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Throughout this academic year, the College has placed a greater emphasis on developing leadership potential amongst the pupil body, amplifying the ‘pupil voice’ and encouraging independent thinking across all forms. The College has an ambitious aim to develop a world-class leadership development programme in the years to come, beginning with the youngest pupils and moving right up through the school. Building on this early initiative, for the first time the College will present ‘Leadership Awards‘, recognising pupils who have shown leadership throughout the year.  Most of these pupils do not have formal leadership roles within the school but have “stepped-up” when required to help improve the school or shown initiative on an independent project. All of the recipients were nominated by both their fellow pupils and their teachers and over one hundred nominations were submitted.

St. Columba’s College is a small but complex school environment that relies on pupils and teachers working together, through shared values, to be the best school we can be. For the school to be successful and to fully realise its goals and values, strong leadership amongst the staff and pupils is essential.

Leadership can’t be described as a single skill. It comprises multiple sub-skills including communicating, working with others, being personally driven and managing oneself (all identified as key skills in the Junior & Senior Cycle Frameworks). Leaders are also knowledgeable and can apply their knowledge to unseen challenges. Leadership is not about seniority or one’s position within the school – all members of the College community can be and are potential leaders. Neither is it about personality – all kinds of people can be leaders and it is important to stress that leaders are not always the loudest, most charismatic and confident characters; leaders can be quiet, modest and introverted also.

The College is delighted to award the following pupils with a Leadership Award for the academic year 2019 / 2020.

Form I

Aeladh Bradley Brady

Joshua Yang

Aran Murphy

Form II

Hugo Laurenceau

Abbie Murray

Cameron McKinley

Calvin She

Form III

Marco Trolese

Elys Walker

Tyrone Shi

Form IV

Peter Taylor

Avi Johnston

Edna Johnston

Evie Pringle

Form V

Sinéad Cleary

Raphaela Ihuoma

Éile Ní Chíanáin

Tim Norwood

Form VI

Camila Garcia Herrera

Thady McKeever

Margot Aleixandre

Congratulations to all the above pupils on their awards. We are all hugely proud of their efforts to make the school a better place. One cannot mention leadership without also thanking the cohort of College Prefects, who led the pupil body fantastically this year.

Mr. Jones, the newly appointed Director of Pupil Leadership, announced the recipients of the awards and briefly outlined the rationale for their awards in the Warden’s end of term assembly earlier today. You can see a recording of that assembly on FireFly here.

Last Wednesday the Warden, Mark Boobbyer, interviewed Rajmohan Gandhi (grandson of Mahatma Gandhi) via Google Meet.  In a wide-ranging and fascinating interview, Mr Gandhi speaks of his memories of his grandfather and the lessons he can still teach us about navigating the complex world of the 21st century. The full video is available here but below is a short clip on Rajmohan Gandhi’s advice on leadership for the pupils of St. Columba’s College.

Rajmohan Gandhi is a biographer and a research professor at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Illinois. In the photograph below, Rajmohan is pictured with his grandfather and sister Tara in New Delhi in 1942.

Again, the full interview is available to view here.

The College is delighted to announce details of a fantastic charitable event taking place this April – Run til the Sun! On Saturday, April 25th, Old Columban Alex Panayotou – an accomplished long-distance runner – will challenge herself to run for 24 hours around the College campus. She is looking for your support along the way – both financial and physical – to complete this mammoth challenge.

The event is being organised by a committee of pupils, who have decided that all proceeds from the event should go to Purple House Cancer Support – a fantastic charitable organisation based in Bray that provide hands-on practical support for children and teenagers with cancer. They have set up a fundraising page here where all donations, large and small, will be gratefully received.

You will soon be able to sign up to join Alex on a leg of her journey; perhaps you’re willing to run for a half-hour, 10 kilometres or even something more ambitious? You can run in the morning, afternoon, evening or even at night time – with the course illuminated along the way. The event will culminate with a celebratory barbeque at the Cricket Pavillion on Sunday evening.

The pupils have created a dedicated page for the event here and a donations page here. They have a fundraising target of €8000, which would be transformational for Purple House, as the vast majority of their funding is through donations. We were delighted to welcome Purple House to the College Chapel last Monday to hear about the work they did and some of the organising committee visited their facility in Bray a few weeks ago. Alex is a cancer survivor, another reason why the charity resonated with the pupils.

So please do get involved, donate to the cause, sponsor a runner or run a leg of the journey yourself. We would love the whole community to get involved – pupils, staff, parents, Old Columbans, friends of the College and even local primary schools.

I have spoken a lot about service over the last three years and about how to develop an ethos of service amongst our pupils. I am not going to repeat myself now. What I have perhaps spoken about less is leadership, which is actually the other side of the same coin. It is certainly not contradictory or paradoxical to talk about service and leadership in the same breath, because the best leaders are also servants, prepared to sacrifice on behalf of their followers and determined to get the best out of other people. A good leader should not be afraid to empower others, to give opportunities to them and enjoy seeing them grow in confidence and stature. A poor leader will happily see his or her followers stay dependant on the boss and wait for instructions. Ultimately that style of leadership saps initiative and leads to resentment. Of course, giving people responsibility is risky, because they might fail, but there is nothing wrong with failure, as long as you pick yourself up, dust yourself down and learn from it.

When it comes to developing leaders I am thinking right now of the pupils, rather than the staff. How do we help our pupils to become leaders, to take initiative, to be prepared to stand up and not be afraid to fall down? My concern is that when it comes to choosing prefects, for example, those who will lead the pupil body in their final year, we go on hunches and pick those who we think will be good role models, but we have given them precious little in the way of actual training, or encouraged them to stretch themselves prior to their final year. Surely leadership training should not be something that begins in the 6th form, or at the end of the 5th form, but something, a bit like service, that we try and inculcate into our pupils from the 1st form onwards.

What do I actually mean by leadership, particularly in the school context? Well, let’s examine that by looking at what an aspiring young leader at school might look like, divided into being and doing, who they are first and what they do second:

So who are they?

  • They are prepared to stand up for others and to speak out when they see something that they think is wrong;
  • They are not easily influenced by the crowd or their peer group;
  • They don’t mind being a little bit different, because they are thinking about the bigger picture of who they want to become rather than being popular right now;
  • They lead when others are not looking, not just to get attention.

And what might they do?

  • They might volunteer to run or help run activities;
  • They might act as mentors for younger or new pupils;
  • They might put their hand up for jobs that are not very glamorous;
  • They will look out for those around them who are struggling and not be afraid to bring it to the attention of the appropriate people;
  • They might have a quiet word with someone who they think is behaving poorly or making someone’s life unpleasant;
  • They will take on tasks or responsibilities that stretch them, rather than always doing things with which they are comfortable.

And what should the teaching staff do?

  • Allow pupils, right from the earliest years, to take responsibility and then support them…and praise them and lift them up when they fall;
  • Encourage them to take initiative, rather than wait for a member of staff to suggest something.

These are just some initial thoughts and I am sure that it would be easy to flesh them out a lot more. Although prefects in the 6th form are necessary, actually all 6th formers should be leaders and, in fact, all pupils should be encouraged to see themselves as leaders, whatever year they are in. I want to see how we can do that better than we have done, so be prepared for me to be speaking a lot about leadership in the months to come.