Choosing to challenge


​Anne-Marie Maw, Principal of St Agatha's School, Clayfield

Anne-Marie Maw became the principal of St Agatha’s School at Clayfield in 2019 after many years in Assistant Principal and APRE roles in Brisbane and Sydney schools. Her Senior Leader, David Cashman says Anne-Marie epitomises a professional, capable leader.

“Anne-Marie’s commitment to collaboration and genuine voice for all, enables her to build capacity and develop community. She is both pastoral and empathetic while remaining decisive and authentic to what she believes in – she is a valued colleague.”

Today, on International Women’s Day, Anne-Marie shares with us the challenges and opportunities on her path to becoming a school principal. 

I was only in my fifth year of teaching when I was offered my first leadership role – as the acting Religious Education Coordinator (NSW equivalent to APRE) at my school. I then spent 18 years in different leadership roles across schools in the northern beaches of Sydney before making the (wise!) move to Brisbane Catholic Education where I was the APRE at St Andrews’ School (Ferny Grove) and then Assistant Principal at Queen of Apostles (Stafford).

I often wonder what took me so long to become a principal and I know the answer. It was me. Self-doubt is a big barrier, and I would often talk myself out of applying for principal roles (‘The timing isn’t right’) or find excuses when approached by others to apply. You can not get a principal role if you do not apply for it. The truth is I loved being an assistant principal but taking the next step felt beyond me. I felt like I was holding onto the edge of the pool, and I needed to dive in.

Now, as the principal at St Agatha’s School, I wish I had not doubted myself. This is the best job I have ever had – my only wish is that I had done it sooner.

I get to work with learners every day. Not just the students, but the teachers and other school staff as well. We are all learning, every day. This is a blessing. I also love that I get to share my Vision for our future and can inspire others through my actions.

Dealing with COVID19 in my first year as a school principal was huge but the way our students, staff and community pulled together filled my heart with pride. It was amazing.

As a school principal there are good days and there are hard days, but in the end, no matter what type of day it is, you are making a difference.

In terms of mentors, I take a little bit from everyone I work from. It doesn’t need to be someone in a leadership role – it could be a student, a parent or teacher. I am fortunate to be a member of BCE’s Women in Leadership (WIL) group. We meet once a month and it is great to share experiences and challenges with a group of people you trust and who are walking a similar path. We listen to each other, we share our experiences and we have each other’s back. I feel advice from this group comes from a place of deep learning.

My advice to early career teachers is to find like-minded souls, your ‘tribe’ as you will always be able to support each other. Don’t be shy about talking to your leadership team either, they have already been there and can give great advice – especially if you are seeking a leadership role.

What do I choose to challenge this year? I challenge people to be truly compassionate. How do we live compassionately in the eyes of Jesus? People might think they are acting compassionately but sometimes compassion requires courage – to stand up and to speak up. I also challenge the idea that learning stops at 3pm when the school bell goes. We need to seek greater innovation and education outside the school grounds and partner with business and community to innovate and develop new learning opportunities.

My final advice to future women leaders in BCE schools? Challenge the expected and ask yourself ‘How am I going to be part of the change?’ Do not be complacent or underestimate your ability to be a leader. Your experience and abilities are valued. If we do this, the future looks bright indeed.

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