In March, it was my privilege to accompany two of our Sixth Form students to the annual Drapers’ Company Court Dinner. This event, hosted as a means for all organisations and individuals that benefit from patronage by The Drapers Livery Company, is a wonderfully grand affair attended by a throng of illustrious guests – government ministers, peers and knights of the realm, and celebrated scientists, artists, and other professionals. Held in the Drapers Hall, Throgmorton Street (pictured above), the setting for many of the palace scenes in last year’s “The King’s Speech”, it is an awe-inspiring occasion.
Understandably, our students were a little apprehensive about being seated at separate ends of the large, formal, room. However, I told them that they would be afforded a warm welcome by the Members and other guests, and to engage in light conversation and enjoy the company of some very interesting people. This they did, in fine style, and a great evening was had by us all. On the train back to the Midlands, we shared our experiences – who we had dined alongside, their background and the stories they shared.
It is more than likely that we will not meet most of the individuals we spoke with that evening again. So, why engage in conversation with them at all? Small talk IS a big deal. First, it hones our skills as listeners, as empathisers, as speakers. These qualities are essential for us to be happy, sociable and maybe even for our success professionally. In a survey of MBA students ten years after graduation, Stanford University School of Business concluded, via their survey findings, that the final grade achieved by their students had far less bearing on their success than their abilities to converse effectively with others. In his famous work “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell notes that we are more likely to find out about new career opportunities from ‘acquaintances’ rather than friends – the rational being that we share the social circle of our friends, acquaintances put us in touch with other, neighbouring social circles. How do we establish such acquaintances? As often as not, through small talk.
At John Taylor, our young people are often praised by visitors for how confidently and articulately they welcome and engage with them. Having worked in several schools, I think this recognition is well merited. Whether it is through their experiences at home, their extra-curricular activities, travel or structured opportunities in the classroom, our pupils and students have plenty of practice in the art of conversation. This is not the case everywhere. In an age of “stranger danger”, where we are rightly cautious about the safety of our children, we must balance that with giving them opportunities to experience new social situations and develop the skills that will serve them well as adults – as family members, as workers, as friends. “Communication” comes from the Latin word ‘communicare’: literally, “to share”. For the good of our society, we must equip all our young people with the ability to share – knowledge, experience, stories, beliefs, emotions. Our curriculum, not least our revised programme for Year 7, aims to enable this.
Thank you for reading.