Friday 24th September 2021

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.

Yes.

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?

Yes.

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.

Denyse.

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

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September Stories. #3. 2018.95.

September Stories. #3. 2018.95.

This is the third story telling some aspects of what it was like for me as a K-6 School Principal in a medium-sized New South Wales public school from 1999 until the beginning of 2003.

The first story is here and the second here for those who want to understand “how I got to the day I never went back as principal in September 2002.”

What was different in the beginning of the 2002 school year?

It was my fourth year as principal. Naturally much changes within the education system and in schools themselves. Families may move on due to work changes, sometimes those families are not replaced by new ones so a school population can begin heading downwards.

School staff (teacher and executive staff) may need to take leave for reasons of: family needs, maternity and long service leave as well as sick leave.

The other change heralding 2002 was the need to upgrades of maintenance (big cost jobs) to the school as it was one that was first occupied in the 1940s. Back in 2002 it was up to the principal to make the contacts with contracted companies to get in suppliers who could quote for major works. Then the principal, with enough funds in the school account, could give a project a green light. I was trained to teach but there I was, like all principals still, being a site manager and a financial manager as well as HR manager. Sigh.

Systemic Changes.

More and more, I noted as did my principal colleagues that schools were being expected (rightly too) to ensure that Codes of Conduct for staff were not only understood and agreed upon by them but if behavioural issues arose, then the principal would be the first person to begin making an action plan when the code was violated.

There always had been the mandatory notification to the Department back then called Family and Community Services where if a child was deemed by a mandatory reporter (all school staff are) to be ‘at risk’ then a first notification was to be made by telephone. This saw me, often waiting for a person to answer, locked into a phone call because of issues which may look trivial on the outside but may be clues to more. One such event could be repeatedly coming to school with no food. Other times it could be the child letting her/his teacher know that a parent may be unwell or even violent and it was never our role to investigate but we did need to reassure the child, then make the reports. Over the years I have sat in with a child in my role as a support person (if the child requested that from me) and it is heart-aching to be witness.

Our system, the N.S.W. Department of Education, was updating its role in terms of staff compliance and behaviour. This was nothing new and in fact teachers have had annual reviews in a conversation form for decades. Since I left teaching, this has become a joint venture between the schools and the overseeing body of school governance. Returning to my principal days. IF there was a reported incident told to me by a student, parent or staff member where a staff member’s behaviour (spoken, actions or in written form) was not within the Code of Conduct (signed off annually as part of mandatory training) then the principal had to act upon it. I dealt with the Officers from the Conduct Unit first who listened to what had been reported to me and then I was given advice that it could be managed at school level (guess by whom?) or it could be escalated, with the staff member’s knowledge to a higher authority. I had to do this on one occasion and the fallout for me came later. The temporary staff member who brought along a permanent staff member as a support person as the complaint was told to her from my account given to me was aghast at the inference. In fact, there was nothing I had done wrong at all….but remember way back “your role will be to bring this school into the next century” comment by MY boss…this matter was a prime example of how staff thought they could still behave but it was not compliant with the Code of Conduct.

And, Everyone Who Was An Executive Member of the School Went on Leave.

Not at all related to the above in two instances: one was to have a baby and the other because of longevity of service took her rightful allocation of leave…both for the remainder of 2002. But wait, there was one more. Yes, this person ‘broke me’ in so many subtle then obvious ways. And whilst I cannot say much, the continued leave based on medical certificates over and over did cause alarm for the parents of that class as it did me because the year had started well but then, as it was expected of me that this Assistant Principal would perform other executive duties (as do all teaching executive) this person refused and did not return after many months. Oh, yes, one day there was a return, after hours to access my office and computer telling the only person on site, the cleaner, that “I” had given him permission. Following that, he was disciplined and placed in a different school.

How Did That Affect Me?

In some ways it was a relief but in many more, as we geared up for the mid year reports, parent-teacher interviews and then Education  Week along with concerts and fund raisers, it was the beginning of my end. Sadly I did not see it for sometime. I kept on working even harder. Yes. I was doing the roles of the appointed executive who were on leave. I know that I did have three teachers put their hands up to do the relieving roles but without the experience and knowledge beyond their classroom teaching, I was giving more and more of myself to duties that were not mine. I was even writing reports for a class teacher with little experience. I will say now that I know I was over-doing things but I could see no way out. I was under pressure to perform well for the school’s sake and also to answer to my ‘bosses.’ My lovely boss actually retired at the end of Term One (sadly) and he was replaced by someone I knew well but was nothing like the people-person my old boss was.

Schools have a culture of their own. I can now walk into a school and get a feeling of how things are. In my school, as Winter took hold I know that my mood was also one of worry and concern. That was for the school and its staffing into the next year. When school populations decrease in the NSW public system, the principal will be asked to nominate a teacher to leave. In the majority of cases, teachers are very comfortable in their current school and rarely does anyone volunteer. So then it becomes a matter of ‘asking’ and ‘hoping’. The staff were getting the idea that with the school’s drop in population, which occurred when the Special Needs unit was disbanded and there was a reduction of families moving to the area, that “I” had something to do with the reduction. I was told this by telephone on the night (4th September 2002) I heard staff were arranging a delegation to my office the next day. They were going to tell me it was my manner with parents that was the cause. This may have had one essence of truth after I was threatened by a violent father who I had to get removed from the grounds, but generally I had a suppotive P&C and was a principal who was active and even did playground duty. But people like someone to blame. Of course, and that was me.

The Night I Was Told.

Before I go on, I was feeling emotions of overwhelm from the role. I remember with clarity coming back from yet another principals’ meeting where they was MORE that we needed to take responsibility for. I wondered how I could possibly manage more. In the meantime, I became probably hyper vigilant after another meeting about my responsibilities for Work Health and Safety. The school was OLD in many parts and I knew that there was much that did not comply, so I contacted my properties’ manager (the centralised one, not a personal one!) and for a fee, he came out and condemned or ok-ed parts I was concerned about. One such area was deemed so risky I had to tape it off before demolition and in doing so, incurred the wrath of the teachers who had been there forever. I could not take a trick. I stood for what was right because that is who I am. I knew I needed to have a timeout but it happened to be an official one to attend a meeting for a day and then a personal one to accompany my husband to a vital medical appointment.

Schools: I love them. But I Could Not Return To Mine.

Two days away from school…..then I was rung the night before I was to return. Wednesday 4th September. By one of my relieving Executive who I always thought was both compassionate and brave to tell me that some staff were getting a delegation ready along with a Teachers Federation Organiser to meet with me to discuss their issues. Initially I listened with interest and then with surprise/shock at what was apparently my fault: declining numbers, meaning one of them would be asked to transfer. Once I had talked (and been upset a bit) with her, I had successive phone calls from the remaining two relieving executive and it was then I said “I will be speaking to…(my boss) in the morning and will not be returning to school until I have”. They implored me not to but I had the sense not to act upon a threat like this.

I broke. I broke down. I was ill. I couldn’t contact my boss: left a message that I would be going to my GP in the morning.

That would be the start of pretty horrible days but also some days of relief and release. Yet, nothing ever has helped me get over the fact that I loved being a principal but one day I never went back.

There was so much shame in me for that and it has almost all faded now some 16 years later.

It’s been hard to learn THIS….

Next and last story will be about, sadly, how poorly my then employer treated me, but how my own return to wellness was all because of my inner capacity aided by a loving husband, a supportive family and friends network along with..some years later, an inclusive blogging community.

Thank you for your kind words having read these stories. I have not told them in as much detail for many years but I am glad I could have the chance again.

It really helps to write our stories! That is why I blog!

Denyse.

Joining with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky here on Thursdays.

 

 

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