I enjoy playing the clarinet, yet I am honest enough to admit that I am of a standard where not everybody would enjoy hearing me play! It was therefore with enormous trepidation that I agreed to stand on the stage and play the clarinet – a rendition of Abba’s Dancing Queen no less! – in front of the entire school.
It was quite a nerve-wracking experience but, with the help of one of our superb music teachers, I managed to muddle through and was grateful that the pupils were polite enough to stifle most of their giggles. It was certainly an unusual – and, for most in the audience, highly baffling – opening to our morning assembly.
Yet there was a very serious point to it.
My humbling experience was part of a very special assembly, led by a member of the Sixth Form, which focused on forcing yourself to step out of your comfort zone. Advocating ‘Fighting Fridays’, she encouraged us all to seek out experiences that force us out of our comfort zone, perhaps even scare us, and to face them head-on.
In the spirit of this important message, I and other staff members and pupils agreed to challenge ourselves during the Sixth Former’s presentation.
While I ruined Dancing Queen, behind me poetry written by a modest girl who does not like her work being publicly displayed was beamed out across the hall in an enormous typeface. A Housemaster who cannot bear to be late purposely arrived midway through the presentation, and was the centre of attention as he noisily found his seat.
Another Sixth Former who is not a confident singer performed the first verse of the school hymn solo, with more than 600 pairs of eyes on her – while a talented violinist played the organ, an instrument she is far less adept at. A pupil who avoids make-up attended with her face fully made up, while another who avoids ‘twee’ outfits wore a pink tutu. An English teacher faced an on-stage Maths quiz.
The list of those who put themselves through this uncomfortable experience goes on, but the most notable was when the Sixth Former who led the presentation was handed a copy of somebody else’s hymn book. This may seem trivial but, due to her battle with OCD, this was the first time in three years she had handled any hymn book apart from her own personal copy, which is kept safely in the Chaplain’s office. This was a significant moment for her and she rightly earned enthusiastic acclaim from her peers.
Performing so far out of my comfort zone was an uneasy experience for me, as it was for the others who put themselves on show very publicly – but that was the whole point. Operating in our comfort zone means we are not necessarily fulfilling our potential, or being the people we would wish to be. I believe that it is important for all of us to regularly challenge ourselves and if humiliating myself means that the girls took on board the message then, ultimately, it was worth it.
Samantha Price is Headmistress of Benenden School, an independent girls’ boarding school