I quite like to think of educators as accomplished gardeners. We understand the conditions required for flourishing. We sense the seasons of a young person. We sense when to plant. We sense when it is time to water. We sense inclement weather on the horizon yet we know that we cannot protect every soul from a storm. We know that the fog will lift – it always does – and we await for all to be bathed in light again. We experience awe and wonder at the individuality of each creation before us. We seek advice and ask for support from colleague gardeners when we come across a challenge that requires a different tilling of the soil to ensure its thriving. As an educational institution we sow the seeds of a society we desire. And we know that the best fruits are produced when this is done jointly and lovingly with our families.
As we approach the farewell and finishing season of our Year 12s, our accomplished gardeners also hold in their minds’ eye the adults and contributing citizens that our students will become and are becoming. And it is within each and every student that we see her capacity to tread proudly and fiercely into society, influenced in ways that she already knows and in ways that she will come to know by Mary Ward’s legacy. The hallmarks of Mary Ward’s leadership, so eloquently shared with those lucky enough to enjoy the recent public lecture from Dr Elaine McDonald, are her ability to recognise the gifts of others; her ability to communicate with sincerity, integrity and clarity; her ability to identify the needs of her time and respond accordingly; and her ability to draw on the support of her network of friends. I wonder where our girls see themselves in this?
I recently re-read Heroic Leadership by Chris Lowney, a New York resident who trained to be a Jesuit for six years before changing life’s direction and heading into investment banking where he became a Managing Director at J.P. Morgan for many years. He recognised that his own leadership characteristics were strongly shaped by his Ignatian training. To be a successful leader, according to Chris Lowney, you must listen to and learn from others; you must have experiences that develop your self-awareness; you must recognise that you are a leader in your everyday life; and you must love the people you lead. I was struck by the parallels above with Mary Ward’s way of being in the world and wondered which of these notions felt most and least accessible to our girls.
Interestingly but not surprisingly, the most useful strategy that Mr Lowney recommends to us all for the development of self-awareness is the Ignatian practice of daily reflection, well known to us as the ‘examen’, spiritual technology! It is well established that the most successful leaders know who they are – they make decisions with their heads and hearts. My hope is that when our Year 12 students move beyond the school gates and no longer have the midday gong to remind them to pause and take stock of their lives, that they find their own ways to appreciate stillness to allow the inner voice the place it deserves.
Leadership is only effective when we recognise ourselves as followers too. In this sense, leadership is in fact deeply religious. As disciples of Jesus, we are invited to follow his example. As apostles, sent by Jesus on a mission, we are invited to lead by his example. Go forth, girls. Set the world on fire.
Ms Sophie Kearns