This month, we catch up with St Thomas of Villanova School principal, Rita Petersen, who shares insights into leading the Mareeba school’s community as well as the school’s experience with COVID-19.
What do you hope to achieve in your role as principal?
I became a teacher to make a difference in the lives of the students I taught. I became a principal to make a difference in the lives of staff and students under my care. To be a leader is a privilege; working hard to understand, lead and serve the best interests of my school community.
What makes you most proud to be the leader of your school community?
I’m particularly proud of my staff and our students and their families – especially during this current pandemic and how they have managed the many changes. ‘Changes’ in the way we operated, educated, connected and lived were thrust upon us. Change for anyone is always challenging and I’m especially proud of how our community embraced these changes. Expectations were exceeded!
What makes a great teacher?
A passion for learning and definitely a passion for kids. In particular, having a joy and love for the students you teach and seeing how they grow in their learning each and every day.
A sense of humour always helps too!
How did your education shape you to be the person you are today?
Having parents who valued education highly.
I was also fortunate enough to have been taught by many passionate and dedicated teachers in my life, which included the Josephites and the Sisters of Mercy. These sisters had a real commitment in bringing together faith and learning in ways that were real and meaningful to our lives, and which ultimately reflected the life and message of Jesus Christ.
What motto, affirmation or prayer do you live by?
In the words of Mary McKillop, “Never see a need without doing something about it!” Taking the time to speak to families, understanding each family’s circumstance, including family pressures or financial concerns and discreetly assisting to lessen their burden, if possible.
Developing and maintaining positive partnerships with my families is very important to me. I often tell people that the most important part of my role as principal is the ‘3 Rs’ – ‘RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS.’
What is the highlight of your career so far as principal?
Having the privilege to develop many wonderful relationships with students, staff and parents. I especially enjoy the opportunity to rekindle and reconnect with past students when they come and enrol their own children in our school.
Creating a safe and happy atmosphere in a school, where making mistakes is a learning opportunity.
What do you think are the most important values a principal should uphold?
Integrity underpinned by moral purpose. As principal of a school, I try very hard to be authentic in both word and action. I also never expect someone to do something that I’m not prepared to do or try myself.
Find out more about St Thomas of Villanova School, Mareeba.