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“It’s always better not to take things personally!”

Chris Townsend, Headmaster at Felsted School shares some of the sound advice he was given that has stood the test of time from pupil to headmaster. Pearls of wisdom that are definitely worth passing on.

I was fortunate enough in my early years of teaching to get two pieces of advice, one that was very helpful to me as a teacher and one that was very helpful to me as a parent. Both came from the same person, someone who had coached me on the rugby field during my school days and then later at club level and who transpired to be a colleague of mine when I started my first teaching position.

The first piece of advice that I was given was that it was always better not to take things too personally.

“If something felt personal, it probably wasn’t and even if it was, it was much better to respond as if it wasn’t!”

When I used to run a boarding house, that advice became very useful to me on many occasions.  For instance, when pupils got grumpy about something that had happened in house or perhaps something in their personal life that hadn’t gone quite their way and felt that their Housemaster was the right person to take it out on. I did wonder after watching the Trump v Biden debate a few weeks ago, if either participant would be beaten down by what they felt were very personal attacks?  However, I am sure that they have grown pretty thick skins by now and would not be where they are today if they took things to heart. Sometimes change feels very personal and this can make us anxious that things are happening to us as an individual, however by supporting each another we can get back onto an even keel, help each other to depersonalise the issue and take a more rational view.

The second piece of advice given to me was that it is far better to hold your hands up and take responsibility for wrong actions than to try and pass the blame onto others. This started on the rugby pitch, when I had a habit of blaming others for my many errors.


“It was pointed out to me that although it’s not easy to take the blame for things, you won’t improve until you do, you are otherwise just kidding yourself that you are doing your best when there is always room for improvement.”

I have also applied this advice to my teaching career, during which I have made my far share of mistakes.  I know that my instinct, like many others, is to justify those mistakes, either by being defensive or by explaining them away. This creates a culture that does not improve. Instead, we need to recognise our mistakes, so that we can get better. So, rather than argue that it isn’t your fault that your prep is not done, hold your hands up and admit that playing football came ahead of prep and ensure that it is done in time in the future. If we are in trouble for not behaving in the right way, don’t find others to blame, instead see how you can improve. After all, we are responsible for our own behaviour and how we respond to challenges will define us.  It is best that we start learning this skill early, as it might take many years to perfect!


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