Encouraging excellence and increasing inclusion

Encouraging excellence and increasing inclusion

As a Christian school in the Catholic tradition, which sincerely welcomes families of all faiths and those from a secular background into our community, it is important for us to be able to communicate our ethos effectively in an inclusive way. One of the ways that we do this is through integrating the 12 Characteristics of a Mary Ward School across our community. As those of you who have been in our community last year will know, we focus on two of these 12 characteristics each academic year, mindful of the lessons we can learn and reflect upon as we mature as individuals and a community and interact with others, both in and out of school.

Last year, for instance, we focused on ‘Seeing the good in all creation’ and ‘Coping effectively with failure’ – both important prisms through which to view events of the first half of 2017; in the 2015/2016 academic year we focused on ‘Promoting Christian values of truth, justice, freedom and sincerity’ and ‘Embracing diversity’ – which similarly helped focus our hearts and minds on core values.

For this academic year our chosen characteristics are:

  • Following in Christ’s footsteps
  • Encouraging hard work and excellence

Following in Christ’s footsteps

Earlier this week we held our first Mass of the year, at which Father John Minh, priest at Our Lady and the English Martyrs (OLEM) spoke about Jesus’ invitation to “come and see”, and His promise that his disciples would “see greater things than this” (John 1:35-51). Father John drew a lovely analogy with our school: he observed that everyone who is part of the community at the start of this academic year must have ‘come and seen’ the school and seen great things and he urged our community to go out and spread the word so that more families ‘come and see’: it was certainly an innovative marketing message within his homily!

Our Lay Chaplain Mrs Kay Dodworth shared a few thoughts about what it means to be ‘Following in Christ’s footsteps’, and how this will be nurtured among our school community:

Following in Christ's footsteps means, as Rowan Williams said in his book Discipleship, being where Jesus is; in the gospels Jesus is mainly with people who are marginalised, suffering, feeling guilty or bewildered. This challenges us to care for people in school who are feeling marginalised and we hope the students and staff members will reflect on how we can do this throughout the year. It challenges us to look at situations in the local community and the wider world and take every opportunity to increase inclusion, whether of people who are marginalised through poverty, exploitation or social exclusion because of their gender, for instance. Jesus also trusted in God's providence and guidance in whatever circumstance he found Himself. He believed, and taught, that God provides for all our needs and that “Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without [God] knowing it” (Matthew 10:29). This challenges us to become more aware of God's loving presence in all aspects of life, and we hope to develop this as a community by continued, and perhaps more regular, use of the Examen.”

Our community extends far beyond our school and our local area, and we are fortunate to have strong ties and warm relationships with the Congregation of Jesus (CJ) sisters, many of whom live just across the road from the school, and many of whom work as far afield as South America and Africa. In the 2016/2017 issue of Magnolian, our school magazine, there was an article about the sisters’ work, which we continue to support, in Zimbabwe. From the orphanage and two schools in Kwekwe, the CJ sisters plan to extend their work to another local village, building a brand new secondary school nearby on the back of a thriving junior school already established there with over 1,000 students in attendance. As they develop their good work – indeed following in Christ’s footsteps – we are extremely excited about supporting them and will focus much of our fundraising efforts this year on the project.

Sister Mercy Shumbamhini CJ, Regional Leader in Zimbabwe, emailed me earlier this week: I write in amazement and extreme gratitude for the good news – quite beyond my wildest dreams – words fail me. Your thoughtfulness, generosity and commitment to this secondary school project have fired my enthusiasm. Thank you for making this dream of a secondary school in Mbizo become a reality. Indeed I found a ray of light in people: good, caring and thoughtful people that you are. We will definitely update you on the progress of the project. In a few days or so I will send you some photos of the ground where we intend to build the secondary school. We continue to be amazed and so impressed by the hard work and commitment of your students and staff. It is most commendable and greatly appreciated by us all in Zimbabwe. May your paths and life be blessed and all your future good deeds as well. You are welcome to Zimbabwe any time. We will be delighted to have you here. With gratitude and prayers, Sr Mercy.”

I look forward to sharing much more with you over the coming year about how members of the community are being with the marginalised, suffering, guilty or bewildered and trusting in God's providence and guidance.

Encouraging hard work and excellence

One of the reasons for selecting our second Mary Ward characteristic for 2017/2018 – ‘Encouraging hard work and excellence’ – is that we are developing our focus on High Performance Learning. Based on research undertaken by Professor Deborah Eyre and her book Great minds and how to grow them, as a school we are investing in our belief that there really is ‘room at the top’ for all. I look forward to unpacking this topic in more detail in my next fortnightly blog, and sharing some examples of everyday techniques to support our young people as they aim high and achieve excellence across the board.