Empowering aspiring leaders on International Women’s Day
Women are underrepresented in leadership positions but have incredible potential to influence and drive change in education.
On International Women’s Day, we recognise and celebrate current and aspiring female leaders and the achievements of women around the globe – particularly in education.
Today we’re sharing some unique stories from members of our inspiring educator community on their leadership journeys. We hope their voices will empower and motivate you to advance your own successful leadership journey, and mentor and build up the next generation of leaders to forge an inclusive education environment.
Dr Janelle Wills
Throughout my career I have held various leadership roles – within business, on boards, at educational sector and school levels, and of course as a teacher leader. More and more I have come to understand the importance of staying grounded. For me that means staying true to my values and beliefs, while also being self-reflective: do my actions reflect my beliefs and values? When I take a stand, is it my ego talking or is it because it is best for those I serve and lead?
As a woman (and now an older woman) I have also learnt that it is important to think about who is coming up behind me and what my leadership legacy is. It is essential that young aspiring women are nurtured and mentored to take on roles at all levels of influence. And my hope for the future … there will be no female leaders – just leaders.
Dr Selena Fisk
My journey thus far has undoubtedly had some gendered challenges along the way. The highs include a male dean of teaching and learning who, when I was a middle leader, always had my back, and also the countless men who refer me and my work to others in my current role. It’s pretty awesome. The lows, however, include a deputy principal who used to ‘moo’ at me when I wore a black-and-white spotted dress, and a school business manager who relentlessly hassled me to send him a photo of me wearing my netball dress (I am shaking my head even now writing those two things!).
I haven’t always responded to these challenges in the best way, nor did I respond to them at the time in the way that I would now. But what I have learned is that when I’m thrown a curveball, my convictions, what I stand for and how I operate, help to ground me and return me to my true north. In addition, and on an almost daily basis, I am reminded of the importance of surrounding myself with a strong female support structure. My particular group is pretty great, and they lift me up daily in the same way, hopefully, that I do them. We are, without doubt, stronger when we are united, and the support we have around us allows us to navigate this (sometimes challenging) terrain together.
In the words of Jim Rohn…. “Your level of success in leadership will seldom exceed your level of personal development because success and achievement are something you attract by the person you become”. A love of lifelong learning has been central to my leadership journey. Impactful leaders model learning and when enacted in unison with instructional leadership that is unafraid of being vulnerable, great things happen. The team comes with you. Trust follows. Empowerment is possible and the landscape changes.
It has been an absolute honour to work collaboratively and learn alongside my staff as we commit to understanding best practice and enact our co-constructed strategic plan. Presence, listening and creating meaning together is how I lead and connect. It hasn’t been easy. It still isn’t, particularly when leadership styles may differ across the team yet I am a firm believer in the power of people. Real shift occurs within a true sense of belonging via one interaction, one conversation and one collaborative decision at a time.
Mentors – that’s what makes the difference for women leaders in education. I was fortunate to have marvellous mentors, many of who were women. I learnt by observing their excellent people skills and strategic planning. My confidence grew because people I so admired ‘gave me wings’ to fly with my ideas for curriculum and worked with me to embed pupil wellbeing in practice. It is just so important to support new ideas and innovation in education, and women are fabulous at coming up with these ideas. Support them! Men who are leaders mentoring women is likewise powerful. Being able to touch base with those you respect as great educators and listening to their advice is essential. Being a leader is often a bumpy ride; you need people you can call on, people you can emulate, people who believe in you.
I have spent all but one year of my teaching career in rural and remote locations. When I first started my career, I could never had predicted the path it would take or the vast range of work colleagues and mentors I would work alongside during that time. Living and working in remote settings had a lot of challenges, such as distance, limited access to close professional learning opportunities and a high turnover of staff. While these are often seen as difficulties, my experience with them was very positive. The access to professional learning could be overcome with technology or travel and often presenters would travel to us to allow more people to participate. Through this I formed my belief that being personable and building relationships was vital in any leadership role. The high turnover of staff meant there were many more people to learn from and to support. I see leadership at all levels and that everyone has something to contribute, regardless of their gender.
I have learned from mentors of all genders and hope that I am seen as a positive role model. If you are ever given an opportunity to hold a leadership position, my advice (if you think you would like the role) is to take up the challenge, learn from others and seek support from mentors. There are so many great leaders willing to offer support.
Dr Janelle Wills
With over 30 years’ teaching and leadership experience, Janelle maintains a strong commitment to continued learning that enables her to remain both informed and innovative in her approach. She is adept at linking theory with practice, resulting in the development of significant initiatives both within schools and at a sector level.
Dr Selena Fisk
Selena earned her Doctor of Education degree from the Queensland University of Technology and has held a range of leadership roles in her career. In 2017, Selena started her data consultancy practice, Aasha for Schools, to help teachers and school leaders see the inherent good that data can bring.
Janelle is the Deputy Principal at Pacific Pines State High School. She has worked with school leadership teams to assist QLD schools in developing authentic professional learning communities within the south-east region for a number of years.
Kath has held many positions of responsibility in administration, curriculum development and student welfare in primary and secondary settings. She specialises in providing alternative programs for students who, for a range of reasons, have difficulty connecting to their learning.
Annette has more than 30 years’ experience working in rural, remote and low socio-economic communities and schools. She has worked extensively with individuals of all levels of experience (from beginning teachers to highly experienced teachers and leaders) as well as communities focusing on the best outcomes for both students and families.