Do the thing you think you cannot do

Sarah Capewell

Head, Stockport Grammar School

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As a mother of young children, I have the joy of being inflicted with the music and television that one might not otherwise choose to watch or to listen to. My daughter’s current favourite is Matilda the Musical, which I must admit that I have also come to love. Behind the caricatures, there are some very powerful and relevant messages about adulthood, responsibility and what children see in those who influence them every day.

Most thought provoking for me is the song “When I grow up”: if you haven’t heard it before, do look it up, but be warned that you will be singing it for the rest of the day. The childish perspective of what it means to be ‘grown up’ is particularly striking:

“When I grow up, I will be smart enough to answer all the questions that you need to know the answers to before you’re grown up.”

By that definition, I’m certainly not grown up yet, because I definitely don’t have all the answers – a feeling to which we can all relate. But it reminds me how much young people look up to us as adults for answers or guidance. While we might not always be able to provide those, we can certainly demonstrate the behaviours that we want them to learn.

I want our pupils at Stockport Grammar School to be kind and compassionate. I want them to be bold and ambitious. I want them to look out into society and consider what they can do that will make it a better place for others. As the first female Head of a school that is over 500 years old, I want our pupils to see, through my actions and behaviours, that they shouldn’t be daunted by being different or being the first to do something.

But most importantly I want them to realise that it is ok to take on these new challenges without having all the answers.

Entering into a role as broad and challenging as being a new Head guarantees that you won’t have all the answers, which makes it a very daunting thing to do. It may be a heavy burden of responsibility, but is also a distinct privilege. Being a Head represents an enviable opportunity to have an impact on so many young people. I have to be honest, though – it scares me. In those more challenging moments, I wonder if this is something that I can do as the imposter syndrome looms large in my consciousness. At these times I try to channel my inner Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do”.

However, I suspect the soundtrack to my early days of headship is much more likely to be Matilda than the speeches of the great and the good. So I find myself reflecting on how my leadership will be different from the looming, fear-inducing presence of the dreaded Miss Trunchbull (to whom my own children sometimes like to compare me) and how I can provide young people with opportunities to go out and change the world. As I embark on a new chapter in the history of Stockport Grammar School I don’t want our pupils to stay inside the circle. I never was much of a hammer-thrower anyway.


11 September 2023