Headteacher's Blog

Castles and Cathedrals

"We take on the work of others"

My presentation to staff and students as we started term last week, was inspired by a visit to Northumberland over the summer which reminded me of a couple of blogs I had read some time ago. My trip to the NE coast revolved around walking Pluto along the empty beaches and exploring the many castles in the area. I even managed to visit four castles or their ruins in just one day! I was interested in the various extensions and additions and how some of them were constructed over hundreds of years.

This reminded me of a blog by Mike Donoghue, JTMAT CEO in January 2021. In it, he describes how teachers are often Cathedral Builders in that they take on the work of others and rarely see their work come to a conclusion. This took me back to a second blog about parenting which described the parable of Sir Christopher Wren. He visited the building site of St Paul’s Cathedral and spoke to 3 bricklayers; the first said “I am laying bricks”. The second said “I am building a wall” and the third said “I am building a cathedral”.

All three were doing the same job and yet had different perspectives. In my presentation to staff, I used this analogy to explain how every adult in school has the same role; to provide the very best education possible for the young people we serve and the communities in which we work. “Laying the bricks” means that we must pay attention to detail but at the same time not lose sight of the bigger picture. It is easy to get bogged down in the detail of our roles and believe that no one else understands what it is like to do that job in school.

If we pay attention to the bricks we are laying but look up and see where it is going, we can ensure that the foundations are strong for others “to build the wall”. Seeing where the wall connects to a door or window provides the opportunity to work with others and see how something special can be created.

Our cathedral is our school; bigger that any single person and cannot be created without teamwork, craftsmanship and courage. My message to staff was clear. Servant leadership, teamwork, skill and courage would enable us to create the right environment for our students at this point in our journey. Little did I realise what was to happen later that week.

For our first cohort of Year 11 students, the analogy was used to enable them to get the basics right by “laying the bricks”. I asked them to “build the wall” and see where the bricks connect to another wall or doorway. What opportunities were they going to take to make this year a success? In doing so they are “building a cathedral”; investing in themselves and their future, planning ways to ensure they finish the year with as many options open to them as possible.

When events unfolded on Thursday afternoon and into Friday, I was thoughtful and reflective about the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, as many people continue to be. The commentators often referred to her sense of duty throughout her reign. Personally, I feel that suggests she carried out her role because she had to, not because she wanted to.

In my view, the Queen was one of the best examples of servant leadership; her sense of service to others related to a genuine desire to do the right thing for her country. She “took on the work of others” and demonstrated how service, courage and integrity are excellent values by which to live. Her loss will be felt widely and my sincere condolences are extended to her family and friends. As we continue this period of national mourning, my theme of castles and cathedrals continues to resonate. We may all have different roles in school, but we are all here to lead by example, serve our communities and do so with courage and integrity.

Sue Plant

CEO’s Blog: “We’re cathedral builders – and we always have been.” – John Taylor Multi-Academy Trust (jtmat.co.uk)
Are you laying bricks or building cathedrals? (linkedin.com)

castle ruins

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