Name: Miriam Meaney
Job title: Principal Leader, St Canice’s Catholic Primary School, Katoomba
What do you do?
I am a school principal. Above all else, I am a learner. I believe that the best teachers are themselves learners so it is important that I communicate my desire and love to learn to my staff, students and parents.
My focus daily is on getting to know my community and building relationships with them.
Typically, I spend some time each day in the classrooms in my school, working alongside teachers, getting to know our students, how they learn and supporting them in being the best learners they can be.
How long have you been doing this job and what first sparked your interest in this area?
One year as a principal, a lifetime as a teacher and learner. I have been passionate about children’s learning from the time I commenced as a 19-year old teacher in Ireland. When I came to Australia in the late 1980s, I found every opportunity to teach and to learn, completing a masters degree in e-learning and educational leadership.
What do you like most about the job?
The children. They bring joy and energy to every day. Primary children have an innate love of learning and our job is to challenge them to learn and to help them to develop the desire and skill to be lifelong learners
What was the most unexpected thing you have had to do in your job?
Teaching throws everything at you. I remember taking a group of grade 2 students on a bus from Sydney’s eastern suburbs to Mount Annan Botanic Garden many years ago, in the early days of those gardens. An old rickety double-decker bus picked us up, much to the horror of many of the parents. It took us all day to get there, I think we had half an hour there for a quick lunch, a glance at the developing native plants and a toilet trip ahead of the return trip east.
What is the worst thing you have had to do?
I have found it very hard to leave behind students and staff with whom I have worked to start again in a new setting.
How did you adapt to online learning and what challenges have you faced during the COVID-19 pandemic? We rose to the challenge of online learning quickly because we had to. We were able to provide access to technology for our students. Our teachers worked collaboratively in managing online learning. Typically, teachers worked in teams, planning and delivering learning through our Google Classroom environment.
It was an exhausting time for teachers but the positive feedback from parents and students sustained us.
The challenge for us now is to ensure we take the best of COVID learning forward. Many students enjoyed the greater independence of self-paced, flexible learning and were very engaged. We need to sustain that engagement.
How transferable are your skills?
I have always been in education. I have been an educator at primary, secondary, university and adult education levels.
I have found that the capacity to build relationships and know your people comes first and matters in every aspect of life.
I left Ireland for Australia, left the city for the mountains, where I currently work. While change is scary, it is invigorating.
What advice do you have for people wanting to get into a career related to your skills and experience?
A career in education is very humbling and very rewarding. A career in teaching, in my experience, requires a commitment beyond many other jobs because you do not “go home” at 5pm. For me, my career has deepened my capacity to listen, to empathise, to be of service to others.
What skills and personal skills do people need in teaching?
To work in school settings, adults need to have a genuine interest in young people and how they learn. Resilience and determination are important skills in the current educational climate as we increasingly individualise learning to meet the needs of the diversity of learners in schools. Flexibility is critical.
We need to be learners. Technology, for example, has brought many changes to the educational landscape. We need to be humble, recognising that we have much to learn; often our students are our best teachers.