As the Northern Territory educator will attest, building staff capacity sits at the heart of what makes a great school tick.
Teachers fortunate enough to have worked under her leadership at Girraween Primary School, just south east of Darwin, are likely to see themselves as professionals whose value extends well beyond the four walls of their classroom, such is Chatto’s commitment to fuelling a thriving learning community for staff and students alike.
Her knack for bolstering teachers professional acumen has been formally recognised by Principals Australia Institute, which has awarded the Territorian a prestigious 2016 John Laing Award.
Established in 2004, the annual awards pay homage to principals in each state and territory who show “outstanding leadership in providing professional learning in schools”.
“By ensuring teachers have a strong pedagogical knowledge and framework, they can teach children for the future,” a humbled Chatto says of her approach.
“‘I’ve always been a member of the Australian Literacy Educators Association, and until a few months ago I was the state director for the NT, so in terms of my own passion for teaching literacy well, and involvement through that professional association, that’s kept my learning very current and I guess through that the passion comes through to the teachers you work with as well.”
Chatto’s work in the Top End has been more than a simple exchange of energy and enthusiasm for sharing best practice.
Now in her sixth year heading up Girraween, she has worked hard to break down geographic barriers and bring in as many visiting experts as possible.
Citing professor Robyn Ewing from Sydney University and professor Beryl Exley from Queensland University of Technology among the long list of guests who have imparted their expertise with teachers, Chatto says professional development is a two-way street.
Staff are prompted to harness their own learning by launching actions teams, attending workshops and conferences, as well as becoming active players in a range of local and national projects.
Despite the demands of a crowded curriculum and the rigours of national testing, Chatto believes it is now more than ever that school leaders need to invest in their teachers.
“…it would be very easy to narrow the curriculum, so to be teaching children just so they can fill in the right boxes on forms and things.
“So my thinking is that I need to make sure that teachers need to have really strong beliefs about how they teach literacy, so that they can teach holistically for long-term learning, so that the kids aren’t just writing perfect persuasive texts, because that’s what’s going to be marked,” Chatto shares.
A notable highlight was the schools’ successful bid to take part in an ACARA mathematics project which saw three of Chatto’s staff journey to Sydney.
“That sort of experience is almost life-changing, because it just gives them that sense of confidence, the ability to work with others, the realisation that they do have everything that the teachers in Sydney or Canberra have as well.
"They have been running professional learning for other schools now around what they have learnt,” she recalls.
In the midst of finalising her professional learning calendars for 2017, it’s fair to assume Chatto’s staff have an itinerary to get excited about.