When your Head emails you to flag up a conference about potential headship, you do a double take! Then you read it more carefully, feel quite flattered and think, why not! My lovely colleague Emily, Head of RE, and I were delighted to see that the stunning venue for the two day residential conference was at Eynsham Hall, a manor house near Woodstock full of oil painting, amazing furnishings and an indoor pool; we were in for a treat.
This inaugural conference was designed to help Catholic teachers explore their own vocation for possible Headship. From the outset, we were welcomed by the charming Maggie and John Shinkwin and encouraged to introduce ourselves to as many delegates as possible over the course of the meetings, lunch and dinner. The two days had a wonderful balance of prayer, instruction and discussion where no question was deemed too trivial and we were all made to feel that there were many different routes into Headship. We enjoyed the opportunity to meet colleagues from senior schools as well as fellow prep teachers, many of whom had travelled quite a distance e.g. Stonyhurst and St Bede’s Manchester.
The guest speakers spoke eloquently and with passion about their experiences leading Catholic schools. Their good humour and honesty, highlighting the difficulties as well as celebrating the rewards of the job, were appreciated by all the delegates. For many, the books of Raymond Friel were a staff-room staple, so it was great to hear him share his personal journey and listen to him speak with such passion for having the gospel at the heart of our schools. As General Secretary elect of CISC, he is someone we will get to know much better in the coming years. Mary Breen spoke about “Striving for Excellence”. Like CISC Chair, Antonia Beary, Mary is a fervent believer in single -sex education and her school’s results speak for themselves. Her slick presentation and clear pride in the success of her girls was evident but she recognised that in a changing economic environment, being Catholic wasn’t always the USP that parents looked for in a buyer’s market. This was a challenge recognised by many around the room.
Fr Adrian Porter SJ seemed to be the busiest man: helping delegates make sense of their on-line character survey and encouraging us to build to our strengths rather than dwell on shortcomings. He led Mass on the Feast of St George and probed our minds to help us consider: What is the point of a Catholic school? Having sat on many interview panels for Headships, he was able to challenge our thinking and get us to see our schools as a community of the wider church.
The panel led an excellent wash-up inviting delegates to ask questions and share concerns about applying for a headship. I was encouraged by the variety of their answers especially when considering how useful time in the classroom had been to them as Heads. One advised doing cover work, which I have no doubt was appreciated by their staff, because it gave them a chance to experience a wide variety of age groups and teaching styles and interact in a smaller setting with the children, becoming more accessible and less “in an ivory tower”. Wise words indeed.
I’m sure everyone went home buzzing; Emily and I chatted non-stop, discussing the ideal of a developing a Ministry team at our school and confirming just how much we’d gained from the time away. The CISC team had been welcoming, hospitable and generous with their time and advice. This was invaluable and appreciated by every delegate. One of the many memorable quotes that I scribbled on my pad came from Fr Adrian’s presentation,
“To educate the young is to transform the world”
Juan de Bonifacico
The Oratory Prep School