Guest post from Karen Docherty, headteacher at St Agatha’s RC Primary School and Nursery in Fife

Isn’t it great when your role delivers a wee unexpected bonus?

Well, I had one such delightful experience at the SELMAS Spring Forum 2014. I’d booked a place there but, to be truthful, my motivation to attend had dwindled somewhat. Work had been especially demanding recently. An early night was very appealing…

Tired, hungry and a little frayed by the challenges of the term I made my way to the reception area to be greeted by smiling, friendly members of the SELMAS committee. It soon became apparent that the event was not going to be as intense and formal as I’d expected. Indeed, it felt relaxed but purposeful which proved to be the case throughout the evening. The speakers were very good. The topic: social justice and leadership.

At times the narratives were poignant, often funny, sometimes controversial; each unique but sharing a battle cry for connection and communication.

Rosa Murray, the first speaker, urged us consider whether we are truly enabling our young people to have their voices heard. She spoke of a perceived power imbalance in some school contexts and the evident risk of tokenism in pupil councils. She questioned the messages sent when pupils were prohibited from expressing a peaceful response to social injustice.

I was lucky to find myself sitting beside the next keynote speaker, Anne-Marie McGovern, whose compassionate recount of her school’s context chimed with many in the audience. For others, it was revelatory and refreshing – especially when she spoke in terms of her admiration for those children attending school daily, despite enormous difficulties. She modestly recounted the successes achieved in her school despite these barriers and quietly challenged us to find better ways to support our young people. She was very eloquent in her plea for parenting lessons to become part of the standardised curriculum.

Finally, we heard from Anna Fowlie who charmed us with her entertaining and thought provoking personal perspective on the subtle differences between being a socially just leader and socially just leadership. Much of what she said focused upon values and actions, with the importance of congruence. She insisted that the way we treat people, young or old, should reflect respect and dignity. Anna’s description of leadership was embedded in respect and she urged all socially just leaders to be good listeners.

I can’t adequately reflect the quality content of the Spring Forum in this tiny post but would encourage you to check out the clips and then, better still, come along to the next SELMAS event. No matter how tired you may feel, no matter how many tiny work-related piranhas might be feasting on your brain, try to come along. You won’t regret it.

I found the opportunity to engage in high quality professional dialogue, with passionate people (in a lovely environment) to be energising and surprisingly, fun. As I said at the start – an unexpected bonus. It recharged my professional batteries just when I needed it and SELMAS may well offer something of value to you too.

Karen Doherty

St Agatha’s RC Primary School and Nursery

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