PMP238: Lessons from an Australian Primary School with Anne-Marie Maw

“Students are at the heart of all we do,” says Principal Anne-Marie Maw. “If you’re ever struggling with what to do, put the students at the heart of your decision, and it will always make the decision easier.”

This week I’m sharing the beginning of a new series on lessons from principals across the globe, beginning with an interview with Anne-Marie Maw, principal of St. Agatha’s Primary School Clayfield.

St. Agatha’s Primary School has 340 children from Prep through Year 6. Clayfield is in the north east suburbs of Brisbane which is the capital city of the state of Queensland in Australia. Prior to her appointment at Clayfield, she had been an Assistant Principal in several Catholic schools in Brisbane and Sydney for 18 years and then several years teaching in Sydney and country New South Wales.

St. Agatha’s is Anne-Marie’s first principalship, and COVID hit when she was only a few months into this role. In today’s conversation, we discuss lessons she has learned from leading during a pandemic.

Q & A with Anne-Marie Maw

WDP: I really want to unpack your story of how you provided quality learning for your school community during the pandemic. Can you walk us through what that was like for your school community when the pandemic first began?

Anne-Marie: For me the biggest focus was around being clear in our approach, providing certainty where we could and making difficult calls which became a whole lot easier when we kept student safety and learning at the heart of what we did. 

Australia have had very low COVID numbers and Queensland have been among the strictest in border security in Australia. To give you some perspective, in Brisbane in January, we had a snap 3 day complete lockdown because one person had tested positive to the new strain of COVID as a community contact. This was the week before school started back for the school year which was a bit terrifying!

In Brisbane, we were locked down for 5 weeks last year only which I know is merely a drop in the ocean compared to the States and Europe. My mantra during this time was ‘We will continue to provide excellent learning and teaching regardless of context’. This is something we did particularly well. The focus on excellent learning and teaching included a whole school approach to how we would distribute our learning to students, a role out of technology to ensure every student had access to a device prior to the shut down, skilling up teachers to be able to manage this swift change in content delivery and a provision of face to face learning with students at least 3 times a day every day we were in lockdown. 

WDP: As pandemic conditions continued through the school year, how did your efforts change or enhance?

Anne-Marie: We provided weekly video assemblies for 6 months as we still couldn’t gather as a school community once students were back on site. Being a Catholic School we also ensured religious celebrations such as school prayer and liturgical celebrations continued in a virtual space. We had to cancel our Year 6 senior trip to Canberra which was really heartbreaking for the kids but we decided to have a sleepover at school instead! 

WDP: What have been some of the challenges you face in keeping parents informed and connected?

Anne-Marie: As a big community person, I found it hard not having parents on site. I had just started to get to know our school communtiy and then with everything shutting down I couldn’t have people on school grounds. Some parents said that I was deliberately keeping parents off-site and using COVID as an excuse which really hurt as it was the opposite of what I wanted. I had to keep my line whilst being compassionate and understanding to the needs of a community I was only just getting to know.

The new challange is now that our community, like many in Australia, feel the COVID fatigue and we are still needing to provide measures such as limited numbers at our swimming carnival, social distancing and sanitising measures. The argument remains with many in our community ‘Why is it that we can have 40,000 people watch a football game and only 100 people can attend a swimming carnival’. Trying to keep clear around policy whilst building community back has been difficult. 

Let’s Wrap This Up

Anne-Marie shares even more great takeaways in this conversation! Listen to the entire episode for lessons she has applied in self-care and from studying my newest book, Pause. Breathe. Flourish.: Living Your Best Life as an Educator.

Now It’s Your Turn

How are you keeping students at the center of every decision during and after leading in a pandemic? Thanks for doing what matters! If you’d like to connect with Annie-Marie Maw via LinkedIn. Or follow St. Agatha’s School Clayfield on Facebook.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker