B is for Being The Best You Can Be Rather Than Being The Best

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Different people have different philosophies regarding how to help a person grow. This article explores one approach.

“Our role is to encourage each child to aim to become the best they can be. Providing they can do that, they will continue to grow.”

This was the approach espoused by Henry Pluckrose. He was the head teacher of Prior Weston, a state primary school in London’s Barbican, between 1968 and 1984.

The school encouraged children to learn the key skills of literacy and numeracy by focusing on real issues. They also enabled them to develop their creative talents.

I first heard about Prior Weston on the BBC radio programme The World At One. It was introduced as a school that ‘everybody liked’.

Students and parents were so enthusiastic that the presenter pleaded: “Please tell me one thing that is wrong with the school.”

I later had the opportunity to meet Henry, the staff and the children. It was soon apparent that they followed the encouraging – rather than engineering – approach to education.

Prior Weston produced remarkable work and had a waiting list of students. So many people wanted to see the school that eventually it was forced to limit the visitors to 4,000 a year.


Writing in Open School, Open Society, Henry outlined some of the following principles about learning that were applied at the school.

Learning must be real.

Learning should relate to the individual’s needs.

Learning involves curiosity.

Learning must help the child towards a feeling of success and accomplishment.

Learning should be for today and tomorrow, rather than for yesterday.

Prior Weston enabled children to master both social and educational skills. The second key statement on the prospectus, for example, emphasised the importance of social grace. It was important to be kind to everybody who attended or visited the school.

The children were encouraged to express their individuality through the arts – such as poetry, music and acting. Every year students went on scores of visits to local buildings, theatres, museums and work places.

Many people now talk about the importance of young people developing what are called Twenty First Century Skills. These are the 4 Cs of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. These skills were on display in Prior Weston’s work.

Looking back, many former students recall how the school helped them to develop the habit of life long learning. You can learn more about Henry’s work via the following link.


Aiming To Achieve An A Grade

Benjamin Zander has an interesting approach to encouraging students to become the best they can be. He is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and also a popular performer on the business speaking circuit.

During his lectures he draws parallels between his role as a conductor and the leader’s role in business. One concept he describes is the idea of getting an A grade.

Benjamin tutors hundreds of students who travel from around the world to pursue their musical studies in America. They are often financially supported by families who have saved to provide the necessary funding.

Naturally enough, the students feel nervous on their first day in college. Anxious not to disappoint their parents, they are worried about passing their final exams.

Benjamin greets the assembled students by saying something like the following.


You Have An A Grade

Let me put your minds at rest. You already have an A grade. But this is dependent on several things.

First, write me a letter dated May next year – the end of your time in college – titled My A Grade.

Imagine you are writing the letter after completing the course. Start with the words:

‘The reason I deserve an A Grade is because I have done the following things over the last year: ____.’

Describe the specific things you will have done to deserve the A Grade.

Second, you and I will meet to discuss your proposed achievements and whether these deserve an A. If not, we will agree on what you must do to get your desired grade.

Third, it is then up to you to reach the agreed grade.

You can discover more about Benjamin’s work at:


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John Wooden, the legendary American College basketball coach, encouraged his players to develop as human beings. He never mentioned ‘winning’, but his teams won more titles than any other in College basketball history.

During his early career he began developing what later became known as his famous Pyramid of Success. This consisted of guiding principles that athletes could follow both on and off the court.

The base of the pyramid consisted of phrases such as: Industriousness; Friendship: Loyalty; Cooperation; Enthusiasm. Behind each of these words was an explanation.

The word Industriousness, for example, was explained in detail. This included the phrases:

“In plain language, I mean you have to work – and work hard. There is no substitute for hard work. None. Worthwhile things come only from real work.”

There were several levels to the Pyramid of Success. It culminated in the principle of Competitive Greatness. This was explained as:

“Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day.”

John Wooden built teams that aimed to live these values. He reinforced the Pyramid of Success by using certain maxims to remind people of their responsibilities. These included:

Be true to yourself.
Help others.
Make each day your masterpiece.
There is a no substitute for hard work and careful planning.
Be more interested in character than reputation.

The litmus test was that the approach worked. His teams left a legacy of winning titles, even though he did not talk about winning. You can learn about John’s life and philosophy at the official web site.


As mentioned earlier, different people have different philosophies regarding how to help a person grow. One approach is to invite them:

To become the best person, artist, athlete, gardener, chef, teacher, scientist, athlete, chef or whatever they aim to be.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific activity in which you aim to be the best you can be. Try to be as specific as possible.

Describe the specific things you can do to be the best you can be in this activity.

Describe the specific benefits – both for other people and yourself – being the best you can be in this activity.

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