Signs of a Catholic School
Signs and symbols carry meaning and stories. Catholic schooling recognises their role in people’s lives and does not take their use lightly. It integrates what is on the surface with what is beneath. Everything conveys a message, from the use of symbols and graphics in communications to the choice of objects and images put up on walls and placed in cabinets and in hallways. The meaning, purpose and message of each item is carefully considered.
Even something as simple as the placement of teddies and chess-sets in an entry hall, which may seem frivolous or surplus to requirements, sends a message, especially when placed below the school trophy cabinet. The teddy speaks of sport, of supporters, of silliness and fun, the chess set of another form of fun, of strategy, of serious intellectual pursuit. In the context of a girls school, they remind us that girls can be bright strategists who play sport and have a sense of fun. They can be involved in competitions, or support and cheer their peers – win or loose, play or be a spectator, willing participation and a balanced approach to life is what counts.
The use of certain graphics can be useful in directing people’s attention to the import and content of communications. In a desire to create up-to-date newsletters and other communications, one may neglect to honour the history of a place and the meaning of its symbols, such as not using school mottoes or crests. It could be, also, that these symbols may lead people to presume a lack of commitment to to many forms of learning and may make some uncomfortable, particularly if they have a particular prejudice towards faith and denominational schooling, borne, perhaps from their own, negative experiences.
However, is it not right that one should honour the memory of the order that once ran the school and its founder, to acknowledge, through our actions as well as words, the role of its members in the life and history in the school?
Should we not bring the meaning of our crests and symbols to life in the running of our schools, in how we engage with others and in how we lay out our plans, rules and regulations?
Should we not inspire our children with the images and stories of our founders and those who inspired them?
Is it not right that we should approach parents in a spirit of mutual respect and trust, where we collaborate, working together as as partners in education, each of us with our own, distinct, role to play?
Should we not ensure that parents feel welcomed as equals, that they know they can come to their child’s teacher if the need arises without having to run the gauntlet of following highly restrictive protocols set down by a principal wary of parental interference and harassment?
Is it not better to show, through attitudes, actions and language that this Catholic school with its religious symbols is, indeed, a loving place of enlightened learning, where children and teachers of faith and of none can work and learn alongside each other, developing a sense of social justice, a capacity for ethical dialogue and growing in faith?
Should it not be a place where some small amount of imagination and differentiation is used when reaching out to those of minority groups who may feel marginalised during religion classes, sacramental preparation and in prayer services or feel coerced into sending their children to a place they where they fear indoctrination may occur?
Our schools need to be seen to be safe, open places of growth and learning where children of different faith traditions and none learn alongside each other. Their parents need to feel like welcomed, respected partners as they follow protocols that allow for child-safety and minimum disruption to teaching and learning. All our children, from the bright, confident stars to the uncertain, vulnerable ones whose glow may be unnoticed or dimmed need a place to flourish, receiving an education that enables them to become the loving, centred human beings they are meant to be.
The world must see this, so that it my know us as we truly are.