Joanna Wright is keen to develop her own leadership skills so she can contribute to a shared vision to build cultural competence across her school community.
Joining the Future Leaders Program this year, Joanna was looking for a program that would help her work on leadership and engagement skills and give her more confidence in contributing to her school’s Reconciliation Action Plan.
Now in her fourth year of teaching, Joanna works at O’Connor Primary School, in Kalgoorlie Boulder – a community that she moved to for her teaching post and which she now considers ‘my friends and family’.
Interested in applying for the Future Leaders Program for 2022? Applications are now open until December 10. More information here.
What aspirations do you have for your school community?
My ambition is working towards creating a more culturally competent school community. Our school has a significant percentage of students who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and I believe we can improve how much these cultures are understood and valued by all staff and students. By increasing my leadership skills, I believe I would develop more confidence and knowledge to actively contribute to creating a meaningful Reconciliation Action Plan that is a working document and is consistently updated. We are fortunate to be located in a context that has access to a number of passionate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and I aspire to build as many relationships as I can with these community members. I believe they are the key to building the knowledge of our staff and students around the history, language and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Developing tolerance and appreciation of these cultures is something I have always been passionate about and something that I believe is necessary for bridging the equality gap in Australia.
Tell us about the school and community where you work now?
I’ve lived in Kalgoorlie for the last five years. I love how welcoming the people in the Goldfields are and the close sense of community here. I am so grateful for my school community for their support throughout the beginning of my career. O’Connor Primary is the biggest primary school in the region with over 700 students and many of our teachers start their careers here as graduates. My colleagues are some of the most dedicated and passionate professionals I’ve ever met and we are so fortunate to be led by an incredible leadership team. Moving out to Kalgoorlie alone was a big decision for me, but easily the best I’ve made.
What do you love most about your job?
I think I’d be in the wrong job if I couldn’t honestly say the students. There are so many great things about my career but really the children are the highlight. My degree is in Early Childhood and the most entertaining conversations I’ve had in my life are with humans aged 3-7. They are so free from judgement of others and so enthusiastic about their own worlds that you can’t help but feel inspired when you’re around them. I am grateful for their kindness, acceptance and openness to learn.
What do you wish more people knew about the work of a teacher, especially those working in an outer-regional / remote context?
That teaching is not a “seven hours a day, five days a week” job. Every single teacher I know works hours into their own time. If the job was so easy, everyone would do it. But the truth is, it’s hard and you have to commit far beyond the hours of the typical school day. It’s also important to remember that many teachers who work in regional/remote contexts have moved away from home, familiarity and comfort. They didn’t make that kind of commitment to this career thinking it was going to be easy, they did it because they genuinely care about students and about education.
What have been the greatest influences on your teaching?
I was so lucky to grow up with two parents who were teachers. My Mum has worked a lot with children who have experienced trauma in their lives, which I always found so inspiring. My Dad was an Outdoor Ed/Sport Science teacher who I was convinced had the best job in the world because there would be days when he would be surfing, kayaking, mountain bike riding etc. They were the biggest influences on me becoming a teacher. Since then I have had some outstanding mentors throughout university pracs and the first few years of my career, along with an incredibly competent and supportive leadership team. I can’t thank those people enough for all they have taught me along my journey so far.
When it comes to the students you’ve worked with, what impact are you most proud of?
There is a lot of academic content that students are expected to learn in each year of school, however I am most proud of the personal development that students achieve outside these outcomes. Helping children learn to be resilient when things aren’t easy, to be grateful for what they have, to be kind to and accepting of others, to develop a sense of humour; that kind of impact is what I’m most proud of.
When you think about the development of aspiring school leaders in your context, what would you consider the most critical?
Building and maintaining relationships within the school community and beyond. Teaching is a career that has the potential to be far more effective when people collaborate well. If you can build relationships with your team at school, with outside support agencies and with your local First Nation’s people; everyone benefits.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a teacher / school leader working in a remote school context?
That we (people my age and older) were not taught enough truth about Australia’s history. This needs to be changed in education in order for our nation to advance in our reconciliation journey. It probably wasn’t until I moved into a rural context that I realised just how little I knew about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culture. Since then I have been committed to learning and unlearning as much as I can in this area.