Headmistress Hayes


Sarakshi S. (‘24), Editor of HOSH

How has your background as a teacher influenced your role as Headmistress?

I think I’m a fairly logically-minded person. Coming from a science background, I can see all the different steps that you take to problem-solve. I’m not saying that people who are not in science do not have that, but I think it has helped me to solve problems. Science is, I think, a very important part of our curriculum. I’m so pleased that so many of our students study AP level biology, chemistry, and physics. Many of our students go to universities and colleges and study the sciences.

How has your experience when you were in school affected the way that you interact with the students, and how has that affected your understanding of the students?

I went to an all-girls boarding school for the Irish equivalent of grade eight to grade 12, and while I was homesick for a lot of the time, [the experience] helped me later on to meet others and to form very good lasting relationships with women. Actually, some of my best friends that I met at the boarding school or at university are still my very good friends. That gave me a good understanding of what it is like for some of the students in this school who have moved from their home countries. I understand that it takes a while for them to settle in, and they often feel homesick. 

What is one thing you have noticed about the students here?

One thing I noticed from the very beginning is that our students really want to learn. They’re very much self-motivated, and they are high achievers. They want to do their best, and they do not just limit themselves to academics; they want to do sport and music and other forms of art, and that’s a wonderful way to interact and to get to know others. That ethic of working hard and being responsible for your own learning is very valuable for our students.

How have you seen the value of community reflected in the school?

I think I can see it in the way everyone in the school community helps each other; students, parents and teachers. People are willing to help each other by listening, or when new teachers come, other teachers show them how to buy something or go to a restaurant. Students who have been here are very willing to be buddies and help new students to settle in.

How do you think that your personal values are reflected in your leadership?

I think it is important to be able to listen and hear what each person has to say. I tried to have what we call an open-door policy where teachers can come and talk to me. You don’t have to make an appointment; my door is always open. I was firstly, the high school dean, and then the high school principal, that was for a total of 12 years. I have to say those years were the happiest years of my time here. I really loved working with the students and when the students now come back to visit, it’s just lovely to see them again. I knew every student in the high school, and I enjoyed working with them very much. I learned that for everyone, there are going to be ups and downs. The students would come and talk with me and together we would try to solve whatever problem they had and share their joy. So I love that part of my job and in the job as the Headmistress.

How do you see the potential of students in this school environment?

I see great potential, and I feel that it has always been sustained ever since the first day I came here, because our students now in 2023, are achieving as much as they did back in 1993. I think it’s because the students themselves are very motivated. They know that they have to put in the hard work to achieve what they want to achieve; our students find that they love to learn, not just so that they can get good grades or so that they can get a good job. I think when you look at the diversity of occupations that our alumni have just entered into, not just all academics, but they’re in the music and the art world as musicians, actors and artists. Of course, we have architects, engineers, doctors, teachers, some choose to be homemakers and others are working to improve the lives of others. There is that sense of achievement, they always want to do their best.

Reflecting on your career, what is one major lesson that you have learned from your time here?

Yes, I really, really appreciate the values that I have learned here. I come from Ireland where people are fairly friendly and helpful. ISSH made me really appreciate the value of community, that sense of belonging, especially in a place which is not your home. I still feel very much at home in this environment. I’m very grateful that my daughter was here for 13 years. I felt that she had an excellent education, and that she made friends for life. She got married in England and many of her childhood friends came from different places from all over the world to celebrate her wedding. I’m very grateful that teachers, students, and a lot of the students’ parents, have created a very welcoming atmosphere and I am grateful that I was able to experience this international community and meet and work with and live with people from all over the world. I’ve learnt that even though we all come from different cultures and different countries, we have more similarities than differences, and it’s important to respect each one.

What is one accomplishment that you’re especially proud of? 

I think there have been occasions when I was the high school principal when there were students who had difficulties coming to school. I was able to convince those students to complete their high school education even if they couldn’t do it with all of their other peers. There was one student that comes to mind, who struggled with completing high school and who is now a very successful artist. Obviously, I helped with the planning of the construction of the kindergarten, junior school, and the gym, but to me, that’s not my biggest contribution. I think just having been able to have an impact on someone that can change their path to a more positive one for themselves is worthwhile.

How has the pandemic changed the way that you lead the school?

It has certainly made me very much aware of how to mitigate the effects of spreading the virus, and I’m a lot more aware now of space. Up until the pandemic I’d never worn a mask, even though I’ve worked and lived in Japan during winter time and flu season. I really do believe that the mask-wearing prevented the virus from spreading in our school. The pandemic was a very difficult time for the international community, because we could not travel back to our home countries. It was especially difficult for some of our teachers who are here by themselves and some of our young teachers. 

The pandemic made me realize that you really need to live for today because you just do not know what could happen tomorrow. I never expected a pandemic. In fact, I remember very clearly, at the beginning of March 2020, I was convinced that we’d be back to normal after spring break, and I never thought that it would go on as much as it has.

How do you hope students and graduates of Sacred Heart will react to the unrest in the world?

I’m hoping the students will be rational and continue to have courage and confidence in the face of this death and destruction. They have been exposed here to working with people from different countries and cultures and to actually accepting others as equals. So I think that they can be good leaders, and be able to lead in a calm positive manner 

What will you miss the most after your departure from ISSH?

Several emotions, I will miss so much about the school because it has really been my home, along with the people here and the students and the parents. But I will miss life in Japan in general. The food here is some of the best food in the world. Japan is a very safe country. The other thing I like about Japan is that everything is on time. If you get a bus or a train, it’s on time. They’re reserved in relation to some other cultures, but they are polite, and the service here is excellent so I will miss all of that. I’m looking forward to spending time with my own family, especially my two granddaughters who are four and a half and three years old.

What do you hope for your future?

I hope to have continuing good health, and be able to spend time with my family. I have three sisters, who I’m very close to, one lives in Ireland, one lives in England, and one lives in the US. I have three brothers who live in Ireland. So, I want to spend more time with them and with my daughter and grandchildren. I will keep reading, and I have a house in Ireland that I need to do some work on. I would like to do some traveling. Maybe in the future, I can return to Tokyo to see the new building. 

What are your hopes for the future of Sacred Heart? 

I’m hopeful that the building will be ready for the school year 2026-2027. I think it would just be wonderful for the students because this new campus is going to have five new science labs and an Arts center and there is just so much to look forward to.  

If you could offer one piece of advice to the Sacred Heart community, what would that be?

I would say to keep an open mind. The way that I approach this is that maybe something that is right for me, may not be right for somebody else. So I think that it’s important to be accepting of others and their point of view or their faith or their culture. I think coming overseas to live in Japan and working with people from all around the world has helped me to see several different points of view.