AFTER 46 years working in education, half as a teacher and half in leadership, retiring principal at Southern Cross Catholic College (SCCC), Scarborough, north of Brisbane, Robyn Killoran is looking forward to a bit of free time in 2012.
Having spent the past 11 years as principal of a 1600-student multi-campus school, that’s not surprising.
But while Robyn is retiring from 23 years of principalship, she said that did not mean she was hanging her working hat up completely.
Next year she and husband Graham have booked an Easter program in the Holy Land before travelling through France and Cornwall visiting friends and several schools along the way.
They then will return to Australia to spend time with her family.
During second semester she will return to working with Brisbane Catholic Education as part of its external reviews panels.
Robyn and husband Graham also want to return to Sri Lanka and the De La Salle communities they visited on immersion in 2011 with SCCC students.
Robyn, who grew up in Millmerran, on the Darling Downs of Queensland, and started teaching at 19 has seen a lot of changes in education in the past 46 years.
“At that time there were still public examinations, so for us as teachers – and I was in Home Economics – it was about getting kids ready and through the subject,” she said.
Robyn said the course material in those days was about practical skills – “plus family relationships”.
“We did a semester in senior on housing and families as well as the textile, dressmaking and nutrition,” she said.
Robyn learnt early on that she would need to keep up to date with the changing face of education to ensure her students were not disadvantaged.
In some cases that meant additional study and in others it meant extra commitments.
Robyn said that four to five years into her teaching career a new “Radford” system was introduced that replaced existing external examinations with a system of internal assessment and moderation to achieve comparability between schools.
“I was at Indooroopilly State School and I had my first lot of kids’ work that I had to take to ‘Radford’ and a fellow staff member said not to worry and just take along some of the work,” she said.
“By lunchtime I was in tears because I wasn’t prepared so the kids were disadvantaged and it was just horrible so in the end I decided ‘Well, I’d fix that’ so I became the district chair of the panel and my kids were never disadvantaged again.
“So you had to learn.”
And learn she did.
Robyn ended up on the state panel for Home Economics and was able to keep up with the standards of work Queensland wide.
This was the start of a lifetime of learning Robyn has undertaken to ensure her students got the best education she could give them whether it was as a subject teacher or a school principal.
Over the years she has also served on many committees including a six-year stint on Archbishop Emeritus John Bathersby’s Brisbane Catholic Education Council and a long association with the Business and Professional Women’s Association.
“Someone asked me once how many committees I’d been on and I couldn’t remember but looking back there had to have been nearly 30 …,”
It was while teaching and working as the pastoral care co-ordinator at St Mary’s College, Ipswich, just over 23 years ago that Robyn decided she needed to do more formal study and by doing so ‘fell into principalship’. “Brisbane Catholic Education was running a Christian Leadership program where you could get a diploma and then convert that to a graduate diploma by doing another year,” she said.
Robyn was one of the first to undertake the course and a fellow student, a school principal, convinced her she should be applying for her own principalship.
“There were three girls’ schools positions at the time one at Our Lady’s College, Annerley, one at St Benedict’s, Wilston, and at Soubirous (College) at Scarborough,” she said.
“I applied and was interviewed for Our Lady’s and St Benedict’s and was appointed to St Benedict’s and that was how it started but I had no experience.”
She learnt fairly quickly once on the job however.
“I finished the diploma then I did the graduate diploma and then that was about the same time as St Benedict’s was closing and it was suggested that I do a degree if I intended to continue in leadership,” she said.
Robyn, who was then principal at St John Fisher College, Bracken Ridge, and into her 40s took on the study at Australian Catholic University.
She had also given up face-to-face teaching once she became principal and said the profession had moved on in the ensuing 23 years.
“I look with awe at some of the work that teachers do and curriculum people undertake (today),” she said.
Over her 23 years as a principal Robyn just “kept on doing courses”.
“I went to Armidale to New England Uni and I did a course in financial management of schools then I did a course on project management,” she said.
“One of the things I was really interested in was the way that we work with our families who are from lower socio-economic, poverty areas so I became a trainer in the program Understanding the Framework of Poverty.”
Robyn said every time she needed to do something she would look at the skills, research or reading required then go out and acquire them.
“When I went to Southern Cross (Catholic College) I did a whole lot of work on boys and education because I had been in all-girls’ schools since teaching at Peter Claver College in the 70s,” she said.
Robyn, who was raised a Presbyterian, converted to Catholicism in 1984.
She said it was a natural progression that stemmed from having married a Catholic man and from working in and having her two children attend Catholic schools.
“We have come a long way in recognising that we have one God and that we all, as Christians, worship one God, so for me it was about looking at how I expressed my own spirituality and faith,” she said.
“It was a natural progression for me in the journey I was travelling.”
Robyn is a firm believer that God has directed her life from her early teenage years.
“It is no coincidence for me that where I am now was meant to be from a very early age and I look back now and things that have happened to me I know I have had God with me,” she said.
Robyn said she became a “born-again” Christian at 13 and it was then she had her first indications that God was with her and she had a real opportunity to experience the hand of God.
“I was really ill doing the junior exam and I blacked out before the physiology and the chemistry and physics paper, and my physics paper I know I didn’t write because I was so sick and yet I got a B,” she said.
“They were the three subjects I got B’s for, the rest I got A’s for and I knew from then on my life was determined.”
Robyn said even meeting her Catholic husband Graham and the schools she worked in were part of the journey.
“The people I met and the experiences along the way I can see it was getting me ready to fulfil God’s will for me at Southern Cross.”
As for the long-term future, Robyn has decided to just wait for God’s next step.
“I’m quite certain that God’s not finished with me yet or I certainly hope not,” she said.
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