As Notre Dame Burned

While holidays fly by so quickly, two weeks can also be a long time. Since we last met, the world witnessed the unimaginable sight of Notre Dame Cathedral ablaze. Waking to the news of this gigantic fire was like waking to a nightmare.

Among the footage we saw, how moving it was to see Parisians holding vigil, hand in hand, kneeling, singing Ave Maria, while they watched the magnificent 850-year-old Gothic cathedral burn.

President Macron has vowed to rebuild the cathedral in five years but many believe that the complex restoration ahead may take up to a century to complete.

I’m sure our French colleagues and families can explain to us just how important Notre Dame Cathedral is to what it means to be French. This treasured building at the cultural heart of Paris has been standing since the 1200s.

I feel fortunate to have visited the cathedral a few times in my life. The exquisite beauty of the Rose Windows took my breath away as did the serene and powerful presence of the statue of Joan of Arc. I lit a candle in the Cathedral in memory of my grandparents and I marvelled at the stillness and the beauty of this cherished place of worship. It was and is my favourite building.

As I reflected on what the fire meant, I wondered about how many of our students have been to Notre Dame and whether they will ever be able to go there again. Many commentators started to discuss similar ideas over the last few weeks about places that we’ve been that are now under threat; the Great Barrier Reef; the Redwood Forests that I talked about in the closing assemblies of last term. The fire has certainly been an event that has rocked many people’s sense of certainty.

In 2015, as part of the creation of our strategic plan, which we named Into the World, we decided to articulate for the first time, the School’s purpose. We called it the Mission of IGS. We agreed that our school’s enduring mission, the reason we continue to be here, is “to equip our students to be ready for the world”. It was a deliberate selection of words. “Equip” has a practical feel to it. It implies that we have work to do so that our students have the skills, attributes, ways of thinking and a powerfully strong education so they can be ready for the world when they leave school.

The Mission was also designed to open questions rather than answer them. It was to be challenging and aspirational in the sense that it speaks plainly of our promise to each and every student and each and every IGS family. The Mission is also a site of exploration, a contested space, much like the world we live in and the one our students will enter when they leave behind their warm and vibrant school days here in Ultimo.

“The world” isn’t defined in the Mission, nor could it be. Rather, reference to it encourages us to continue to meditate upon what world are we equipping our students to enter. We know that the world is a place where certainties cannot always be relied upon. The fire of Notre Dame is just one recent event that powerfully illustrates this. Christchurch and Sri Lanka are two others. And so we redouble our efforts to provide our students with an educational journey that builds tenacity, confidence and a sense of capacity in the inevitable face of change; a strong sense of their own identity and self-worth and a view that they have a voice to be heard and a contribution to make. We also feel strongly that school should be a joyful place, filled with celebrations of learning and of community and with a commitment to the motto, Unity Through Diversity.

In class this term, we aim to continue to provide our students with a view of the world from every classroom. In the best traditions of a grammar school that offers a broad liberal education, we stop when we encounter a teachable moment and have that deep discussion with our students about world events. We want to ensure that our classrooms are places of deep learning where ideas are explored and researched; safe places where students can talk about what concerns them and what inspires them; places of knowledge where curiosity fuels a happy and powerful learning culture.

In the loss associated with the fire of Notre Dame Cathedral, how inspiring it was to see a resilient nation unite in their grief and also in their determination to rebuild, restore and heal. At IGS, we understand that students may be saddened by aspects of the world and that as educators, by embodying the best of our great profession, we can contribute to their sense of meaning and wellbeing.

We wish you and your children all the best for a fulfilling and enjoyable term.

Shauna Colnan