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Kate Woods - Principal, Margaret Hendry School

Congratulations on your appointment as principal of Margaret Hendry School. What interested you in this position?

Thank you! I am so thrilled to be appointed as the founding Principal of Margaret Hendry School. I was immediately drawn to the position as I could see the exciting opportunities that existed to work with a range of people invested in developing this community into something unique and special. I felt that together, we will be pioneers into a new way of doing things - education, community, support, culture and fun. I believe that a real commitment exists amongst all members of the community and government to draw on what we have learned from past experiences to make this community a vibrant and dynamic hub of learning and connectedness.

What do you hope to achieve as the school’s foundation principal?

Most importantly I hope to achieve a connected community of common purpose. I want to work alongside the community to ensure the aspirations they have for their children are reflected in the learning that we do at the school. I hope to achieve an integrated service delivery model, where we offer family support onsite at the school and connect our community not only to the school, but to one another. The unique design of the school buildings which are contemporary, flexible and adaptable in nature, allows for collaborative teaching and personalised learning for every child. We will use future focussed research to inform our teaching and learning practices to support children to grow, collaborate, connect and most importantly, develop a love of learning.

You’ve been in school leadership for the past 11 years. Tell us a bit about your career journey.

My first appointment was as a teacher of Indonesian across both Turner School and Weetangera Primary School.  My placement at Turner School spoke to a lifelong passion of mine around inclusion and equity for all and respecting the rights of the child. My next position was heading up student welfare and disability education at Kaleen High School. After this role I moved momentarily to Maribyrnong Primary School before being appointed as the Deputy Principal at Gold Creek School.

At Gold Creek School  I was able to indulge my passion around personalised learning and inquiry-based learning.  All learning was authentic and children and educators were able to see their position in a global society, and the power that they had to positively impact the world around them.  From here I moved into a pedagogy and policy position leading the Early Years Education team within the Education Directorate and worked predominantly on parental engagement and best practice in early childhood education.  Following this, I was appointed as the Principal of Isabella Plains Early Childhood School. This role  gave me the opportunity to bring together all that I had learned and collaboratively develop a learning community that was committed to equity for all, positioning ourselves as global citizens and caretakers of the land on which we live, work and play.

What has been the highlight so far?

I have had such a diverse leadership journey over the past 11 years, spanning from working with babies right through to year 10s with a distinct focus on disability education, parental engagement and learning through play and inquiry. The fundamental commonality amongst all roles has been on respecting the rights of the people within the leaning community and, providing learning experiences and opportunities that engage the learner and their family.

Without a doubt it was the first visit to the Margaret Hendry School site. As I walked through the school grounds I could visualise everything growing around me and all the colour and culture that would soon be injected into this site. I was able to project into the future about how each of the spaces would be used and walk away with some of my wonderings answered and some of my curiosity still developing. Working with our families on the vision, values and graduate profile has cemented for me that we are headed in the same direction, and together, we will continue to develop Margaret Hendry School into a future focussed community of learners that love to learn.

What do you enjoy most about being a principal?

Relationships. Although I can be a little quiet at first, I am a people person through and through. I value all the relationships that I will establish in this role, and the power that these relationships can have on positively affecting people’s lives. I like people to walk away from interactions with me feeling valued, heard, understood and with an idea of where to go next. Everyone is continually learning from each other, and I think that if we create a safe and inclusive environment for all members of the school community, this outcome can be achieved seamlessly.

What inspired you to teach?

Throughout my schooling journey I was either the teacher’s pet or the teacher’s nightmare! If the learning experiences didn’t meet my needs academically, physically, socially or emotionally, then I would disengage.  Once disengaged I would cause a little havoc to entertain myself and those around me.  I always experienced success with the teachers who took the time to get to know who I was as a person and understand what my motivators were. A little investment of time went a long way in keeping me engaged and inspiring me to reach my potential. This often had a positive flow on effect to those around me as my leadership skills were used in a positive sense. The teachers that most stand out in my mind are my year 6 teacher and two of my High School English teachers.  These teachers believed in me and knew that my behaviours were masking something else rather than dismissing me as a problem child. They were pedagogical geniuses who made lesson content responsive to children’s needs, incorporated the social aspect of learning and made learning experiences authentic and genuine and connected to real world. These teachers inspired me to join the profession and get into educational leadership so that I may have the same impact on a larger group of children that they had on me.

Who inspires you now?

My biggest inspirations are my children and my best friend. I am constantly striving to be the best I can be; to be a good role model for my children. I want to inspire them to recognise and nurture the talents that they have been given as well as those that they haven't. They see me work hard, and they also see me give back to myself and others through looking after my physical and emotional health and being environmentally conscious.

My best friend is committed to being present in her life and relationships and focussing on the here and now. She is very intentional and considered in how she chooses to live her life and the impact that she has on those around her and the planet. I find her inspiring. She knows me better than anyone and motivates me and supports me and is my biggest champion and advocate. I am also inspired by people in leadership roles above me who commit their professional lives to developing the talents of others to ensure that our system has a continued focus on quality leadership to maximise learning outcomes for all children.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt in your career?

The most important lesson that I have learned is to slow down and appreciate the journey. If we always have the end in mind and forge ahead at too fast a pace, we tend to miss all the beautiful little milestones. These are the things that make it all worthwhile. The smiles on the children's faces as they make connections, new friendships starting to form for the child that has been working on self-regulation, the confidence levels growing in staff as they begin to share practice and support colleagues, the parents forming networks in the playground, and the celebrations of success across the learning community are all important milestones.

Children’s education is a subject that fires up people’s emotions. What do you think is the most significant shaper of school education?

School culture. Trust, rapport, a shared vision of where we want to be, how we are going to get there and how we will measure our success along the way. Transparency of practice and collaborative efforts to shape a school vision and culture are critical to developing a school culture that is reflective of the community’s needs and provides voice to all within the community. If we are evidence based in our decision making, open to new ways of doing things and committed to one another and our success, great things can happen.

What was your first job?

I used to deliver pamphlets when I was about 10 years old because I was desperate to travel to Fiji with my Aunty. I didn't end up going because I bought a new boombox with a mini TV instead!  It was pretty cool back in 1989 and gave me some leverage with my sister because I had the power of TV to bargain with and she didn't.  As I went through university, I had a variety of jobs in cafes and retail. I can fold a good t-shirt and make a good coffee!

How would other people describe you and how would you describe yourself?

I am probably quite different in my professional life to my personal life and imagine people will describe me differently. I think that I would be described as energetic, fun, empathetic, committed to helping people develop and open to new ideas and experiences. I would describe myself as deeply caring of others and their emotions, very loving, fun, energetic and enthusiastic, a nurturer, a lover of music and sports and somewhat competitive.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Always assume good will. My first Principal lived by this mantra and imparted it onto the staff around her. It made for a culture of understanding, compassion, acceptance and positivity. I apply this saying to both my personal and professional life and it really helps to keep an open mindset and only see the good behind people's actions. I believe that it is extremely rare for someone to set out to do something with bad intent, the action or behaviour is more likely masking something deeper that would be better served through a mindset of compassion and a commitment to listen and understand.

What has been your most memorable experience so far as principal?

Watching the joy of a family who felt disengaged, disconnected, unsupported and marginalised finally experiencing success and feeling like a valued member of the school community. Knowing that it was our commitment to connect them to the community at all costs, the family was provided with the support, time, commitment and understanding they needed to thrive and be successful. It was a very rewarding and humbling experience. I love these moments the most. Seeing the elation that families feel once the collective efforts of schools, families and other agencies have achieved in partnership is amazing. The power of a group of people committed to the cause at any cost is invaluable.