The daily harmony of the ‘singing principal’
Catholic Education is a kaleidoscope of faces, memories and experiences. It is a story of many joys and the occasional sorrow.
From my early days, I saw education as a gift and a blessing. I also learnt that with the gift and blessing came responsibility.
The joys are in terms of having the privilege to work with thousands of young people over the years. The greatest sorrows were journeying with families dealing with terminally ill children and young adults killed in car accidents.
Pearl S Buck said, ‘only the brave should teach’ and it is true. Not because you have to perform each and every day, for each and every class. Not because you never know what is going to happen on any given day. Not because it can be a battle to face the angry parent or staff member. ‘Only the brave should teach’ because it takes heart, and it is so much more than a job.
I can remember on my first day as Principal I went through a number of belief statements with my staff. Given my sense of humour there was ‘I have two ears and one mouth, and I use them in that proportion’ and ‘I’m sure that on my death bed I’ll not be wishing I’d spent more time at work’. I said, ‘family always comes first’ and ‘look after the little things and the big things will look after themselves’. Scripture has always provided consolation, challenge and guidance – I also said that everything we did in a Catholic school was to follow in the footsteps of our Lord and Saviour who had said ‘I have come that they may have life and have it to the full’ (John 10:10).
Some of my most vivid memories are of the ways students with additional and/or diverse needs have enriched the lives of students and staff at school. I can see the faces of these boys and girls, and I see them laughing and smiling. I remember thanking a student one day for looking after one of these students. She had taken her by the hand and was guiding her through another group of students. The student politely chastised me and said there was no need to thank her, she was just looking after her friend.
I was sometimes called the singing Principal. The irony was that I gained the confidence to sing as I sang for my mother, who had a debilitating stroke nine years before she died. She couldn’t put a sentence together but could belt out the Skye Boat song when the music started. The students would groan when I started to sing at assembly and they would then join in, just to give the Principal a break. To this day I’m still reminded of the singing and I’ve heard that on occasion the students still break into song.
I do believe in miracles. The miracle of every Monday morning when the students greet each other. The miracle of the countless staff who go the extra mile for their students. The miracle of the way students put their trust in their teachers. The miracle of the parents who give their all for their children. Little miracles happen in Catholic schools every day.
One of St Mary MacKillop’s favourite sayings was ‘gratitude is the memory of the heart’. I’m truly grateful for the time I have spent in the Catholic education system as a student, teacher and administrator.