Mike Piercy, education consultant and former Head of The New Beacon, explains the importance of healthy self-reflection and learning from our past in order to move forward positively

‘You’ve never been to Rome? Really?’
New year’s resolution: book long weekend in Rome. The food, the wine, the culture, the art, the architecture. History is abundant in Rome – it is everywhere. The base of a two-thousand-year-old pillar pokes up cheekily, stubbornly through the pavement as you pass by an unpretentious enoteca. Then there are the ‘jani’, the grand archways and elaborate doorways, sometimes standing in solitary, splendid isolation. Why? Not because they are all that is left standing of some ancient relic; because they were built that way, symbolically, steeped in superstition. Passage through the gateway would hopefully bring luck and good fortune, particularly for an army leaving Rome to wage war and conquer.
The jani are watched over by Janus, the god of beginnings, endings, transition – of doorways. He is generally pictured having two faces, looking both forward and back. After him is named this month, January, the start of the new calendar year.
It may be the case we don’t want to look back too closely at 2023: conflict, division, the economy, the cost of living, potholes and VAR. We can however look forward to 2024 with hope – for there is always hope. I am cursed with optimism. On 21st December, the winter solstice, the days began to get longer; the pendulum reached its zenith. By 18th January there will be another hour’s daylight.
Pupils, students, have two new years: September at school; and January, along with everyone else. Both are new starts providing fresh opportunities. September brings different teachers, classes, schools and challenges – ambitions for the year. January, after the long autumn term, brings the chance to stop; to review and reflect. If I had set myself targets, aspirations, how far along the road am I to achieving them? Is there the need for course correction? This an expression derived from spacecraft which may have marginally diverged from their trajectory, the error growing over distance, space and time. Not pausing, checking to course correct, only exacerbates that divergence.
Children do not naturally reflect. They will often beat themselves up following a disappointment without reflecting on the causes. Note the use of ‘disappointment’ over ‘failure’: the former can be qualified; the latter simply destructive. Getting young people to pause, separate the emotion from the data and reflect, is a skill best learnt young.
A thirteen-year-old’s conversation with self (in an ideal world).
‘I worked and revised really hard…’ Pause. ‘Did I really? Truly? Why didn’t I prepare properly? Next time I will…’ and so emerges an action plan.
‘I should have won the competition – I’m much better at maths…’ Just a moment. ‘Let’s think about this. The winner is better at tables, is gold standard maths challenge (though I am better at algebra). On balance…’
‘It’s not fair. We were the better side…’ Think. Analyse. ‘Actually, the other side did play better – they were more committed, fitter and tackled. We need to train harder.’ And so a little bit of self-honesty creeps in. As it is said, the easiest person to deceive is yourself.
So, we teach, we encourage and we practise with young people the art of honest, constructive reflection. Janus looks back at 2023 with one eyebrow minimally, discernibly, wryly raised at the folly of humankind. We, too, should look back, but with caution, balance and perspective: the past is for informing, not inhabiting.
Returning to the new year’s resolutions (most of which are conveniently forgotten within weeks) let us look forward to 2024, making it a better year, learning from 2023. And book that long weekend in Rome.

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