United Dioceses of Dublin & Glendalough



Leadership Skills, Parish Links and Wellbeing Highlighted at Schools Patron’s Day

Leadership Skills, Parish Links and Wellbeing Highlighted at Schools Patron’s Day
Andrea Black, Sue Duke, Jennie Kirway, Christine Richardson (Board of Education), Archbishop Michael Jackson, Carolyn Good and Susan Ellis (Catholic Primary Schools Management Association).

Primary school principals and chairs of boards of management from across the United Dioceses met for an inspiring morning at the annual Patron’s Day gathering on Friday last (March 15). Three excellent speakers enabled participants to explore key areas of leadership, developing links between schools and parishes and wellbeing for school leaders.

Vice president of LinkedIn, Sue Duke, drew parallels between qualities of leadership in a global corporation and school communities; Carolyn Good, principal of Carrigduff NS in Bunclody, shared practical ideas on developing school/parish links; and author of ‘Weaving Well–Being Fiona Forman spoke on wellbeing for school leaders. The morning’s programme was led by Jennie Kirwan, principal of Sandford Parish National School and Andrea Black, principal of Zion Parish Primary School.

In his opening remarks, the patron Archbishop Michael Jackson welcomed principals, clergy and members of boards of management and thanked the organising committee for putting together a programme that was varied and relevant to teachers and clergy.

“The leadership we offer is also a service to the community both in school and parish. Wellbeing is essential to this both for leaders and for pupils throughout the school. The relationship between parish and school is pivotal in our expression of patronage,” he stated. “By weaving all of these together we will all share in a new tapestry of community for all participants.”


LinkedIn VP Sue Duke in conversation with Jennie Kirwan and Andrea Black.
LinkedIn VP Sue Duke in conversation with Jennie Kirwan and Andrea Black.

As vice president of a social media platform with one billion members globally, Sue Duke, explained that LinkedIn’s priority is alignment around purpose. Focus on purpose also went to the heart of teaching and education, she suggested. All decisions at LinkedIn are made in the frame of the platform’s vision: to create opportunity for all one billion members around the world. An organisation’s vision, she said, should be almost unattainable. But its mission is more to do with the day to day operation of the organisation. She went on to highlight the importance of an organisation’s values, the ethical guidelines of the organisation. She pointed out that today’s younger generations paid close attention to the values of organisations they were considering working for.

“LinkedIn has a billion members so we can see workforce trends in real time. We have seen the focus on purpose since Covid. Now the younger demographic cares about the purpose of the organisation and its values. Teaching has purpose,” she explained.

Sue said that one of the key things leaders could do was provide clarity. “The range of things teachers are dealing with in terms of expectations and demands are off the chart. So provide clarity. If you have a team drowning in complexity, give clarity about the most important issues,” she commented. “Each day I ask: ‘Did I create energy for the team so that they can feel motivated? Did I remove road blocks and create a path through for the team?’” She added that communication is the most important skill – breaking down the message into simple, normal language. Prioritisation and setting boundaries were crucial elements for self care for leaders.

Parish–School Links

Teaching principal Carolyn Good said that developing links between the school and parish was important both for the development of the faith of the children but also to enrich both the school and parish communities.

Carolyn Good.
Carolyn Good.

She pointed out that the school could provide religious education but faith formation was the Church’s job. “We can’t do this without each other – we can’t have the whole picture. Our school is a satellite of our local church,” she commented.

Carolyn suggested that on a basic level, parishes and their schools could pool resources but added that the relationship between the principal and rector was pivotal. Connections between the school and parish could be built in assemblies – the school could promote assemblies on social media which shows the wider school community that the rector is involved while the rector could reference the previous week’s school assembly in church on Sunday thus showing the parish community the link with the school. Services throughout the Church year could seek to involve the pupils and if Sundays don’t work, consider involvement in the midweek service, she advised.

Other suggestions included inviting the rector to deliver specific RE lessons, having shared parish and school projects, the school could connect with key people in the parish, the school staff could be invited to the rectory, the school could build relationships with Sunday Club leaders, the rector could attend key events in the school year and staff could attend key events in the parish, a notice board in the school can connect with the parish, the school could consider visible links like highlighting that it is a Church of Ireland school, diocesan links could be emphasised by the patron visiting the school and the diocese having an annual schools’ service.

Carolyn highlighted the great work being done by the Church of Ireland’s Children and Families Ministry and by the Church of Ireland Centre in DCU, both of which produce many useful resources.

Wellbeing for School Leaders

The importance of balancing ‘triggers’ and ‘glimmers’ for school leaders was highlighted by Fiona Forman. She said that because of the work done by school leaders, it is crucial that they find ways of “filling your own cup” and she said they must prioritise their own wellbeing in order to ensure that the school community is balanced. She emphasised the need for wellbeing and gave tips for selfcare.

Fiona Forman.
Fiona Forman.

Outlining the challenges faced by school leaders, she stated there has been a huge increase in expectations, time is limited, the school day is intense, leaders have a sense of responsibility and there is enormous emotional labour involved in the job.

In prioritising selfcare, Fiona promoted positive psychology as a means of building on the best aspects of life and developing skills and habits that increase wellbeing. These skills and habits could include physical activity, having a growth mindset, acknowledging positive emotions while downregulating negative emotions, adopting flow activities, exercising self compassion, identifying character strengths, and mindfulness, among many other ideas.

She identified six characteristics of educational leaders with high levels of wellbeing. These include: ability to disengage, belief in their ability to deal with challenges, nurturing a sense of balance, ability to deal with challenges, high levels of school support, and high levels of engagement. She encouraged leaders to prioritise positivity, be self compassionate and to commit to their non–negotiables.

Some of those attending Patron's Day in Clayton Liffey Valley.
Some of those attending Patron's Day in Clayton Liffey Valley.

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