Leading with Dignity

From the Principal

Welcome to Term 4

As we embark on the final term of 2023, we celebrated a special occasion this week—the induction of our new student leaders for 2024. Congratulations to this wonderful cohort!

During our assembly, I had the opportunity to share insights about the profound connection between leadership, dignity and peace.

Leadership, dignity and peace

When I was at Harvard University a number of years ago, I met a woman who had spent her life working as an international mediator in some of the most troubled parts of the world. Her name is Dr Donna Hicks.

Some of this impressive woman’s most important work was undertaken in Northern Ireland in the wake of The Troubles. With Reverend Desmond Tutu, Dr Hicks helped broker peace, across a table, over a year, between victims and perpetrators of sectarian violence. The people who they met during these encounters were broken people. But Dr Hicks began by asking them a simple question. Do you want to meet with us and tell us how your dignity was violated by another human being? The question unleashed an ocean of pain, but it also paved the way for peace. As a result of this work, Donna Hicks has become a foremost expert in the powerful role that dignity can play in leadership. 

For our students I wanted to start with a simple definition of dignity as our inherent value, our worth. We are all born with dignity. Every single one of us. We all have it. It’s part of who we are as human beings.

Our dignity is also very vulnerable; vulnerable to being harmed and injured. Dignity is also different to respect. Respect has to be earned. So, when we ask people to treat us with respect, perhaps what we’re really saying is treat me with dignity.

What does it look like to treat people with dignity? 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.  And be accountable for the things you do, good and bad.

I challenged our students to think about the last time they violated someone’s dignity. We all do it because we are born with mechanisms within us that make us behave badly when we are under threat. So sometimes we gossip, blame others, shirk responsibility. After all we’re human. But the good news is that we’re not doomed to be slaves to these mechanisms that we inherited from our early ancestors.

We are actually hard wired to feel with others. I think we need to continue encouraging our students to get back to this, to feeling the way others feel. And we can do it through dignity. And the nice thing is that the power of dignity only expands with use. The more we give, the more we get.

In Nelson Mandela’s 1994 autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, he recounts beginning his life imprisonment on Robben Island in 1964. On the first day he decided that he needed to work out what the guards intended to do to him. It didn’t take him long to discover that their goal was to strip him of his dignity. So, Mandela already felt that he had triumphed as his belief was that it would not be possible to strip him of his dignity. He was born with it and nobody could take it away from him. Stories like this tell us that dignity can be a source of internal power, providing us with emotional scaffolding and a tremendous source of resilience. 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.

There’s a good reason too, to hold to the idea that dignity is at the very heart of what it means to be human and indeed, to lead. Why? Because we all want to be treated as if we matter and when we are not treated in this way, we suffer. These dignity violations can leave their mark on people and linger. We often remember that awful thing somebody said to us or about us many years later.

Today, here at IGS, how we treat one another matters and when we are treated well, we tend to flourish. This insight alone should be a great source of empowerment for our new student leaders. It’s certainly what we saw in the leadership of Samï Lightfoot, Charlotte Waley, our student leaders and Year 12 this year. They were a fantastic year group, magnificently well led. As we celebrated the pinning of the badges on our new leaders this week, it’s worth remembering the dignified way in which Charlotte, Samï and the graduating class of 2023 carried themselves throughout their final year of school.

To our new leaders

In wrapping up, I told our Year 11 students, “IGS was here a long time before you arrived, and will be here for a long time after you 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. Each contribution matters. I urge you to be guardians of dignity and to treat people with care as you carve out your final year of school.  And as we welcome our new leaders into their new roles today and wish them well, remember what a wonderful world we live in and that lessons about how to be are all around us.”

All the very best to our Year 12 HSC students as they continue sitting their HSC examinations. And I wish all you and your children a wonderful term ahead.

Congratulations to our 2024 Student Leaders 
Portfolio Leaders  
Sport     Delfina McAuley
Sustainability     Madeleine Hayen
Music    Emma McArdle
Drama   Antigone Marchbank
STEM     Toby Dolph
Bibliotheque       Karam Hartmann
Languages           Sofia Ninkovic
Art and Design Isabel-Mary Keenan
SRC        Sabrina Turner


House Leaders  
Matthew Chen and Arky Tibbetts
Zoe Killick-Dodd and Ethan Procter
Amelia Whitaker and Callum Robertson
Caitlin Elliot and Noah McLean


Shauna Colnan

Helping our children cope with world events

As school resumes for Term 4, the global community has again been confronted by highly distressing world events. You may find it helpful to read this article in which IGS Director of Counselling Services and Psychologist Joseph Degeling discusses how we can help our children cope at times like this.