Ever since I became a headteacher, back in September 2000, I have written to staff at some key points in their time at St. Mary’s. I always worry that the letters are beginning to be a bit mechanistic in nature as what I write hasn’t changed. However, this is because what I want to say hasn’t changed over the years either:
- Welcome, this is where we are heading and what is important to us.
- Well done, first years are challenging but you’ve come through.
- Thank you for the contribution you have made.
I started letter writing to staff when I worked as Head of Science at De La Salle in St. Helen’s. There were still a few De La Salle brothers working at the school when I arrived and they dedicated themselves and their lives to young people. Brother Nick wrote to me before I started including a picture and pen portrait of my new form plus an article or two on the importance of relationships. I’ve never forgotten the letter nor the importance of relationships in schools.
Whilst at De la Salle I first came across the letter from a Boston headteacher who has been the victim of a concentration camp. It was a reflection during a staff liturgy and I found it so powerful I ended up having a bit of an emotional moment.
The main body of my letter reads:
Working with young people requires a true sense of vocation. At St. Mary’s we aim to challenge all young people to use their talents to the fullest within a caring Catholic community. The letter from the Boston Headteacher, who had experienced the horrors of a concentration camp, touched me deeply when I first read them.
I am the victim of a concentration camp.
My eyes saw what no-one should witness:
Gas chambers built by learned engineers;
Children poisoned by educated physicians;
Infants killed by trained nurses;
Women and children shot and burned by high school and college graduates.
So, I am suspicious of education.
My request is:
Help your students become more human.
Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human”.
Helping young people grow up and develop fully as a human being must always be our central goal. This demands that we channel our efforts into the personal development of the young people we walk with, nurturing their faith and transforming them through the learning opportunities we provide. I will always judge our actions as a college against these demands.
The challenge to help young people grow in wisdom, the ability to make good and enriching decisions in their life for themselves and others, is a central core of Christian education. When leading one of the SSAT leadership courses I often refer to this letter from the Boston headteacher and emphasise the need to know core values and in which direction you are leading other. Education without developing a young person’s moral compass can be a dangerous vision.
This graphic is wonderful and shows the bumpy ride a Newly Qualified Teacher can have. Whilst being referenced to an NQT it also speaks of the dynamic that more experienced staff may have when they move to a new school.
The end of any first year in a job is a good time to reflect, learning curves tend to be at their steepest when things are new. It’s important that we congratulate and celebrate with teachers and other staff a job well done. The reflection below often reconnects a teacher to why s/he came into teaching and strengthens the sense of vocation and anticipation for challenges ahead.
I wanted to write to you, at the end of your first year at St. Mary’s, to thank you for all the hard work you have done on behalf of our young people. The reflection “A Teacher” reminds us why we took up our vocation. There often seems to be a sense of tiredness at the end of a year or frustration at things that have not quite been done. Leave these thoughts behind you and think of the young people at St. Mary’s whose lives are richer for you being here.
I am a Teacher
I was born the first moment that a question leaped from the mouth of a child.
I am the most fortunate of all who labour.
A doctor is allowed to usher life into the world in one magic moment.
I am allowed to see that life is reborn each day with new questions, ideas and friendships.
An architect knows that if he builds with care, his structure may stand for centuries.
A teacher knows that if he builds with love and truth, what he builds will last forever.
I am a warrior, daily doing battle against peer pressure, negativity, fear, conformity, prejudice, ignorance and apathy.
But I have great allies: Intelligence, Curiosity, Parental Support, Individuality, Creativity, Faith, Love and Laughter all rush to my support.
And who do I have to thank for this wonderful life I am so fortunate to experience,
But the parents for entrusting me with their greatest contribution to eternity, their children.
And so I have a past that is rich in memories.
I have a present that is challenging, adventurous and fun because I am allowed to spend my days with the future.
“I am a teacher ….. and I thank God for it every day”
John W Schlatte
Have a great summer and a refreshing break.
At the end of a career or when moving to a new job in another school teachers often look back at the things they haven’t done or are not perfect with a slight sense of regret or disappointment. We are funny people us teachers, accentuating the positive in the young people we serve is balanced by accentuating the deficiencies in ourselves. Someone once said to me, “Stephen, leave perfection to God, you are just called to do your best.”
I want the staff who are moving on and given good service to our students to know that their best efforts are massively appreciated and were good enough. Bringing everything to completeness and fulfilment was always beyond us and we must recognise and accept this.
I am writing on behalf of the Governors to thank you for your work at St. Mary’s Catholic College. The attached reflection “Planning in the Kingdom” reminds us of the small part we play in the in implementing the master’s plan.
PLANNING IN THE KINGDOM (A Prayer by Oscar Romero)
It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection, no pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted. Knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
I hope the letters are well received, a number of staff thank me each year for writing to them. For some it is the first time they have received a note from their headteacher. I hope you’ve also enjoyed the reflections and pass them on to others.
How lovely! This has brightened my day. Thank you!
How reaffirming! As a new headteacher 4 years ago in a non faith school with twice the average disadvantage children and daily admissions of Roma students, I always wrote birthday cards to all staff, every day (150+ staff). My cards always had a personal note. I will always keep doing this but now I’ve been enlightened to go further, be more meaningful and authentic, especially as I am about to seek out my next headship, this time going back to my core as a leader of a faith school.
I have just come across you but now will be regularly following you. Thank you for leading the way.