Please tell us a little about your background in education.
I’m Principal at Warburton Primary School, a small rural school in the Upper Yarra Valley, 70km east of Melbourne. I’ve been Principal here for the past two years, and prior to that I have been teaching for a decade at three very different Primary schools.
Why did you decide to become involved in education?
I think I was destined to be a teacher, even though I arrived here late. As a big kid I’ve always felt like one of the kids and I find myself inspired by the learning process that young people go through. There’s a lot of teachers and life-long learners in my family, from my grandmother who taught for over 50 years in Primary schools and my dad who taught electrical trades. When I was in VCE, two very influential secondary school teachers advised (and almost implored) me to not get into teaching, and I think I lacked the right kind of confidence when I was younger, so I began a career in retail after graduating with a major in English, working and travelling as an operational auditor. I think I did my job well, but it did nothing for my soul and it slowly became unfulfilling. My decision to go back to university and become a qualified teacher hit me like lightning one day. I was checking the cash contents of a safe in a back room and I suddenly decided to go back to uni and become a teacher. I rang my wife to tell her. She’s a Principal now herself and she said: ‘Go for it.’ I have no regrets at all.
What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?
I’ve taught as a generalist Primary teacher, from Years 2 to 6. I found myself getting involved in the leading of ICT early in my career, and then slowly started thinking about moving into school leadership. I’m a space nerd and book nerd and a lot of that goes into my teaching. My current role as Principal is ever-changing and always complex. There are so many layers to this role and so much movement between one layer and the next, sometimes within a matter of minutes. We’re a small school with 55 students and three classrooms, so I’m not in a position to have assistants or deputies. I rely on our staff and teachers and we really need to be working on the same page and holding a lot of trust in one another. I have a teaching role two days per week, teaching Digital Technologies as a specialist subject, and sharing the Year 4/5/6 classroom teacher role with two part time teachers. I think it’s important to have the Principal in that role of instructional leader and fellow teacher.
Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?
It’s the kids and their awe and wonder that keeps me motivated. When things get tough in the office, or when we’re in the middle of a crisis (and there’s plenty of those), the thing that grounds me and re-energises me is time in the yard with the students, being at their level as a big kid. My wife Beck is a Principal and I’m so lucky to have support from someone who fully understands the demands of the role. We motivate each other and share ideas. When I see our teachers wanting to learn and grow professionally, it inspires me to keep a firm hand on this train. I like the train metaphor. You get on, you get off, you make connections and you start to wind up the mountains.
What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?
It’s rewarding to see the huge benefits that come from small changes, such as working on a school-wide culture that values the giving and receiving of feedback. We are always challenged by the uncertainty of funding and the political warfare that circulates around the profession. There is no doubt in my mind that funding, when applies properly, can achieve wonders. For me, extra resources means an extra adult or two who can really make a difference to a child.
If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?
I would unleash Gonski. I have an imaginary hashtag ready: #Release the Gonski. I would work on lifting the status of the teaching profession to where it belongs. I would work on turning us all into teacher-researchers.