, but it’s a mouthful and you have to do a fair few admissions talks and interviews before you remember the whole thing (do you remember it?). The core message of Stuart Grainger, the headmaster of Trinity College School in Ontario (there are some older Doscos who went on exchange there in the past, something that I hope will be happening again soon) is work harder, care more. He knows that if every one does that, every teacher, every parent and every student, then the community will thrive, people’s joy and success will grow and they will contribute to making society and the world better for everyone. Simple.

What’s your core message? What do you live by? I think if you asked the boys and the master here what my core message is they would probably say be the best version of yourself and they would be right. I believe that if we are all able to be the best version of ourselves then the outcomes that Stuart is hoping for in his school and community will be the same here too. Of course, it is not always easy to be the best version of ourselves. There are all sorts of things that we can let get in the way, just as we can’t always work as hard as we want to or should, or care enough. It is also the case that sometimes we are not sure what it even means to be the best versions of ourselves; what definition do we use to articulate this?

By taking some time to look at the command terms in The Doon School’s mission statement and then thinking about what each of these would look like exhibited as a behaviour, below, I think that this is what it means to be the best versions of ourselves.

Our mission is: 

“To attract and develop exceptional boys and teachers from all backgrounds to serve a meritocratic India; inspire them to be just and ethical citizens; train them to be wise and principled leaders; and prepare them to enter one of the strongest alumni fraternities – for life.”

What are the behaviours that we expect to see if our institutional values are being lived into? None of us is perfect, but this is what we aim to be; The Doon School's equivalent of the Learner Profile.

Exceptional: We each have our own strengths and stand out without stopping others from shining. We strive to develop mastery in the things we do and share what we know generously and with humility. We don’t make ourselves feel better by putting others down, criticising their efforts or laughing at the outcomes of their work. We learn from people who are better than us rather than feel threatened by them.

Diverse: We bring something to the table that others do not, are prepared to share it and help others learn from it. We desire to learn from the experience and perspective of others to broaden our world view. We include others and recognize that isolation and loneliness are individually harmful and, like addiction, symptoms of a weak community. We are citizens; active participants in the communities of our friendship groups, our house, our school, our home (wherever and whatever that might be) and our country.

Meritorious: Being good at something and allowing others to be good at something while remaining free of entitlement and arrogance. We recognise our privilege and understand how privilege shapes society and the world in ways that are unfair and often invisible; we mind our privilege. We recognise that others will not be good at the same things, just as we might not be good at everything.

Inspirational: Positively influential in a group and in the community, we share our enthusiasm, joy and curiosity with others. We inspire respect by being the role models that the community needs. We don’t undermine ourselves with behaviour that is obviously hypocritical, indisciplined or harmful to ourselves or others. We choose to act, we serve and we find mentors who inspire us so that we keep growing.


Just & Ethical: We are able to articulate the dilemmas of life and act on a visible moral compass, even when no one is looking. We do the right things at the right time in the right place. We understand that our actions have consequences, whether we like them or not, and are able to accept these consequences without justification or blame. We recognise that the position we have in the community, whatever it is, carries responsibility and a moral imperative.


Citizens: We know that we are a part of something larger than ourselves; our family, our form, our house, our school, our city and our nation. We understand that we must contribute to each of these communities in order to derive benefit from them. We have rights as citizens as well as responsibilities to every other member of the community. Their success is our success and when things are not going well it is something that we have a duty to help correct.

Trainable: We are learning oriented, curious and not so certain that we cannot see the perspective of others or have our minds changed by experience or evidence. We are not cynical or closed to new ideas and, as lifelong learners, have developed a growth mindset. We know that we have more to learn and are determined to become better practitioners, better students and better people.


Wise: Having learned from our experiences, mistakes and failures, as well as those of others, we are not judgmental and we recognise that we are not yet complete. We are able to see the wood for the trees, understand that younger people don’t yet know what we, (but they will) and we listen more than we speak, choosing words that add value rather than take energy. 

Principled: We are able to be upstanding, to support others who are in need and to call others out on their poor actions and choices with respect, whoever they are. As well as doing the right thing at the right time in the right place, we make sure that we act, rather than remaining passive; people choosing to do nothing has allowed some of the worst things in history to happen. We live our values and take responsibility for the work we do and part we play in school.

Leaders: We understand leadership as service, being able to see a need and to act on it to improve the lives of others and to further the mission of the school. As leaders we are the role models that we need to be if we are to earn respect, build trust and influence others. We see leadership as a responsibility from which we build social capital, not a position or title from which we exercise power and privilege.

Fraternal: We are able to give care and support to others in a way that is both honest and kind. We never put ourself ahead by stepping on others. We recognise the humanity in everyone and understand that kindness, love and empathy are the best building materials for relationships that support and last. We understand that the work we do and the part we play contributes to the learning and the growth of the community; we have a responsibility to do our work and play our part wholeheartedly. 

If we could all work to help our boys become men who exhibit these behaviours then we will have done our jobs as teachers and parents well. Of course, we have to be doing this ourselves first!

University Admissions Season

We had the University Fair on 3rd September. Almost 70 universities from around the world came to meet our students and staff and we opened the doors to S and SC Form parents as well as to the schools in Dehradun who have an interest in overseas, as well as Indian, universities. We were reminded by the visiting universities that our students should only be doing the programme that the school follows and doing their best in that programme; no APs or A Levels are needed to ‘supplement’ what they are already doing because they take time away from what the students have chosen and are expected to succeed in. 

As parents we can easily fall into the trap of believing that the more our children do to differentiate themselves, the more opportunities we can buy them to furnish their CV and the more documentation they produce then the better their chances of getting into a good college. Unfortunately what this hypercompetitive, shopping list approach tends to lead to is the overselling of a candidate. It also leads to an enormous amount of stress, usually for the student, that doesn’t do them any good at all; then 18 year olds look for solutions to stress they are not always able to make the best decisions. My second son is beginning his college application process now and, as was the case with his brother, I’m delighted that he has chosen to apply for the one course he knows he wants to do at the one college he wants to be part of that he knows he can work to meet the admission requirements for… I can already feel the stress and anxiety falling away.

As one of the country’s most sought after third party counsellors said at an event we both attended recently, there are only five things that matter when it comes to college admissions; academics, academics, academics, academics and academics. Of course, this alone doesn’t make a well rounded person or a good team member, but it is what admissions decisions are based on and, at the end of the day in some cases, denied or withdrawn too. Working harder and caring more, being the best version of yourself is what college admissions are based on the understanding of; if we cannot help a student live up to that, or if they are unable to find the motivation to do so  then what does it say about them, their value system and their own core message. 

The Careers Department will be sending out their own monthly newsletter from the end of this month, kicking off the admissions season, to help parents have more insight into what happens as we prepare our boys and take them through the university admissions process. There is so much information, misinformation and doubt out there and we would like to help clear some of that up. There are some very good third party university counselors available providing a service for children whose schools do not have the resources available to us. It is the case, however, that no one knows the boys like our staff and careers department who are living with them for six years rather than meeting them perhaps four times over the course of two years. This is why the hundreds of universities that visit us over the course of the year value our recommendations so much. It is what helps us place our boys at the likes of Princeton, Cambridge and Stanford, as well as at Oberlin, UC Berkeley and Newcastle where we know they will fit and thrive, studying a course that they will enjoy. Like the tuitions business, third party counselling is a parallel industry that requires doubt to thrive; this is why universities don’t deal with third party counselors and don’t want them present at university fairs or in schools. 

What else is happening in school?
Interhouse Football has been filling the afternoons for the last two weeks. Rain, soft pitches and puddles in the goal-mouth led to some very grubby boys, but the football was clean and exciting. Lots of tied games, close calls and last minute wins. Jaipur and Oberoi house shared the titles in the seniors with Tata losing out on a single goal in the last ten minutes of their match with Kashmir. At the moment the Juniors games are taking place with lots of diving, sliding, tackling and kicking… some of it even making contact with the ball!
Interhouse Music provided the entertainment last weekend with performances by players from D Form all the way to SC; some who had been learning their instruments for three months and some for longer than they have been at school. Piano, Tabla, Hindustani Vocal and Instrumental were spread over two evenings in the MPH. We saw and listened to some great music, both recognisably famous and excitingly new to the ear. We also had a little drama as a sarod string broke, the left hand was forgotten for a moment and the tempo and ambition of a piece exceeded the dexterity of the performer; all learning for those on stage and those in the audience who felt the experience and willed the players on to complete their pieces. 

I could not help feeling that by turning this into a competition that we lost something; no doubt the winners were well deserved, but the performance as a whole ended as  a ranking exercise. We say that the world is competitive, but I have never been asked to rank the players at a music festival before, I have simply enjoyed every one of them and I’m sure that they left on a high. We are discussing amongst ourselves the value of competing in art, music and drama; all things that the IPSC schools compete in… and all because they look to us for the lead on what matters. I would love to know your views; would you give Dali a 6? John Cage an 8?

Kamal Ahuja and Aseem Tripathi are in Cambridge for the CAIE Conference that is taking place at The Purse School. The focus of the conference is 'Evaluating impact: how effective is our school and classroom practice', something that is very close to our hearts and our improvement planning at the moment. Prof Rob Coe, the opening keynote speaker, was the lead author of the Sutton Trust report “What Makes Great Teaching”, a report that is worth reading each year as a teacher to remind us what evidence based research tells us causes learning (and what gets in the way). During their time in the UK they are visiting the University of Cambridge Admissions Office,  Eton College and Oakham School to help keep our exchange at more than just at the level of students and to do some peer observation to look at the systems and practice that they have in place; Eton is 579 years old, so they do tradition very well. They also do change very well too, because you don’t get to be that old unless you remain relevant and adapt to what is required by the external environment. 

Test week for the D, C, B and S Form and Mid Year Trials for A and SC Have started. It always brings a smile to my face that boys walk around with a book in their hands whatever they are doing at this time… to the field, to the breakfast table, to the shower (really?). If it’s not part of your functional memory and integrated with you current world view then it’s not going to be very useful… in fact it will get in the way. The irony is that I was reminded of this in a psychology class a couple of weeks ago about how memory works… I really hope I don’t see anyone reading psychology textbooks at breakfast! 

Please remember that the A Form will be returning to school a week early in January, on the 12th, to have a focus week to help boost their exam readiness. Now that the Council have published the dates for the S Form ISC examinations, new this year, covering three weeks from the 10th Feb we will also be calling the S From ISC students back on the 12th so that we can make up the time for what we lose to these new exams.

During September I am meeting with masters as part of our annual cycle of appraisal, feedback and continuous improvement. This is when I get the chance to listen to them and learn what they need to become the best versions of themselves in the classroom, in the houses, in their activities, on the field and as members of the community. While the focus is on them to some extent it is really on the boys and their learning. My focus this year is on trying to remove things that are getting in the way and, like any appraisal, some of that is what I need to do, some their HoD, Housemaster or Director will need to do and some is what they need to do. 

We have had three new staff begin working here recently who you will meet at the next PTM. Dr. Mugdha Pandey is teaching French, Mr. Anubhab Bhattacharjee is teaching Chemistry and Mrs. Claire Sealey has begun work as our Instructional Coach. Having seen them work with our boys and staff as part of their recruitment process, I am delighted that they are here as part of the team. Most of you will know that Mr. Mohit Sinha took over from Dr. Vidukesh Vimal as Jaipur Housemaster, but you may not know that Mr. Pratyush Vaishnav has been appointed as the Assistant Housemaster. I wish them the very best in their partnership and know that they have the full support of the house. During the process to appoint for both of these roles we learned that we have some strong candidates waiting and ready when other opportunities present themselves, which is exactly what we would wish for at a school like ours that is a nursery for future leaders, not only from amongst the students, but also from amongst the staff; how would one be possible without the other?
Left: Mohit Sinha (Housemaster, Jaipur House); Right: Pratyush Vaishnav (Assistant Housemaster, Jaipur House)

Matthew Raggett

I am currently reading In One Person, by John Irving whose characters I adore for their honesty and imperfection and The Desiderata of Happiness by Max Ehrmann. The title poem was framed and hung in the hallway of my childhood home, part of my daily life. I think that it is a beautiful way to try and live.
The Doon School
Mall Road
Dehradun-248 001
Uttarakhand (India)