Leading with compassion and solidarity

IGS Principal Shauna Colnan welcomed Year 12 student leaders' parents and carers to the leadership induction assembly, closing a successful first semester.

Ms Colnan’s leadership address, which would traditionally have taken place in September 2020, was delayed due to COVID-19.

Her speech encompassed historical and contemporary global events to highlight the crucial importance of good leadership. 

She congratulated Head Boy Orlando Read and Head Girl Grace Truman, the inaugural portfolio leaders, House leaders and Year 12 students on their outstanding leadership of the student body. The ritual pinning of the badges occurred while fellow students applauded and wished our Year 12s well.

An extract of Ms Colnan’s address follows:

The work of leaders has taken on a certain urgency of late, so I want to situate my comments in the current moment, which was defined on 11 March 2020 with the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic. 

When we consider the presence and reach of COVID-19 across all parts of the world today, it’s starkly clear that we share a planet and that choices made by leaders as well as choices made by individuals have consequences for our collective wellbeing.

We also know that the arrival of COVID-19 transformed schools the world over. The emerging evidence of how that year has gone by for most students around the world is clear. There has been tremendous loss. In fact, by all accounts, we are in the midst of a global catastrophe in education. And even though we are so aware of how fortunate we have been here in Australia, the pandemic has also changed us utterly.

It is appropriate then that the secretary general of the UN Antonio Guterres has defined the pandemic as much more than a health crisis.

It has been a period that has laid bare the fragilities within and among systems and nations. Guterres asserts that an effective response to this is going to require a Renaissance of sorts, a complete reimagining and recreating of the very structures of society, and the ways in which countries cooperate for the common good.

Coming out of this crisis, the UN asserts, we will need a whole of society, whole of government, whole of the world approach, driven by two things: compassion and solidarity.

And what better way for us to think about leadership than this. But leading with compassion and solidarity can only occur if we exercise the capacity to see our own humanity in the humanity of others. This is empathy at its highest level. 

For the Secretary General of the UN to call on us to remake and reimagine society as a way out of the pandemic has its historical precedent in earlier pandemics. In that light, I want to briefly share a story with you about another pandemic. This story was told by Professor Fernando Reimers at the 2021 Think Tank on Global Education that I was fortunate to attend online recently at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

The plague or black death of the 14th century arrived in what we now know as Italy in 1348 and within two years it had wiped out a third of the population. In the middle of this catastrophe, in the small city of Florence, Cosimo de Medici, an influential patron, merchant and banker, simply asked a question. He said, why don’t we try to attract to this city people who can create beauty, people who are interested in science, in emerging technologies, in art?

The very asking of this question set in motion a series of events that led to the Italian Renaissance, causing people to pay increasing attention to what it means to be human and to the wellbeing of individuals. Heeding the call of the Medici, great artists like Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci came to Florence to live and work.

The Renaissance as a vision for IGS leaders

The great artists encountered each other in the Piazza della Signoria, and out of these encounters emerged a very forceful set of ideas which became known to the world as Humanism. So this catastrophe of the 14th century was one of the forces that led to a period of great human progress. A Renaissance, a rebirth, a golden era of discovery and a flourishing of new ideas, immense progress, a belief in the endless capacity of humankind and hope.

We are so aware that the ending to the story of our current pandemic has not been written yet but we do know that visionary leadership at all levels of society in all countries of the world will be required to lead us out.

And so I want to use the Renaissance and the artists who came to Florence at that time, as a vision for our Year 12 students as they carve out their final months at school.

IGS as the Piazza della Signoria

Students collaborating, drawing inspiration from one another, creating beautiful work day in day out, true to our 2021 whole school goal, to build beautiful work across the campus.

Year 12, know that by your actions, your presence, your positive energy and your commitment to our school, you are giving the student body that looks up to you, a hopeful and exciting picture of the future and a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves.

And on that, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the creative firepower of our Head Girl Grace Truman and our Head Boy Orlando Read, the achievements and the efforts of our inaugural portfolio leaders making history this year with their sparkling talents, Therese, Jamison, Aidan, Mischa, Felix, Jack, Euan, Saskia and Grace, our student leaders of the mighty House system, Isabel, Eliot, Myles, Clare, David, Grace, Daniel and Orlando, and each and every Year 12 student. 

Leadership abounds here, titles or not, honour not honours.

Year 12, you are inspiring us all with your determination to make us better than we are, your understanding that leadership is less about a position and more about action, your kindness and your good cheer. The mood of our School is brighter in 2021 because of your presence and your efforts.

As you go forward in these last few months, I want you to draw strength from what we have learned about the world and ourselves over the last 14 months.

We have witnessed loss but we’ve also witnessed resistance and resilience.

Communities across the world have raised their voices and used their bodies against systems of repression. Collaboration continues on our greatest challenges including climate change. We have learned how important it is for young people to feel a sense of connectedness at school, to feel safe and free from fear.

Collaboration and connectedness matters.

We have learned about the immense capacity of human beings; the scientists around the world who have developed vaccines in record time, against the clock and within a year to save our lives. We have learned that technology can be a lifeline when used intentionally to connect us because we need that. We have learned that school is fundamental for society to function and that we cannot take it for granted; these gifts that we have.

Schools are part of the world. What happens in the world echoes through the classrooms and corridors of IGS. How we go forward at this historical moment, is largely up to what each and every one of us does at this moment.

We have an opportunity to learn deeply right now, to unlearn old habits that won’t help us going forward.

Let’s exercise courage and kindness in equal measure, be generous of spirit, give people the benefit of the doubt, help people who need us. Let’s answer in our own way that call for action from the United Nations.

Let’s enact a new vision for leadership at IGS in this fragile time in the world and in our communities, driven by those two healing forces, compassion and solidarity.

So, as we wish all students and families well for the term break ahead, I thank our student leaders of all ages, with and without badges, for your kindness, your creativity and your drive. Have a wonderful winter holiday.

Shauna Colnan
IGS Principal