What does it take to be Australia’s best principal?
Staff at Five Dock’s All Hallows Catholic Primary School think that after more than 40 years as an educator, Principal Helen Elliott has figured it out.
Mrs Elliott was nominated for the Australian Education Awards 2020, where she has been named a finalist in the Primary Principal of the year – non-government category.
“It’s very humbling and rewarding to be recognised in this way,” Mrs Elliott said. “Anything I do is guided by how I can make the children happy, to ensure that they’re engaged in their learning and that they’re safe.”
During her time with Sydney Catholic Schools Mrs Elliott has worked at seven different schools, and says it’s the people and experiences that have brought her to where she is today.
As a principal Mrs Elliott does whatever it takes to make sure that her students and their parents get the best possible outcomes from the education experience. Mrs Elliott even goes as far as setting up a table and chairs once a week for parents to speak with her directly, and continuing to teach Year five religion.
Her nominator, All Hallow’s acting assistant principal Christine Torresan said she wasn’t surprised at all when the announcement was made.
“Her first response when I told her she’d been selected was to say, ‘It’s not just me. I’m part of a team. That’s how modest she is,” Ms Torresan said with a laugh.
“Her first response when I told her she’d been selected was to say, ‘It’s not just me. I’m part of a team. That’s how modest she is”
“She’s an exceptional leader who supports teachers both in their wellbeing and professionally,” Ms Torresan continued. “Her leadership allowed me to get my Highly Accomplished accreditation.
“She also encourages us to coach and mentor each other and puts herself in the position of receiving feedback on her classroom teaching. At one stage even a prac (pre-service) teacher gave her feedback on her teaching!”
An extraordinarily humble person, Mrs Elliott said she got immense satisfaction from “growing people.”
“I support and work with my staff so they can be the best teachers for our children,” she said.
“I like to empower others, to know they are valued for what they do and that they have a voice and can have trust and confidence to come forward and speak out when they need to.”
Mrs Elliott understands the challenges of teaching and what it takes to be a successful educator, saying that a good teacher has a connection with their students and knows them well.
“A good teacher is flexible and agile and has a little bit of an actor or actress in them”
“A good teacher is flexible and agile and has a little bit of an actor or actress in them,” she further added.
“It’s a constantly changing environment, so you need to be quick-thinking on your feet and you need to know and believe deeply in what you teach.
“A good principal knows their community and works with them in a collaborative way to provide the best opportunities for the students and staff, allowing them to grow and shine in their own way.
“As a principal I think it’s also important to still be seen as a teacher and to not be locked away, which is why I teach Year 5 religion.
“I became a teacher because I love making a difference in the lives of children. As a teacher, you can reach their hearts and their minds.
“I became a teacher because I love making a difference in the lives of children. As a teacher, you can reach their hearts and their minds.”
“I have been blessed to work for Sydney Catholic Schools who have provided many opportunities for me to grow not only as a leader, but as someone called to this very special vocation of teaching.”
The award celebrates the outstanding achievements of the country’s top performing schools, principals, department heads and teachers. Mrs Elliott is one of eight finalists in her category, with the winners being announced at a gala ceremony at Daltone House, Pyrmont on 6 November.