Meera Isaacs, Dean, Cathedral & John Connon School Mumbai

Every leader has a great story to tell; a large part of it traverses through the institution they represent. The tale of Mrs. Meera Isaacs, who completed 25 years as the Head of the Cathedral & John Connon School Mumbai, is an inspiring one. But the story of the Cathedral & John Connon School Mumbai is significantly older than that – it started in 1860. “The story of our school begins from St Thomas’ Cathedral. In 1860, Bishop Harding and the Cathedral Chaplain decided to open a Grammar School within the walled city of Bombay. This small establishment, together with an even smaller school for girls, was the first of many strands that were eventually joined together to form the Cathedral School as we know it,” shares Mrs. Isaacs. 

In October 1875, a Choir School was established with the primary objective of providing choristers for St. Thomas’ Cathedral. In the meantime, in 1886, The Bombay Scottish Education Society put up a beautiful building on the Esplanade, naming it after John Connon, a well-known philanthropist and Chief Registrar of Bombay (which is now our Junior School). Hence the full name of Cathedral and John Connon School.

“The school is a Christian Anglican School that belongs to St Thomas’ Cathedral. Up to 1965, we had segregated schools for Boys and Girls. When in 1965, the Board decided to merge the Schools, some parents went to Court. Fortunately, Justice Lentin ruled in favour of the school’s decision. His courageous judgment has stood us in good stead all these years,” says Mrs. Isaacs.

Today, under Mrs. Isaacs’ efficient management, and, as she constantly reiterates, aided by enthusiastic and committed staff members, forwarding thinking heads of the different sections, and supported by cooperative Board of Governors, The Cathedral & John Connon School educates young minds, helping them to understand how to adapt and contribute to the changing world and become global citizens with a local vision. The school strives through its mission to develop a sense of international-mindedness, and cherish the individuality of man and the commonality of mankind.

For the Family

The School encourages parental involvement to cater to a child holistically, and in a collaborative manner. Mrs. Isaacs believes that constant cooperation between parents, teachers and the administration can improve learning outcomes for the children. With timely PTA meetings, parent representatives address issues related to health and safety and child nourishment to find viable solutions and help the school grow. “The role of a parent is critical when it comes to the development of a child, whether physical or emotional. The parent’s involvement in school activities at school also goes a long way in the child’s education. Especially in the early years of teaching, children are at a stage where they are learning to work independently. It is important to encourage parents to put in the effort to nurture their children,” states Mrs. Isaacs. Thus, at Cathedral and John Connon School, through the guidance of the Headmistresses and teachers, parents contribute their creativity, time and resources to help translate the vision and goal for the children.

Every year, the Parent Body helps organise different activities at the school, like celebrating festivals of different religions throughout the year and sharing customs and traditions. Annual Projects are also taken care of by the joint efforts of teachers and parents. The big event showcases the students’ hard work, and the parents help with the art and craft activities whenever required. “The Annual Fun Fair is a parent activity. The funds collected go towards supporting the few NGOs that we work with for the welfare and education of underprivileged children. The funds also go towards the upkeep of the school,” shares Mrs. Isaacs. The school continually ensure that parents are involved in the education of their children. Assigning them with tasks like snack making, guiding children into the school, reading stories in the library, and other activities make parents feel like they too are a part of the child’s journey in education. “For parents, we have talks and orientations in areas that we feel will help them help their child (Reading Strategies, General Functioning of the school, Counselling, Learning resource system and Enrichment classes),” says Mrs. Isaacs. Parents also bring in experts to talk about alcohol, tobacco, child abuse, gender discrimination, and the like to increase awareness among students and make them more responsible. 

Serving Brain Food

The Cathedral and John Connon School encourage innovation and creativity in students in different ways. Starting at the primary level, students are taught to work with subjects in a fun way for language learning. Mrs. Isaacs has introduced reading programmes such as book clubs and library programmes to nurture in them the habit of reading and expose them to classic and contemporary literature, while assembly skits and classroom presentations help students in public speaking and increase self-confidence. Thus students are encouraged to express themselves articulately and confidently through their oral and written communication. Students at the school are encouraged to explore and learn concepts outside the curriculum and an annual project is planned to expand the students’ horizons, make self-driven learning fun and enhance creativity and collaboration.

In arts and music, the students are introduced to various artists and styles and are encouraged to use them. “A meta-cognitive approach is attempted in teaching how to better one’s handwriting, to deciding dance steps or designing their own board games in computers in order to empower the students,” Mrs. Isaacs shares. The school also introduced an Extended Learning Program, which allows children to develop various skillsets and is differentiated in order to cater to all learner profiles.

Students are taught in a more focussed manner at the secondary level, with concepts based on inquiry and understanding. Effective teamwork and collaboration during these exercises help students to work together and build social skills. Students listen to TedTalks and other such videos to stimulate their imagination. They also use Mindspark, by Education Initiatives that help in learning math. It is software that is mapped to the syllabus and allows children to move at their own pace, which can be accessed at home as well. In addition to this, students also learn about IoT at the Innovation Hub and are taught the basics of electronics, science, design and technology through practical activities. 

More recently, the school has been collaborating with Clap Talk, an organisation that helps global travellers share their experiences with students. They share pictures and stories about the different cultures they witnessed and encourage students to build a spirit of exploration and open their minds to various possibilities. The school is also associated with Desh Apnayen, an NGO that brings Civics to life, creating awareness about fundamental rights and duties of the citizens of India. There is a Robotics boot camp that teaches children how to make games on android phones, learn about virtual reality, and touch upon web designing. 

International Ties

“The School is a Founding Member of Eumind which is ‘Europe meets India’, a programme that allows the meeting of young minds across continents so that they can learn from each other and grow as human beings, understanding each other’s cultures, countries and traditions. The programme is now 15 years old,” Mrs. Isaacs. The school also encourages students to participate in other cultural pursuits through various student-run societies and clubs. STEM programmes for high school students and collaboration with alumni, parents, teachers, and distinguished individuals also egg them to delve into robotics, outreach, and fundraising. “The Cathedral Mathematics Competition 2020, another entirely student-run initiative, overcame the limitations of the lockdown by doing away with the limitations of geography and capacity. The students expanded their online platforms, and the competition now involves 4000 participants from over 40 countries across 6 continents,” shares Mrs. Isaacs. 

With Mrs. Isaacs in charge and through workshops, discussions, reaching out to contemporaries and reading, she has kept the school in touch with the latest trends in the education sector. By striving to be digitally savvy herself, Mrs. Isaacs has incorporated many innovative ways to make students and teachers future-ready. The school has started the IBDP (International Baccalaureate) and IGCSE now and is moving towards establishing the International Wing of the School. With a good set of Vice Principals, Headmistresses, and staff, Mrs. Isaacs, believes that the Cathedral and John Connon School will work smoothly and efficiently to give the kind of education envisaged for the leaders of tomorrow.

Mrs. Isaacs also believes in making education universally accessible. With excellent infrastructure, digitally and otherwise, children need to be open to a progressive and student-centric curriculum that needs to involve collaboration, critical thinking, and concept-based learning. “Children should be encouraged to follow their interests which could very well be dove-tailed into professions that they can follow. For this, we need much more government spending on education so that each child is guaranteed a place in the sun,” says Mrs. Isaacs. Changing the school system from merit-based to concept-based learning and an international curriculum can give more space and time for a child to learn better and at a more personalised level. Education in India needs a complete overhaul and needs to be revamped to suit the needs of kids today. The school believes that the NEP holds this promise and trusts that it will be implemented properly. 

The Way Ahead

Over the last 25 years, Mrs. Isaacs has shown leadership skills that match no other. Under her guidance, both teachers and students have learned how to be more responsible and enabled them to achieve their goals to the best of their abilities. From being a teacher, housemistress, vice-principal, and finally the Principal, Mrs. Isaacs has done all the tasks she asks of anyone at the school. Knowing the process of everything is important for a leader, and she understands what goes into running a school from the bottom up, through and through. By encouraging professional development among teachers, Mrs. Isaacs has ensured to keep abreast with the best practices in the teaching and learning process, making her one of the Most Inspiring Indian Women in School Leadership.

The school continues to grow, with more students joining, and giving further employment opportunities. In this regard, the international building of the school continues to be renovated and will be up and running soon. “Another structure for seniors is also in the works. We plan to renovate it to incorporate the methodology of international curricula and slowly consolidate it throughout the school. In the future, we are looking to expand our space requirements while already following a concerted strategy to limit class sizes beginning from the primary and working steadily upwards. Our students will be the beneficiaries,” concludes Ms Meera. 

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