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Education Corner: Leadership and Split Infinitives

Many years ago, in my first leadership position, I pounced upon a split infinitive in the very first set of reports that required my editorial skills. It lay innocuously enough, some might argue, in the midst of a professional narrative concerning the aspirations of a middle school student whose identity has long since been forgotten.

Sunday 19 January 2020, 11:00AM


Star Trek Year Five photo IDW Publishing

Star Trek Year Five photo IDW Publishing

Where this residual memory of the rule of split infinitives came from I know not; no doubt it lay dormant in my brain for the many years since my school days, alongside such things as “never end a sentence with a preposition” (I pounced on a few of those, too, you will be relieved and comforted to know).

The point is I returned this particular report to the relevant teacher expecting, if not grateful thanks, at least a contrite acknowledgement of his professional dereliction. Not a bit of it. With a look of extreme irritation and disdain, I was informed that Captain Kirk – he of Star Trek fame – had been commissioned to boldly go where no-one had gone before – no doubt dragging his split infinitive behind him.

How I resolved this early crisis of leadership is not the point of this brief reflection, rather the focus of my attention is upon the word “boldly”. I have given much thought to it recently. It has the whiff of grapeshot and Empire about it. It is, perhaps, exactly the sort of word to describe how a leader should lead: boldly; and most probably, therefore, from the front.

A quick look at the dictionary throws up this definition for “bold”: confident and daring or courageous, [dated] audacious; impudent. How I like “impudent”. I am tempted to throw in swashbuckling, just for good measure.
But is this what we want from our educational leaders? Schools are conservative institutions, after all, dragging themselves, kicking and screaming, in the wake of economic and social change. Are we not more comfortable with words like “efficiency”, “standards” and “tradition”?

Positively the last thing we seem to need is a daring, audacious, courageous or even impudent leader. And at times, I am not even convinced that people are comfortable with the idea of a “confident” leader, but let’s not go there for the moment.

What, then, is the educational brief for our school leaders: is it to preserve and improve the standards; to maintain the traditions; to ensure and improve efficiency? Or is it to boldly go where no man has gone before? Probably both, but getting the balance right is often the tricky bit. Of course, Captain Kirk only had furrow-browed Klingons to deal with (preposition!)
Beam me up, Scottie!


Neil Richards is the Headmaster at British International School, Phuket - BISP, an English medium, coeducational, day and boarding school. Visit their website www.bisphuket.ac.th for more information.

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