She looks after all support teams – facilities, finance, administration, teacher aides, cleaners, groundsmen, and IT technicians.

Candlish has only been at Cairns SDE for four years, but in that short time has had a major hand in bringing about significant change within the school, particularly in regard to the recruitment, upskilling and validation of her support staff, including the provision of external and internal professional development opportunities.

And it is this outstanding work that saw Candlish nominated for EducationHQ’s Unsung Heroes Leadership award.

Candlish was put forward by not just one, but five colleagues, with an entry by Jade Gillam summing her up beautifully.

“Fiona has ... been a shoulder to cry on, a friend to joke with and also a brilliant boss who has nothing in mind but a caring environment for me and all the staff to work in.

Her gentle nature for everyone’s wellbeing is so uplifting and she really wants people to do their best,” Gillam’s nomination read.

PD for her support team is something that Candlish feels incredibly passionate about.

“I’ve worked in other schools prior to coming to this school and one of the things that I’d note is that whilst we have a really strong view on teachers needing to be current because obviously they are teaching kids, there is not so much of a focus on what the support staff need to do in terms of their capability and skillset.”

So Candlish helped make big changes with the support of her principal.

She was able to nail scholarships for members of her administrative team to study diplomas in leadership and management; put some of her teacher aides through the Certificate III in Education Support, and also help upskill the grounds person.

“He [now] has some qualifications to take if he decides to get another job,” Candlish says.

Some of the best professional development for her staff, she says, has been the ‘Leading where you are’ program through Education Queensland.

The program argues it doesn’t really matter what level you are at, it’s about how you work and transact with others and come together as a team, and clearly this sits well with Candlish’s style of leadership.

“Collaboration is all about building trust and having relationships with staff,” she says

“You need to be able to roll up your sleeves and muck in with everybody, and not be separate.

“It’s not something that happens overnight. Some staff, have got histories where they haven’t been treated very well in the past.

“So it can take a little bit of work, but if you are open and honest with people, and interested in them genuinely as human beings, you build those relationships and then trust comes with that.”

Candlish is clearly thrilled by her award and loved by her staff as her nomination affirms, but for someone who prefers to work in the background, she feels a bit “embarrassed” about her win.

“I’m not usually somebody who stands in the front line and takes credit,” she says.

“It was lovely and ... reflects the beautiful values that the staff here have, and the kindness and generosity that they show every day.”


Thanks to our sponsors EduTech and Targus for providing prizes for our Leader Unsung Hero.