… from the newsletter notes of Head Teacher John Boyce
We have just blessed and handed out badges to our school student leaders-and I thought it would be good to begin with something we take very seriously: leadership.
What is leadership in a Catholic context?
It’s about “servant leadership” and “influence” and “principle”. The model of servant leadership is Jesus at the Last Supper washing the feet of his disciples.
The evening meal was being served; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. … “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
A servant leader is humble and willing to do the humble tasks.
But serving others in a leadership context is also about working to enable others to become better people. For instance, in a whanau (which is the main tool we have to train our leaders) a year 11 student might take responsibility for an assembly liturgy. The student could do it all themselves, perhaps giving others in the whanau simple and achievable little bits to do, while they took the lead in front of the school (and received all the praise).
This is the easy (and commonly accepted) way to lead. A common way this vision of leadership is described is: “using people to get the job done”.
But another way the student could approach the task might be to work with the whole team to develop a shared understanding of the task.
They could then train other students to take the leading roles and so gain confidence and develop skills-as well as helping them develop a more positive attitude to liturgy and leadership (“using the work to get the people done”).
In this second model the leader may end up with a very small public role themselves-but they would have co-ordinated others to make a good job of the teaching, the prayers, acting, liturgical dance, readings, data projector and other technologies-as well as making sure the school understood the whole concept.
Instead of just the leader seeing the big picture of the liturgy and understanding what they were trying to achieve-everyone would be involved in the decision-making and delivery. Everyone would gain in confidence and skills. Everyone would be better for the experience.
Two of Garin’s slogans are “Making a difference” and “Doing things differently”.
Leadership is an area where both apply.
What skills and attitudes are needed?
If our graduates have an alternative view of how the world should be, they should also be able to “make a difference” in the world they are moving into. They need to be able to defend their point of view. This requires understanding (which comes largely through their five years of Religious Education), and courage (which comes from their deep beliefs and convictions, their values).
They need to have skills to influence those around them: by their example first of all-but also by having the skills and ability to share their ideas with others. Without ability to communicate to a group in writing and speaking, our influence is limited to the people we get around with. That is leadership, and is really important, but we hope that the best of our students will be able to go beyond that and reach a wider audience.
And so in our whanau classes, sports teams and arts productions, in the classroom and playground, staff are constantly aware of which students are developing influence through their example, ability, and willingness to communicate and influence bigger groups.
A number of our school leaders will be attending a leadership forum for student leaders at Seifrieds in a couple of weeks. That’s good-but it is not leadership training. These sort of events aim to inspire young people to try and do things. Our in-school programmes and other training we support, such as the Young Catholic Leaders and 40 Hour Famine training, actually give students the skills and abilities to do the leading.
We rely on our Religious Education programme, daily contact with our carefully chosen teachers, and our partnership with home, to give students the motivation to lead.
We see the short-comings in our world. We have a deep understanding of right and wrong, of values that are deeper than just looking after number 1, or doing what feels right. I personally hope and pray that by the time they leave Garin College, our senior students understand what they need to stand up for-and have the skills, courage and confidence to do that.
This is a challenge. As Jesus said:
Count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens-give a cheer, even!-for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.
Leadership at Garin is not about being Head Boy or Head Girl (or Head Teacher!) It is about all of us helping as many other people as possible to become the people they were created to be-AND developing the skills and confidence to influence others to leave our world a better place than we found it!