On Thursday 22nd April, pupils and staff shared photographs of what they were doing to celebrate Earth Day. Sharing photographs is a nice way to connect and check in with one another, especially during periods of distance learning. We celebrate Earth Day to continue promoting environmental awareness and to remind us that we can protect the earth in our everyday lives. “At the heart of Earth Day 2021 is optimism, a critically needed sentiment in a world ravaged by both climate change and the pandemic,” said Kathleen Rogers, president of EarthDay.org. We received wonderful entries from both pupils and staff including; small positive changes people made for Earth Day such as cycling, gardening, finding alternatives to single use plastics, and photographs capturing the beautiful landscapes, plants and animals of our Planet Earth. Thank you to all who entered. Entries can be seen in this album:
The College’s Mental Health Awareness Week kicks off tomorrow, Monday February 8th, and despite our community being dispersed across the globe we hope everyone can come together and promote the message of positive mental health. Obviously, Mental Health Awareness Week will be a lot different this year with most of the activities taking place online, although there are a few activities for those currently on campus. There are daily morning walks, daily opportunities to CONNECT, baking challenges, TikTok challenges, online Zumba & mindfulness sessions, webinars, a “bring your pet to class” day and much more.
The full programme of events can be found on our dedicated FireFly page here (you will need to log into your FireFly account to access), which also includes loads of recommended videos, movies, music playlists, podcasts, weblink and more (including the first ‘Mind Your Mind’ videos collated from your submissions to your SPHE teachers.
The week’s events are based around a number of key principles of good mental health: connect with friends, engage with hobbies, eat well, be mindful, journalling for good mental health, exercise and sleep well. There are also a number of daily themes. We hope all members of the College community can get involved, including parents and siblings, and we want you to share your photos and videos through the FireFly page also.
We look forward to connecting with you throughout the week! Safe safe and mind your minds!
I would expect that all parents would agree that, even though they want their children to get excellent grades and take advantage of all the other opportunities here, the most important things that they can learn at St. Columba’s are values that will underpin their life, their relationships and the decisions they make. I told you last term that we were going through a process of selecting the values that we think are the most important ones in the College, as chosen by pupils and staff. So here is the big reveal, the ones that came out top and are now recognised as being the ‘College Values’:
OK, so they are hardly unexpected and you might think that they are so obvious that putting them in a list is rather absurd, as if we have made a new discovery. Aren’t these values that every school should be striving to instil in its pupils? Well, yes they are, but my experience is that it is much harder to talk about shared values, and hold pupils to them, if those values are not articulated in a clear way. By selecting these values it enables us to start a conversation in house, in the classroom, or in the corridor. It enables us to talk about what is important in assembly and to use them as a framework for talks in chapel. It requires staff and pupils to think intentionally about what is right and wrong, rather than just assuming that we are all in agreement about it.
Young people learn their values in three ways. The first is by what they are taught, be it in the family, the classroom or perhaps the church or equivalent. That puts great responsibility on teachers of all kinds. What are we teaching our children? The second is by watching and imitating adults and what we do. By that reckoning, all of us bear a huge responsibility, whether we are teachers or not. What example are we setting?
If we don’t get this right, either in school or in the family, children will learn in a third way, from the media, from celebrity culture, from the behaviour of those who are often very poor role models. Do we want to outsource the values that our children learn to social media influencers, be they pop stars or politicians?
I have come to the conclusion that the teaching of values in school is by far the most important thing that we do and it cannot be left to chance, or the winds and tides of social media.
I worked for a cricket season in Australia, coaching a school first team in Melbourne. Before the first match a former Australian captain came to talk to the players and I was looking forward to it, assuming that he would have some wise and gentle words of wisdom. He didn’t, and the fact that I can remember it now is telling. He told them that in order to achieve their ambitions and dreams they should not be afraid to crush the weak and push aside those in their way. It was their own life and they were not responsible for the failures of the weak. He urged them to look after themselves and to have no care for those around them. I looked around in horror at the teachers, parents and pupils, assuming that they would be equally horrified, but to my surprise they were all nodding in agreement. I wanted to scream, but I was just an Englishman on a gap year and I needed the job, so to my shame I kept quiet! But I have never forgotten his words. Teachers and parents bear a great responsibility…young people are listening!
THE VALUES OF ST. COLUMBA’S COLLEGE
The pupils and staff of the College have adopted the following 5 principles that we think best sum up the ethos and values for which Columbans should strive:
- We build others up with the words that we use and we don’t spread gossip
- We look for opportunities to do acts of kindness for others
- We always try to see the best in other people
- We seek to understand the lives of those around us and to ‘walk in their shoes’
- We celebrate each other’s achievements and share their disappointments
- We are slow to judge and quick to forgive
- People are different from each other in many ways, but of equal value
- We show respect to all members of the community and celebrate our common humanity
- All should be made to feel welcome at St. Columba’s College
- We take responsibility for our own work and our own behaviour
- We are responsible for the well-being of our school community
- We are responsible for the future of the world that we all live in and the sustainability of its resources
- We work hard and take full advantage of our opportunities
- We try to develop resilience and not give up at the first failure
- We always strive to be the best version of ourselves
Matthew 7:12 – ‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.’
Form I pupils recently took part in a ‘Sensory Walk’ as part of their wellbeing programme. It was a fantastic opportunity to explore the College Deerpark and to get in touch with nature. The scheme involves the students creating an accordion book where they documented their findings. They collected samples and also and took ‘rubbings’ of a variety of surface textures along the walk. They had a handout to guide them along the walk and to use as a prompt for what they should be gathering. Many thanks to Ms. Byrne for the fantastic photos.
Our Transition Year pupils took a day off class on Saturday last and instead engaged in a series of new activities to engage their creativity and challenge them physically. There was a wide range of activities on offer including yoga sessions, arts & crafts (including Christmas decoration making and book covering), Gaelic games (some promising “wristy” hurlers), baking and more. All activities took place in a socially distanced environment and we are grateful to members of the Parents’ Association for their help in facilitating some of the activities.
An album of photos from the Transition Year 2020 is below, including some new photos of the weekend’s events.
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.
We are living in an increasingly divided world. These divisions, which have always existed, are being exacerbated by the Twitter world that we now inhabit, to such an extent that civilised debate and respectful disagreement are now a rarity. Cowards, who would not enter a serious forum where they might have to listen to opposing opinions, stand anonymously in the shadows and whip up hate and resentment. At the same time faceless bots – so I am led to believe – are collecting our data from social media platforms and plying us with the news that we want to hear. Whatever your political or world view might be, you are being bombarded with rhetoric and news feeds that reinforce your suspicions and increase the gulf between you and those who may have the temerity to hold a different opinion.
In July we were staying with friends near Boston, Massachusetts and their oldest daughter was very keen to go to a campaign rally for one of the many potential Democrat candidates for the presidential race in 2020. The candidate was Kamala Harris, a lady of African American background and the Attorney General of California. She came across very well indeed and I enjoyed the experience of seeing the process at work to select the challenger to the current president. However, there was no disguising the immense divisions in US politics and it was not easy to see how that chasm could be bridged.
If I look across the Irish Sea I am dismayed by the increasingly extreme positions held by politicians on both sides…goodness only knows how that is going to turn out…while in many countries across the world you see more and more populist leaders, often preying on the prejudices of people in order to create a climate of fear against immigrants or foreigners. I experienced something similar living and working in South Africa, where occasionally shops and businesses of foreign nationals were attacked because they were ‘taking our jobs.’ On one occasion two people were killed in the local community, one of whom was a baker. A few days later I was told that the locals were complaining that there was a lack of bread. It is happening again now. Last week a girl from Zimbabwe, whom my wife and I are putting through university, told me that she could not travel back to South Africa because things were too dangerous for foreigners. Desperate and perhaps worrying times.
I am not really a party political animal and I am not trying to cast blame on left or right, liberal or conservative, East or West. But I was brought up to believe that fear and hatred were usually the product of ignorance. In other words, if I don’t know someone personally it is much easier to hate them or to give credence to the fearmongers. People like to cling on to their prejudices, but if I take the trouble to get to know people who are different from me I will find that they are mostly ordinary, decent people and that they may have good reason for their opinions. I am not suggesting that disagreements will vanish, but the violent rhetoric and the insanity of social media is currently driving us further apart and there has to be another way.
I remember in South Africa inviting some groups of staff to dinner, both black and white, we made sure there was a mix. We thought it was a fairly normal thing to do and it went well. But I was told subsequently by both a black and a white colleague, both in their 40’s and 50’s, that it was the first time that they had ever sat round a dinner table with a person of a different colour.
St. Paul says in one of his letters that in Christ there is neither male nor female, slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile. Those distinctions should mean nothing. 2000 years later we seem to have learned very little. People still seek to divide each other by means of religion, gender, race. I follow premier league football closely and just this new football season a number of black footballers, who have made errors in matches, have been subject to racist abuse on social media by anonymous trolls. Outrageous! Shockingly, anti-semitism is on the rise again across Europe and America. We seem to be regressing and going back to an era of intolerance and hatred. It is disheartening, but it is not good enough stand on the sidelines and shake our heads without doing anything about it.
Which brings me to St. Columba’s College. We cannot change the entire world overnight, but within our own community we have the ability to do things differently and be a model for others to copy. We need not follow the standards of the world but we must set our own standards, which are actually the standards of the New Testament, modelled by Jesus in the way that he treated people whatever their class, nation or gender. We are an international community, with many different languages and racial profiles, and inevitably there will be pupils here with different politics, different stances on social matters, different religious beliefs. Yet, we can learn to appreciate those around us who are different and ensure that every member of this school feels equally accepted and cherished, whatever their background. That does not mean that difficult discussions will not take place or that we should ‘no-platform’ those whose views we find unpalatable, as many universities have recently done, stifling debate and deepening divides between ‘us and them.’ I would hope that Columbans would not take their cues or views from the shrill voices on social media, sadly modelled by people who should know better. Rather, I hope they will listen to each other respectfully, engage in honest and robust debate, disagree amicably and learn to celebrate the diversity of beliefs, opinions and races that make up our community.
We use the word resilience a lot more now than we used, perhaps because we see less of it in young people. To put on my Latin teacher’s hat, the word comes from the verb resilio, which is a compound of salio, meaning ‘I jump.’ So resilience, literally, is the property of someone or something to jump or bounce back to its original state. You suffer a setback and you need to bounce back, you respond to failure by learning a lesson, in the hope that maybe you can avoid the failure the next time. It’s obvious really…and of course each time you bounce back and learn a lesson you are a little bit stronger for the experience.
To learn resilience in life you need to be allowed to fail, which is a problem for some educational policy makers who would rather ensure that no one fails, in case their self-esteem suffers and they are deflated. Hence those politically correct school sports days on which there are no winners and losers. I remember one year in the UK when the pass mark for a C at GCSE Maths was 15%. But if you are never allowed to fail, to come second, to fall over, to get a low mark, then you can never learn resilience. I don’t believe that young people nowadays are snowflakes, as some would have it, but I do believe that they are sometimes deprived of the chance of learning from failure and that is not their fault. If they have not learned to fail from an early age, then the first time it happens – as happen it must in the big world – their self-esteem takes a hammering and it can take a long time to pick up the pieces.
We learn resilience from a very young age. Toddlers fall over and get up again and it would be odd if parents refused to allow their children to walk just in case they fell over and got discouraged. Schools are no different and need to provide opportunities for failure rather than remove them. We get better at Maths by getting the question wrong and being told how to do it correctly. If we persevere we will get it right and then we can go on to the next question. If we are told that the wrong answer we have come up with is actually right, or close enough, then we don’t need to strive to be better. We need resilience in every single aspect of life: in our academic work, in our relationships, in our search for a job, in our sport, in learning an instrument, even in personal sadness and disappointment. Those last two are part of life, whether we like it or not, and we deal with those major setbacks much better if we have had experience of dealing with minor setbacks along the way.
Some schools have even put resilience lessons on the timetable, which sounds to me like a scandalous misuse of teaching time, as if resilience is an academic subject which can be learned outside of the rough and tumble of life and without anyone’s feelings being hurt. You cannot remove opportunities to fail from the everyday life of a school and then try and reintroduce them in theory in the classroom. Some children have to be in the first team and everyone should experience the frustration of being dropped…it feels like the end of the world, but actually it isn’t. Some children will get lower marks than others because that is what happens when pupils are gifted in different ways. Some can turn a cartwheel, others can run fast. Please don’t patronise children by removing their chance to fail or their chance to shine. In the grown up world you won’t get the first job for which you apply, you will get passed over for a promotion, you will make a poor decision in a relationship or at work, you will not be able to benchpress 100 kgs first time and you will at some point turn up to a function in totally the wrong outfit. You will be better for it and you will make sure you check the invitation better the next time.