During this week’s leadership induction assembly, IGS Principal Shauna Colnan shared her thoughts on what it means to lead:
We’re grateful for the opportunity to come together in person to mark this special moment for our students and to have our families here with us as well.
Thinking about today, I’ve been contemplating what it means to lead and I’ve been reflecting on the moments this year when I noticed students who stepped up to lead. I use the phrase stepped up deliberately, because when leadership happens, it tends to be about action.
Leadership is practical. It’s often simple. It’s invariably about what you do for other people.
One of my favourite leadership moments happened at a Primary School language assembly earlier this year. I was sitting at the side of the Hall and at my feet was a group of students, waiting to perform their well-practised song.
I noticed one boy sitting quietly, studying his workbook. He was clearly anxious about going up on the stage. A girl in his class, swung around to him and said kindly, “it’s okay. You’ll be fine. You don’t need your book.” He smiled, blushed a little and put his head back in his book.
A minute or so later, the class was running up the stairs and filing across the front of the stage. True to form, they sang out and their performance was outstanding. The students were confident and were having so much fun showing us their progress in Languages. The boy with the book was doing just fine.
The song came to an end and the students were applauded by the packed hall. They ran off the stage in a line and sat back down in their places. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the boy’s book on the floor. One of the boy’s friends also saw the book as he came down the stairs. He ran over to pick it up and waited at the bottom of the stairs for his friend. They walked alongside each other, and the boy’s friend passed him the book like a little football pass. He then put his arm around his friend and said “you did really well up there!” They smiled and sat down.
What a beautiful moment had unfolded before my eyes. A leadership moment. Two students had noticed this boy and they took action to make things easier for him. In spite of all the noise and excitement, these students were alert to subtle things going on around them. They were sensitive. They cared about their friend. They encouraged and supported him. They didn’t judge him or laugh at him. Rather, they seemed to appreciate that he wanted to do a great job up on that stage. Most of all they were gentle and they were kind.
Everyone was learning in that moment.
Among a year of beautiful moments so far, this one has stayed with me. I share this moment with you because I believe that in the actions of these young children there are lessons for our Year 11 students and for all of us.
We will all lead at different times and in different ways at key moments in our lives. At times our leadership will be writ large across the sky of that landscape that lies glittering beyond. In those moments when everybody is watching, we may have to be still inside, gather our thoughts, calm our racing hearts, hold steady and step up. At other times, we lead in tiny moments when it may be that nobody is watching and at these times, our quality and integrity as people really comes to the fore.
Leadership is a gift. But it’s ephemeral. It doesn’t define you. It doesn’t make you better than those you lead.
In fact, leadership often makes you more aware of your shortcomings, because day by day it challenges you at times to your limits and even beyond. In that way, it’s pretty humbling. But it’s also rewarding. It’s surprising. It’s an adventure. It’s a privilege.
The craft of leadership is also about diagnosing, asking the right questions, listening deeply. It’s not a position you have been given. That’s more about being granted authority. Those who have been entrusted with positions of authority must understand that leadership comes from everywhere and they must seek to understand and harness the many gifts of those around them. The work of leadership is inclusive. It’s collaborative. It’s a shared endeavour.
Leading can also be daunting. Know that being a leader sometimes means taking a leap of faith and believing that it will be ok if you try. Know that you are in a warm, safe and supportive environment here at IGS and we are all here to cheer you on. I have found that usually when you lead, people are kind and you can draw strength from that kindness.
Know also that people like to be led. They like to be led well. They appreciate it. They want it. At times people crave good leadership. They also know it when they see it.
Year 11, leadership abounds here at IGS, titles or not, honour not honours, so step into this wonderful leadership landscape.
At IGS, leadership is driven by our school values and by three healing forces: compassion, solidarity and treating people with dignity. What does it look like to treat people with dignity? Let’s be concrete about it.
Accept people for who they are and give them the freedom to express their authentic selves without fear of being negatively judged. Recognise people for what they bring and show thanks for that.
Acknowledge people for what they do, include them and make them feel that they belong. Help them feel safe so that they can really be who they are.
Be fair. Be kind. Be understanding and give people your full attention by really listening to what they say. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they mean the best. Be accountable for the things you do, good and bad. Leading in this way can occur if we see our own humanity in the humanity of others.
Treating ourselves and others with dignity is a way to achieve the peace we want: peace within us, peace in our relationships, and peace in the safer and more humane world we all wish for … Unity Through Diversity.
Here at IGS, how we treat one another matters. So take care in the knowledge that when we are treated well, we flourish. This insight alone could be a great source of empowerment for our new leaders. It’s certainly what we’ve seen in the leadership of Madiba, Zahra, our student leaders and all of Year 12.
Year 11, IGS was here a long time before we arrived, and will be here for a long time after we leave. After we all leave. Your role now, our role, is to bring the very best of what we have every day to help our School make progress.
It’s a bit like the stonemason who works on the grand cathedral day in day out, a cathedral that will continue to be worked on by generations of stonemasons, beyond this one. Each contribution matters. Year 11, I urge you to treat people with care as you carve out your final year of school and remember what a wonderful world we live in and that lessons about how to be are all around us.
I’d like to end this meditation upon leadership with the words of writer Seth Godin who asserts that the secret of leadership is simple.
“Paint a picture of the future and go there. People will follow.”
We congratulate our 2022/23 High School Student Leaders:
Sport: Sophie Cotton
Sustainability: Ruari Foster
Music: Henry Egan
Drama: Annabel Johnson
STEM: Katelyn Clarke
Bibliothèque: Eve Moss Ractliffe
Languages: Charlotte Waley
Art and Design Jordan Aguilera-Mendoza
SRC Samuel Lightfoot
Baado Lola Merten
Baado Nell Brennan
Bamal Alexander Johnson
Bamal Jonathan Reisel
Gura Iris Hancock
Gura Edward Butler
Kuyal Ava Wilkin
Kuyal Oscar Brown
Congratulations to our new student leaders and to Year 11. The mantle of leadership is being passed on to you all as you approach your final year of school. On behalf of the entire IGS community, all the very best for the journey ahead.