Mary Refalo, Principal at Catherine McAuley Westmead recently featured in this Opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald.
What is a typical work day for you?
I spend time planning and implementing work that focuses on student learning improvement and promotes students’ opportunities to be involved in school events and activities. I also talk to teachers about their work with students, and talk to students about aspects of their school experience.
What first sparked your interest in this area?
I have been a Principal for almost two years. I have worked in schools in which the principals have been fabulous educators and have led school communities with energy, imagination and a love of learning. These people have been inspiring, and they sparked my interest in aspiring to become a school principal.
Catherine McAuley Westmead principal Mary Refalo.
What do you like most about the job?
I love people; I love to work with teachers and students, and I love the contact I have with others in the school community. It is always inspiring to hear others’ ideas and to see their creativity and intellect. I also love learning, and the capacity of people to learn. I believe that people with dispositions for learning and problem-solving can change the world.
What was the most unexpected thing you have had to do in your job?
Responding to a pandemic less than six months into the role was quite unexpected. It really challenged me to think differently about what was needed to ensure the students and teachers at this school remained connected, happy and learning.
What is the worst thing you have had to do?
During the pandemic there was so much changing information about what was allowed and what wasn’t. It was, naturally, a stressful year for the students in year 12. I think the worst thing I had to do was tell the year 12 students that their end of year formal could not go ahead. I had to fight back tears when I was telling them because I felt so sad for them.
What challenges have you faced during the pandemic?
To prepare for online learning, we developed some protocols for the way we would teach and learn, and that gave us a framework upon which to rely. We shared the protocols with teachers, students and their parents, and I think that was important to ensure everyone was clear about what they needed to do to be successful. Adjusting a year’s worth of events was challenging, too. Many of the events we had to postpone or re-imagine were celebratory events, so that always involved disappointing people. That was difficult, but people were understanding and generous in the way they accepted decisions that had to be made.
How transferable are your skills?
I am a ‘people person’, and this disposition is certainly transferable across most jobs. I also need to analyse where my school sits in a range of areas, and I need to plan for improvement. This means understanding how to work with various groups of people to enable us to move in the right direction. I also need a high level of organisation and the ability to meet deadlines. These skills are transferable to a range of work opportunities and particularly leadership roles.
What skills and personal skills do people need in teaching?
To be a great teacher, you would need to be a happy, vibrant person, interested in people and their potential to be fabulous. A great sense of fun is a necessity, as well as an empathetic ear, an ability to recognise a tall tale, and patience. Good organisational skills help, too.