Principals’ News – Term 2 Week 6

Dear Parents/Caregivers,

This is my last formal communication with you as the principal of the LDC. My last day at the school is Friday June 3 as I will be transitioning to retirement after a period of leave. I started as principal of the Language Centre in 1998 when we were located at Balcatta PS with 68 enrolments in PP to year 4. I established our first satellite classes in Ridgewood in 1999 to cater for the growing number of children in that part of our catchment area. 24 years later we now have 335 students from kindy to year 1 with a committed early intervention focus. We are also located over 4 sites. During this time, we have opened and shut-in excess of seven sites to ensure we can place as many referrals as possible. While I have worked in the space of students with disordered language for 24 years, I spent 7 years working to establish what is now our Outreach service.

Over my 49 years with the department, I have worked in a diverse range of settings, mostly in the area of disability and disorder. Working in this space has been a privilege and I have appreciated the honour and trust that parents afford us when their child is placed in our care. While working in the area of disorder and disability can be challenging because the answers for overcoming the learning challenges faced by our students are not neatly wrapped in a book or program, it is amazingly rewarding. To see interventions work, and to prepare the children for the next phase of their schooling is gratifying and exhilarating. The fact that answers to learning challenges require being investigative, collaborative, innovative and solution focused in a constant and ongoing manner keeps you motivated as a teacher and leader within our school. What is not to love, we play a part, a very important part.

I have had the privilege to work with and learn from amazing people over my career. I have had the privilege of standing on the shoulders of giants who have been truly visionary. By standing on their shoulders, it gave me a great view of the way ahead. In this state, we have a world class system with our Language Centres that was started by a colleague called Marie Donovan. She identified the need and knocked on doors of decision makers to establish the first class in the early 1980s. She continued to lead the Language Centre growth and development until 2012. Marie is a giant I proudly stood with and learnt from. We can all be grateful for her forethought and tenacity.

I also have enjoyed and had the honour of working with teachers as both a colleague and leader. For most of my career, even as a class teacher, I have had a role in teacher development. In different settings I have also had the benefit of collaborating with a range of other professions, including psychologists, speech pathologists and education assistants. This diversity of experience has also contributed to a rewarding career.

Most importantly, I have learnt with and from all the students (and their families) who have crossed my path as a teacher and leader in our public education system. Most of my career has been in complex settings due to disability or disorder and there have been challenging times; however, the most challenged students have also been the most rewarding because from these times and students, I have learned the most.

Lastly, it is important to acknowledge the important role you as parents play not only in preparing your children for their life ahead, but also, in advocating and supporting them through their schooling. This is particularly important because their language disorder is lifelong and while our early intervention plays a part, you are critical in their ongoing journey through schooling. Thank you for entrusting your children to us and for allowing us to play a part.

It can be difficult to mention people by name, but I want to acknowledge the support of some key groups. As a principal, the support of and collaboration with the members of the admin team (deputies and office staff) is critical. We have a great, cohesive and diverse team who have seamlessly led and managed across sites and stepped up when needed. Catherine Regan, one of the deputies, will be acting in my role until the job is advertised later this year. Our diverse and competent key leaders include teacher leaders and speech pathology leaders. They are committed to ensuring the best outcomes for your children by supporting and developing others to use and reflect on targeted, specialised approaches focused on the needs of our students. They form a key engine of the school and lead and support the connectivity across sites. They have enabled me to do my job and have been critical supports.

The school review completed earlier in term 1 affirmed what we knew that we are a school that more than met the high standard of an effective school. As I step out, I know the school is in safe hands with a robust and knowledgeable staff who are focused on achieving the best for all children in their care.

Many have asked about my plans ahead. I am not one for big plans. A teacher who was giving me advice as I ventured to study teaching told me my job was to be the best teacher I could be, and my career would take care of itself. To that end, I have not sought promotion for promotion’s sake (planned) but opportunities presented themselves and I was lucky enough, to be encouraged and selected for positions. Retirement will be a bit the same. I will spend more time with family and friends. I will also volunteer more in a charity (ADHD WA) that I helped establish. Outside of that, I am sure opportunities will present themselves, and as always, I will avail myself of them or not. The privilege of choice is a wonderful thing.

I will always have an interest in the learning needs of our vulnerable learners who have learning and or language disorder and the evolving research about how the brain learns (your brain does not switch off because you retire). I will also be interested in the road ahead for the Language Centre, but the path ahead is someone else’s responsibility to navigate. I am sure there will be space for reading of a different kind. Instead of research and academic literature, I will rediscover the power of storytelling in novels. I am building a book collection of a different kind.

Once again, thank you for being part of my professional journey and all the best for you and your children.

Kind regards

Shelley Blakers