Sunday 26th June 2022

Women Of Courage Series. #60. Tracey Breese. 77/2021.

Women Of Courage Series.  #60. Tracey Breese. 77/2021.

Two years ago….around this time of year, I tentatively courageously launched Women of Courage series on my blog and here was what I said then:

I got this idea from attending the Newcastle Writers Festival in April 2019 and hearing the wonderful Jane Caro speak about her book Accidental Feminists. IF you ever get a chance to listen to or read Jane’s works they are very good.

What I considered after that day and in the days to come is how we women have a tendency to underplay our achievements and whatever else we are doing in our lives. I know this is changing.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda


Introducing Tracey Breese, who  is 49, and known to me via our social media connections relating to schools and public education in New South Wales. Tracey is an innovator and a highly competent high school principal who has recently left one school where she was leader learner as school principal ….to become principal of a different type of high school, called Hunter School Of The  Performing Arts found via this link….and the students range from Year 3 to Year 12. What an interesting school and so good to read of Tracey’s updates on-line. I do hope to visit one day as well. Find Tracey here on Twitter.


What have you faced in your life where you have had to be courageous?

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

― William Faulkner

Courage is a funny thing. In the moment, you don’t particularly recognise it as ‘courage’ per se.

As a school leader I see many of the ‘moments’ in my career now, on reflection, have involved courage.

Many of them have evolved from my strong beliefs and convictions.

So, that idea of courage through conviction rings true for me.

The integrity of my convictions and not lying down when I need to speak up, have been pivotal to my personality and growth, as a mum, as a teacher, as a leader and as a community member.

Many of the pivotal moments of my career have changed me.

Sadly, many of the challenges harden the resolve that you have.

I have had to work harder to get some roles in my career, where, at times, simply being ‘male’ appeared to be the criteria.

When I first became a principal, I had a head teacher come to my door and say; ‘What we really needed was a strong man in this role, it’s a tough place.’ This was not in 1960: but 2016. I was speechless.

This stayed with me and drove me to be the best principal I could be.


How did this change you in any way? Please outline further if this has been the case.


I found it really difficult to believe that I have got to this point, and was still fighting some old cultural misogyny.

Even though it was only one person’s opinion, it is amazing how these things stick like velcro to your armour.

I was able to move from the moment, but I was always striving to make sure that everything achieved for students was at the level of excellence and innovation.

I was warm to all, but ferocious in my resolve to be the best person I could be.

I had exceptional role models.

Christine Cawsey has been an amazing mentor in my entire career.

It is the women in leadership like this that have forged the path and created amazing opportunities- created through their courageous and fearless watershed moments.


Is there something you learned from this that you could recommend to help others who need courage?

Stick to your convictions and don’t let others drag you under.

Michelle Obama’s quote is up in my office: ‘When they go low, you go high.’

It’s not everyday that you need the power of resilience, but when you do: go to the mantras.

I did a mindfulness course with Gillian Coutts (you’ll want to get her on the blog!) Thank you for your recommendation, she is going to share too! 

It was life changing.

The strategies were about putting the gaps in between the work.

Knowing that you need to re-centre and revive yourself between the moments.

This has been work/life balance changing for me.


Do you think you are able to be more courageous now if the life situation calls for it? Why is that?


I feel that the emotional intelligence you gain in leadership is so important and changes all the time as you experience different situations.

Courage is also about calling in your resources and knowing the right resources you need in the moment.

This includes the fact that in all situations, you do have the power of your own response.

This is the best point in courage.

The courage to know yourself and not be forced into responses by others.

I am at all times the calm and consistent adult.

I do not have to respond in a stereotypical way to any situation.

Walking away, in some instances can save others from themselves.


Is there any message you would give to others facing a situation where courage could be needed?

Courage is standing strong to your conviction, not the overwhelming and all powerful emotions that sometimes take over others.

Be the best person.

Walk away when needed.

Don’t get in the ring if you don’t have to.

Sometimes, doing what’s right is more important that doing what is easy- that is to be truly courageous.


As a now-retired K-6 principal I read your story with heightened interest and even used red and italyics to show how we women in leadership roles have had to manage some people’s comments, attitudes and ignorance. I am in awe of your daily work with the many students, staff and families who are part of your new school community. What a thrill it must be to be also part of a large student population with huge talent in many area. Mind you, as I would understand from having two “OC” classes at RPS, giftedness has its many challenges too.


Thank you so much again for sharing.

I am sure others who read will also take something from your work, your heart and your mind as you lead your school onward.

And I wish you and your colleagues some respite from school life as you lead up to the mid-year Winter School holidays.


Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

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  1. This sounds like so many women in education roles and some of these situation remind me of my experience in the Correctional Education setting I worked in for many years. I love the quotes Denyse, the swimming one by Faulkner makes complete sense and Michelle’s ‘go high’ one always resonates with me! Thanks for sharing Tracey’s story with us and thank you to Tracey for all her dedication and courage over the years.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Mmmm, yes isn’t interesting Deb, that we both can find similarities and challenges as outlined by Tracey here.

      The quotes are brilliant and great reminders of our why, and how, when challenged that we are not the first, nor will we be the last, but to continue on.

      I am hoping for my school and education friends that they do get a break of sorts from the rigour of Term 2 but sadly, because of Covid, that may look differently to how plans were made.

      Thank you, you ‘get it’ too. Even though it is not great.


  2. Wow! It really is amazing how all these old stereotypes about jobs and abilities just keep circling back around. I definitely think going against the grain and the norm takes a lot of guts and courage.

    • They so do, Joanne. I am not sure they will ever go away but then “we” women get that and have to be more enabled to do as Tracey did.

      I salute her too. Back in 2002 I had some negative instances with some staff members, not all male, and I see it now as bullying. Interesting that it’s taken me that long to realise.

      Thank you for your words of understand too.


  3. Great quotes, Denyse. I like Tracey’s answer regarding emotional intelligence and the power of our own response. Thank you for introducing Tracey to us and linking with #weekendcoffeeshare.

    • Thanks too for being able to share more via your link up, Natalie.

      It takes courage alright to continue and flourish as I see Tracey has and I am here applauding her all the way!


  4. What a wonderful story of courage, Denyse and Tracey, Thank you for sharing. As an administrator in education at a county office, I understand the dilemmas as well as the fact that administration is still a man’s world only in some places. I was fortunate to have served with people for whom that was not the case, but some of the other school administrators did not feel the same way. It made it hard to make headway sometimes. 🙂

    • Oh yes, we both understand this don’t we, Marsha. Sigh. Pity we have encountered it but it remains nevertheless.

      I am sure Tracey will be pleased to see her story is well-understood by commenters.

      She is on day one of 2 weeks of school holidays and she will pop over I am sure, to read and comment but for now…I hope she is already relaxing and refreshing!

      Thank you for commenting. Always appreciated.

  5. tracey Breese says:

    Thanks everyone for such lovely words. It is a sad state of affairs when we still push through the ceiling of gendered hangovers. Sharing our stories makes us stronger and allows our collection to resonate with others. Thanks Denyse for your gathering of our words.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      It’s been great to see that others also “get it” sadly but we know how it is…and push on (and more!) I am so grateful you agreed to share this Tracey. Very much indeed.
      I also understand that being appointed principal at a new school just recently is a big undertaking in getting to know so much.
      Wishing you well…and one day, also visiting to catch up in person.


  6. “Knowing that you need to re-centre and revive yourself between the moments.” This spoke to me in volumes. I think Tracey’s interview highlights the importance and significance of self awareness and how it can be quite foundational for building resilience and drawing on courage. Thank you so much for sharing Tracey and Denyse.

    Sandra Xx