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Mary Hutchinson - Principal, Lyons Early Childhood School

Congratulations on your long career in the teaching profession. Looking back, how does it feel to have been an educator over such a long period of time?

Wow! The time has flown! Feeling connected and genuinely supported in my work has been a driver for me remaining in public education for so long.

I feel proud to have chosen and stayed in a career that has allowed me to learn so much and contribute to communities, all for the purpose of giving children and young people the best education possible. So much has changed in education over my time in schools. But, in essence, what we value and believe has never changed. Schools are all about relationships; I have delighted in connecting with so many inspiring individuals.

You’ve been the head of Lyons ECS for the past 10 years. Tell us a bit about your school and the early childhood model.

The model is in response to research indicating that the first years of life are critical for children’s learning and development. We know so much more than ever before about brain architecture and how nurturing and responsive relationships build strong foundations for learning. The relational focus at Lyons ECS is a key feature in successfully responding to the needs of a whole community. Lyons is a great example of the vision for ECS schools to become regional hubs, providing integrated services for children and families. Seamless, wrap-around education and care are strong features of the model and of our school.

What have you enjoyed the most about being a teacher and principal?

I love to learn and study (I could have happily stayed at uni forever). Teaching and leading in schools have allowed me to do just that. In leadership roles especially, I have appreciated being able to help others develop a curious disposition. To me, that’s the hallmark of rich early learning and teaching. Curiosity is contagious and, at Lyons, I’ve taken real delight in seeing educators striving to improve, reflecting on their work and collaborating with peers. As a principal, it’s been wonderful to support a whole community of people connect in the best interest of children and young people.

What was your first job?

I’m a language nerd! But who was to know that this would inform my first teaching appointment? At school I loved learning languages (French, German and Japanese). In my teacher education course at the University of Canberra, I continued with my Japanese studies out of interest (but not to teach it in schools). On graduating, however, I was appointed to Seven Hills Public School in Western Sydney as a Year 2 teacher and to teach Japanese across the school. I must say my first job was exciting, challenging and diverse. I certainly learnt much to inform my future teaching years!

What inspired you to teach?

My dad inspired me to follow him into the same profession he had chosen. The job was so different then, but he clearly did what he loved and was a champion for every child. He taught and led in many one-teacher schools throughout Queensland (and later in ACT schools). Our family lived on the school sites and we were truly part of those school communities. So, I remember from a very young age, seeing and feeling the impact of belonging in a school. Undoubtedly, that has influenced my own beliefs about climate and culture for learning.

How has teaching, schools and students changed over your 40-year career?

School has always been a place (for children and staff alike) to make friends and learn how to get along with a variety of people. Quality learning has remained the priority. How it’s executed now looks very different. My teaching was once writing everything in chalk on a blackboard (decorated with picturesque borders and illustrations) and reeling off stencils on the Gestetner (a type of duplicating machine). Professional learning was limited (but I was taught how to use and teach with Cuisenaire rods!). Teaching was less collaboration and more doors shut. A 21st century teacher makes use of time so much more wisely.

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

Public school education will always be shaped by our need to create a fair and just world for everyone. Its design is influenced by what parents want for their children - in essence, to be happy and successful in life. A passionate parental perspective of education is informed by a changing, fast-paced world. The conversation is no longer about having knowledge alone; parents seek schooling that is inspired by their child’s world and place in it. The rise of technology is a game changer; importantly it calls for schools to develop in its students the dispositions that allow connection and relationships.

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

I once received great advice about how to deal with a complaint:

Handle criticism with grace and take time to respond. In the heat of the moment it’s easy to react with anger and defensiveness. Postpone the decision to reply until the following day, for example, so that you have additional time to consider how you will do so. Sleep on it. Remember that criticism is feedback and that there is always value in receiving feedback. Listen for understanding and thank the person who is giving it. Consider it as an opportunity to change or improve something.

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

I’ve learnt how important it is to, every now and then, go away from my work to rest and recharge. When I take time out to relax and be kind to myself, I come back to my work with surer judgement. I make sure I go some distance away or I choose to do something completely different to my work. Then my job is put more into perspective and proportion. I can better reflect on all of its elements and I can more readily notice any lack of harmony. The importance of perspective taking in our work as educators can’t be underestimated.

What has been your most memorable experience as an educator?

Undoubtedly, the Festival of Mary (my farewell event at Lyons ECS) will be a beautiful memory and highlight. So many colleagues, parents and children (current and previous) came back to say ‘thanks’ and ‘farewell’. As educators, we are in a job providing service to others. We love to do it and we do it well.Heading out of my time in schools, I am humbled by the caring and nurturing words that have passed my way most recently.

With all your experience, what advice would you give to young teachers just starting out in the profession?

Be crazy about the career you choose. If you have a dream or an area of interest pursue it with zest. Never stop letting your passion fill you. In a job that you love, most days will fly and the effort you put in will be worth it.

Cultivate hobbies and interests outside of work. Give them the commitment they deserve. This may mean setting limits on the time you spend on your work (outside of your set hours). Teaching is a never-ending job. Find a healthy balance between work and hobbies. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

What are you most looking forward to doing in your retirement?

It’s another beginning of my life. I’m always up for a challenge and am looking forward to doing something different that I’ve never done before. That could be me kayaking on Lake Burley Griffin or trying out the best gelato in Florence. Who knows? What I do know is that the time will be my own. I will be endlessly loved and entertained by my delightful grandbabies, and I’ll be free to do what I like when I like.