Create: Middle Leaders
Principal, Winchelsea Primary School
As a quiet kid, Simon O'Brien enjoyed growing up in a seaside Bellarine Peninsula town and attending a small-town school where everyone knows everyone.
Then in Year 6, his teacher made him realise that hiding behind the small-town familiarity also had its drawbacks.
'My teacher that year really saw me as an individual. I wasn't just someone's cousin, someone's brother. I realised it had been easy to exist in the shadows before then.'
It wasn't until Simon attended a new school and met friends who were truly engaged with their future that he found a fresh perspective and an aptitude for lifelong learning and teaching.
As a teacher at Hamlyn Banks Primary School, Simon began to explore new learning opportunities by stepping up to a range of informal middle leadership roles. When a substantive leading teacher role came up at nearby Inverleigh, Simon knew he had started to develop the leadership capabilities needed in this formal leadership role.
'However after eight years at Hamlyn Banks where teachers knew me and supported me, I suddenly realised I couldn't take trust for granted. I was a new person to the school and I needed to learn how to build relational trust with a new team – so I enrolled in Create.'
At Create, he realised that as a teacher in a small school he was already using a wide range of teaching and learning capabilities, as well as leadership skills.
'When I heard the job titles the other teachers from bigger schools had, I realised how many hats I wear as a leader at a small school. They'd say "I'm Head of English" or "I'm the ICT Coordinator" and I thought, "Well, I'm that, and I'm that – and I'm that too".'
This realisation meant that when Simon saw the principal role at Winchelsea Primary advertised, he applied, and was appointed not long after completing the Create program.
In some ways, he is back in familiar territory – at a school not unlike his childhood one – but just about everything else has changed. As a principal he now sees the unique challenges involved in leading a small school.
One of Simon's proudest achievements is the one-to-one iPad program he introduced at Inverleigh to create 'resilient, reflective and resourceful learners'. He wanted to embed the blended learning model, where technology interacts seamlessly with traditional teaching.
'We had one student who was just bursting with ideas, connections, thoughts and wonderings and needed a platform to express himself,' says Simon.
The result was extremely positive – for the student as well as the whole school. 'This student's thinking was no longer in his head. It was there on the screen for others to see. It was amazing!'
Simon has come a long way since being the quiet kid at school, having fulfilled a childhood dream of inspiring a whole school to be lifelong learners.