Catherine Misson was appointed Principal of Melbourne Girls Grammar School (MGGS) a decade ago and in that time she’s achieved incredible feats and heralded many vital changes.
In 2016, she made The Educator’s National Hot List for individuals who made a significant contribution to the K-12 education sector. The school is proud she has led such a strong agenda for innovation. For Catherine, the changes she’s made have focused on her students becoming ‘Women of Action’, as she calls them.
“The student voice is highly valued and is very much a part of the dialogue we have with our girls, our sense of community and connection. Across the year levels, the girls’ health and wellbeing is woven into the school construct, and the students, parents and staff appreciate its importance and value,” she says.
“The student voice is highly valued now and is very much a part of the dialogue we have with our girls.”
’Hierarchy is for risk management, not relationships’
She also expresses that MGGS places a great focus on teams working collaboratively. “We have broken down hierarchies and silos – our mantra is ‘hierarchy is for risk management, not relationships’ – and have humility in connecting. Dialogue is a valued disposition,” she adds.
Since Catherine’s appointment, the school’s built environment has changed considerably. The facilities were previously tired and run-down but, today, the establishment boasts refurbished rooms and facilities.
“The use of technology and infrastructure is now seamless in the school. We aim to be a 24/7 education provider. Our digital ecosystem is constantly evolving and we are collaborating with our partner, Schoolbox, on optimal functionality for the digital learner,” Catherine adds.
“We have a fantastic location but we have many restrictions when we build or undertake major refurbishments of facilities – this sometimes threatens the efficacy of what we design, and that could limit the potential of what we build. We have to be extremely clever in the way we approach our campus development to maximise our opportunities.”
For Catherine, keeping the staff at MGGS motivated is of great importance and she prides herself on being transparent and readily available to them whenever they need her. She describes herself as a hands-on Principal and encourages her staff to be the drivers of change. “I believe in a culture of inclusion and collaboration, partnered with permission to fail forward – staff know they can openly share the things that are not working in order to find better solutions, and design more effective learning programs.”
Her mission moving forward is to provide exceptional education for the students, where their creativity and capacity for leadership are engaged and nurtured. She describes it as an education that equips young women with the confidence to be “equal contenders in the various contexts in which they will work and develop relationships”.
Plans for Future
Catherine’s plans for the future of MGGS include an expansion of the current programs on offer, as well as a focus on STEM subjects. “Our 2,030-plus graduates need to be confident in a fully digitised economy and we see STEM as a citizenship agenda, permeating all aspects of learning. We have a concept for a new design hub to be developed as a major future building project and this project will also kick off the next generation of Enterprise Learning for our girls and staff. It will see students investing time to develop their own enterprise profiles – a critical component of their career development.
“We will also continue to evolve from being a school to becoming a community, framing learning within the wellbeing paradigm, and leveraging technology solutions to ensure we offer a mobile, agile environment in which these future graduates experience life as it is outside of our campus boundaries. This will break down the artificial divide between what you do in school and what you do in life.”
Catherine believes that the best leaders are authentic and present. “They look deep into the organisation, and they join the conversation at every level. They walk the talk of their values and they are genuine in their relationships. “That’s the consistency that creates and maintains trust in your leadership, especially when challenges arise and emotions are swirling, everyone can go back to the foundation of knowing who you really are. A good leader is overtly passionate about the future of their organisation, capable of describing what lies ahead and at bringing their people with them,” she continues.
As a committed Principal, Catherine’s approach to work–life balance is refreshingly honest and she says her work makes her well. “I cannot understand anyone buying the myth that there is work–life balance – there is no such thing. Living your life is an entirely subjective experience. Neatly creating a balance of quantums of things is unrealistic. I focus on what I need to recharge to remain connected to who I am and what my purpose is.
“When I feel well, I am at my best to contribute as a principal, colleague, mum and wife. I love my job, and am passionate about realising the best educational experiences for young people. And I really enjoy working alongside my staff in highly purposeful projects.”