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Lessons From Epictetus

My family and I are currently on a long-planned holiday to Greece, a land where my wife, Anthea, has some significant family heritage. We’re extraordinarily lucky to have this opportunity.

This week we visited the mighty Greek National Archeological Museum, and my son found a book of quotes by the philosopher Epictetus. One quote got our attention, “Ask not that events should happen as you will, but let your will be that events should happen as they do, and you shall have peace.”

The lesson in this for us educators? Put simply, I think Epictetus is telling us to lose our “whataboutery” habit.

It seems to me that far too often in schools, we find a way to make our lives easier or better in the classroom, and then we “whatabout” it.

Found a way to solve conflict with students more efficiently and effectively, and we’re quick to “Yeah, but what about the kids who refuse to participate agreeably?”. Seriously? We just found something better. Can we just be happy about that?

Found a way to reduce calling out during instruction, improve engagement with a mathematical concept or build some of the empathy and resilience that’s so lacking in too many of our young people at present … but it isn’t perfect?

Well, I reckon Epictetus would be fine with that. And that’s because Epictetus warns us about chasing perfection, thereby robbing us of our peace.

You don’t need to be perfect.

You don’t need to run perfect lessons.

You don’t need to generate perfect responses from your students.

You don’t need them all to pass certain learning benchmarks.

You don’t need to hit all your school’s strategic targets.

And you don’t need every difficult situation to be handled successfully.

If we accept that, we might find ourselves better positioned to embrace what’s better.


Keep fighting that good fight,


PS. Get ready for an exciting announcement! I’ll be hosting two workshops, “Restorative Classrooms, Strong Classrooms” and “The Art of School Culture Leadership”, in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin and Perth. With limited places available, secure your spot before anyone else by pre-registering here. Be the first to know about the dates and other important updates!


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