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International Women's Day: Setting a course for a successful career in education

Staff Writer

From a childhood in Papua New Guinea to leading a school of over 500 students, it’s fair to say the times have changed for Linda Langton during her career in education. So too has the presence of women in the education workplace. Yet, despite representing around 79% of the workforce, women are still under represented in educational leadership positions. So, to celebrate International Women's Day we sat down with Linda Langton, Principal of Yass High School to reflect on her journey, and hear her advice on how to build a successful, purposeful career.

A love of education

A love of education started early for Linda. Moving to Papua New Guinea at age three, she attended primary school in Port Moresby and interestingly followed NSW curriculum through to grade 6. Her next stop would be boarding school in Brisbane for her secondary education. (A quirk of the system would mean Linda jumped from grade 6 to year 8 as the QLD secondary education system began from year 8 in those days). She embraced boarding school, and formed close bonds with fellow students which remain to this day.

Such a leap forward in education meant Linda found herself in the position of trying to decide what to do with her life at the tender age of 16, a time when most of us are focusing on other existential teenage challenges. However, combining a passion for science and learning from her mother, a teacher and principal, made a career in education destiny. In a few short years, Linda would obtain her Bachelor of Science and Diploma of Education from the University of Queensland.

“I have an innate understanding of being a teacher and being involved in education. I thank my mother for that”.  

The importance of mentors

From her very first teaching position at Mansfield State High in Brisbane, Linda has focused her career on continual growth. However, building a sustainable and lasting career is a particular challenge for many. In fact, with around 30-50% of teachers leaving the profession within their first five years, the importance of a mentor (among other things) is critical to building a long lasting and purposeful career.

For Linda, the role of a mentor is hugely important and she firmly believes the greatest impact comes “when you see yourself through the eyes of others”. In Linda’s experience, we have a tendency to work according to our own sense of what’s right. But, it’s the moments, whether informal or formal, when a mentor gives you a viewpoint you never thought of, that can have a lasting impact. These moments are important “because you can’t grow yourself and modify your behaviour without 360 degree feedback”. A good mentor will see in you, what you can’t see yourself.

Look at the bigger picture

Like any profession Linda believes it’s critical for teachers to feel like they’re growing and evolving in their career. It’s filling this bucket of knowledge which will serve you well in the future. However, for many educators the challenge lies in knowing where to focus this energy.

In order to decide where to focus developmental energy, Linda believes you need to see the strategic bigger picture of your skills, your aspirations, and your working environment. This is where a mentor can have an immense impact - “work out where you want to go, talk with people who understand the big picture, and plot your journey”.

“Moving through your career is like floating in the ocean. You’ve got to feel the current to know where to go next, and to stay buoyant.”

For one of the teachers at Yass High School, a career pathway discussion led to a frank assessment and important pivot. The teacher in question’s pathway was clouded by spreading too thin across development areas. However, that all important outside-in feedback allowed the teacher to define a streamlined pathway which will hold her in good stead for future opportunities. Which, in Linda’s view is the critical point all teachers should take into account, “You work and organise your progression so that when the time comes you are at the place you want to be for the next step.” Ultimately it’s about being thoughtful about where you put your effort, seeing the strategic bigger picture, and working hard.

Look at things differently to find clarity

Reflecting on three decades of experience across fourteen different schools and dozens of roles, Linda’s most important advice for educators is to be crystal clear on development goals. She goes on to explain “once you know where you’re headed, we can plot a path there together”. It’s this last point which reiterates a strong belief in the role of mentors in a developing teachers career.

“You need to know yourself and your asset value. As a mentor it’s about making that value known to them. It’s our job to support them to come to an understanding about themselves”. For teachers reading this, it’s the outside-in view which will prove invaluable time and time again.

“I can look at all of my staff, and identify an asset value in each person they don’t know about themselves.”

With a little nurturing, a good mentor can help their charge find the right development areas to focus on. Ultimately, the key to a long and prosperous career is about surrounding yourself with the right people, and plotting your path forward for continual growth to reach that end destination, whatever it may be.

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