Can you take me back to when you started? Why did you become a teacher?
I went into special education because my mum had a stroke when I was 12 and that really shaped my formative years … it was quite debilitating, and while she did recover and lived to the ripe old age of 83, she never regained the power of speech, so we had a way of communicating that was quite unique. My mum had key sounds that she could form into words and through that we had a whole communication system that our family and friends used to think was pretty incredible ... She was always good at getting her point across. That was the beginning of my interest in special education. I also had a cousin who had encephalitis when he was two and he lived until 60, having been in and out of different institutions ... I left school early and only went to Year 11. I entered teacher’s college as a mature age student after I’d had children … I was really drawn to teaching. I thought I had something to offer and something to contribute, and when I was a classroom teacher, I always had a real affinity to those kids who found learning a challenge. My programs were pretty inclusive right from the word go, I suppose.
Are you still leading the state-wide service for teacher development in supporting students with speech, language and communication difficulties in mainstream schools?
This is our fourth year [and] now we do all schools – 128 schools in South Western Kimberley, as well as all special schools in Western Australia. So we’ve expanded that service over the last five years and we’re really starting to get more involved in online learning.
You’re the project manager of Leading Learning 4 All – congrats, it’s a major achievement.
It’s been difficult in terms of juggling everything but it’s also been really exciting, and I think in the last 18 months I’ve learnt a lot about what people value in leadership, in terms of building culture, and how it works in different schools around Australia. I’ve also learnt that we do a lot of great things in schools here. The illustrations of the practice/action side of the website – to see some of the great things that schools are doing under the disability standards in education and to be able to illustrate that so that other people can say: ‘Well I’m doing something similar to that, so I’m making the standard, or I could improve if I just tweaked this or that’, in terms of how it works or whatever particular context. The other thing that I’ve learnt is people are really generous in schools. They’re really generous with their feedback. The team that was involved in the project always said that the feedback was a gift when we were asking for people to tell us how we can make the program better and more usable in schools … One of the most difficult things was that it started out being a print-based resource and we had to change it to a web-based resource. If I had my time over again, I would have started it as a digital resource...
What’s the feedback been like?
We’ve used all the feedback that we’ve got. We had feedback specifically from Western Australia and Victoria, from primary, secondary, Catholic, independent, regional and rural schools ... We’re trying really hard to be responsive. That’s the whole idea of the website. The next thing that we are going to do is rollout the 'champion' training, because the website needs champions within systems and sectors to be able to keep it alive...
As a website, you can adjust it quickly with feedback?
We take it back and have a conversation, and then see if there are reasonable changes that we need to make … So it gives us about a week or so turnaround in implementing people’s changes ... The other thing about the website is it has the ability to be changed into any language. So we’ve already had hits from around the world and that’s probably to do with my connection to the International Federation of Principals.
You finished your tenure as president of ASEPA in December. Why?
I’d had that position for nine years and I didn’t honestly believe that I could perform the role of the International Confederation of Principals presidency along with being the national president of ASEPA, and be the principal of my school, and run Leading Learning 4 All. But I maintain my involvement with ASEPA as a chairperson of the board.
What does the ICP do and what does your role involve?
There are 20 different nations part of ICP. That’s 3.5 million students, 150,000 members and over 50,000 schools. So we link those together, and we lead by collaboration, and connected partnerships, influence, leadership development and looking at trying to get change in perspective. We have a convention every couple of years. The next one is in 2017 in Cape Town. That will be on my watch, and after that we’ll have another one in 2019 in China. My role lasts for four years – so one year as president elect, two years as president and one year as immediate past president. Our next council meeting will be in Ireland.
Does this involve a lot of travel for you?
It involves a bit. I’ve been lucky, the Federal Government has given me some release time to be able to do that. That’s a positive thing. They recognise the fact that it’s very good for Australia to have an Australian president and somebody who is able to demonstrate what we do in Australian schools. That’s a positive thing. The previous president was from Finland, so we’re in very good company.
Are schools more inclusive now, than, say, five years ago?
I think society is more inclusive and I think schools are one part of that. I think it depends on how you define what inclusive is ... I personally don’t think inclusion has anything to do with place. I think it has to do with people. I think it has to do with how a person feels in terms of their acceptance in an environment where they are coming to school. If they feel that they are part of the crew, then that’s inclusion. I think that people get really hung up on where somebody goes to school, but I think it’s actually what happens within those gates, what they get in terms of being able to reach their potential is more important than where it is they go to school.