10 Questions: Yvette Day

January 20, 2017

What was your first break in teaching? 

I returned to South Africa after studying in England and met the late John Peake, then headmaster of the Diocesan College, Cape Town. He invited me to visit the school one morning and having chatted for an hour, sent me off to evaluate what I thought could be done in the music department and to explore possible links to their prep school. It was already an astonishingly impressive regime, and I was not a teacher. By lunchtime I had a job, based more on intuition than on any learned pedagogy.

What did you want to be growing up? 

I can say with absolute assurance that it wasn’t to be a headmistress. Perhaps the musicologist/musician part rings a little more true, but I think I might really have wanted to work in conservation – art and manuscripts. I am fascinated by calligraphy and illumination.

What attracted you to your current role? 

A 600-year-old school on a World Heritage Site in the shadow of one of the greatest Norman cathedrals might have played a part – but it truth it has probably been more a process of professional evolution. In South Africa there aren’t choir schools of quite the traditional model we find here, and certainly in my time, no choir schools for girls.

What is your school’s mission? 

To provide an outstanding education experience where academic achievement is encouraged, but where all pupils explore their talents and skills.

How do you get the best out of your team? 

One always dreams that if you asked staff they might say they had been inspired, but it probably much more likely that it’s about the power of team effort. I think people respond to a style of leadership where colleagues are not being asked to do anything you would not be willing to do yourself, where vision is insightful and people are given the freedom to find their own solutions. Outstanding teachers are always in pursuit of excellence and that will be an unending journey.

What has been your career highlight? 

I am fortunate that all the places where I have worked have been extremely special, both in situation and in affording to me the chance to play a small part in their long history. I think our recent celebration of the 600th Anniversary of The Chorister School has to be up there with the best of moments; a Royal Visit to the school by HRH the Countess of Wessex, the completion of much of the refurbishment programme, a choral commission of the Durham Jubilate and first performance in the Service of Thanksgiving in Durham Cathedral with Terry Waite, and then a Celebration Ball with past pupils, parents and friends of the school.

What has been your biggest challenge? 

The lie of the land in the independent sector is very different in the North and upholding the ethos of the traditional three-to-13 year old, stand-alone preparatory with options for boarding, increasingly becomes a solo voice, and in that unnecessarily selective. Those who best understand it are of course not in need of any persuasion. It isn’t about dogged elitism; it’s about knowing that where a heritage is a valuable one, it is worth championing. Our challenge is to keep the message relevant and inclusive.

Who or what inspires you? 

My parents. There can’t be many nonagenarians with quite their energy and enthusiasm for the world; and always so tenacious. But also Desmond Tutu. There is something profoundly moving about being able to stand for good in the face of racial hatred, prejudice and injustice. Archbishop Tutu showed me humility and grace; in post-apartheid South Africa he taught reconciliation. And children are inspiring too… the limitless scope of their dreams.

What are the school’s short and long-term goals? 

It is a time of exponential change in technology, innovation, research and social nuance. Our goal has to be to equip children with those compasses, moral, intellectual and social, which will allow them to navigate this new landscape, to develop their own ideas, to make sense of change and to have the confidence to play their part for the greater good. We are a boarding and day school, committed to educating children to seek the best of outcomes, in learning, sport, art and music. Since the foundation of the Cathedral, we have played a part in enriching the unique choral heritage of this country. No longer just a school for choristers, we offer a broad academic and co-curricular programme where pupils prepare for scholarship and academic entry to their first choice senior schools around the country. This will always be a key focus.

How do you achieve a work/life balance? 

I’m not sure anyone really knows what that is! I think where the ‘quality-time’ myth is achieved as the result of following yet another timetable, it becomes work in itself. If you truly value people and places, the sharing of one’s energy and time is always generous. A work/life balance is more about how that time is shared and surely has to start with love and generosity of spirit. The best thinking happens in the unlikely places. We should avoid any compartmentalization which could restrict this.

The Chorister School, Durham Cathedral

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