What makes a teacher?  The New Age Parents spoke to principals and teachers from various schools and enrichment centres, to find out more about their philosophy, passion and aspiration.

Principal Profile
Name: Fiona Walker
Where: Julia Gabriel Education
Role: Principal of Schools and CEO of Julia Gabriel Education
Education: Masters in Early Childhood Education and a qualified Montessori teacher
Years in industry: More than 20 years of experience in providing quality education for young children

Fiona Walker, Principal of Schools and CEO of Julia GabrielPhoto credit: Julia Gabriel Education

TNAP: Hi Fiona! Tell us more about yourself!

I started working at Julia Gabriel Education in 1991 – a very long time ago! I had just finished a Montessori Diploma and was very excited to begin my career working with children. I started as an assistant teacher working in Language Arts programmes and soon became a teacher of my own classes, which over the years included our parent and toddler programme, PlayClub, and in our preschool, Chiltern House (now renamed as Julia Gabriel Preschool).

I am now the Principal of Schools/CEO, Julia Gabriel Education and no longer teach young children, but I work with the teachers who do and I am happy that the work we do is providing happy, nurturing, learning environments for children and adults who work with them. I now have my own young children, a son, Finlay, who is 10 and a daughter, Ruby, who is 6. They have gone through all our programmes at Julia Gabriel Centre and Chiltern House and been taught by lots of wonderful teachers.

TNAP: In your eyes, what makes an effective and good teacher?

A good teacher is someone with excellent communication skills, who is able to engage with each and every child and parent they work with. It is someone who is empathetic, caring and able to guide children as they learn and explore. Our very best teachers love what they do and are able to inspire others with their passion and enthusiasm. They also are able to reflect on what they learn each day and pour that knowledge and understanding back into their teaching. Teachers must remain learners!

TNAP: Who do you look up to as a role model in terms of your teaching career and why?

I have been so lucky to have many wonderful teachers and role models throughout my life. My first and most important role models have been my parents who instilled in me a belief that we can do anything if we try hard and that everyone has the right to be treated with kindness. I hope I share that with the children and adults I work with.

I had a teacher in London at the Maria Montessori Association who taught me that every child has the same rights as an adult to be respected as a unique and whole human being. I believe it is our job, as adults, to ensure that happens.

Julia Gabriel has been an inspiring role model as she is a wonderful teacher and mentor. She is able to get children and adults alike to achieve heights of success they themselves would never have thought possible.

Every day I am inspired and motivated by the amazing people I work with. I have learnt so much over the years from my colleagues and look forward to learning more.

TNAP: Share with us one or two memorable moments in your teaching career that left a deep imprint in you.

I taught a group of children who were 2½ or 3 years old nearly 20 years ago and they were a wonderful, funny, expressive bunch of children. Another child joined us who had some challenges with both language and behaviour and rather than shun him for being different they all made sure he was included and intuitively watched out for him as they went about their days.

Even at that young age children will accept others, no matter how different they may be, they are unafraid and inherently caring. As much as we teach children we must remain open to learning from them. I believe children with learning differences have every right to be included in mainstream classes if they will benefit from the programme. This is something we strive to achieve in all our schools. We have a team of Learning Support Specialists who support both the child and the teacher to make this possible.

TNAP: If no, what are the things you think teachers can continuously strive to improve and upgrade themselves in?

I believe that teachers must continue to learn. As long as we are open to learning and excited about trying new, creative and better ways to engage our children we will continue to grow as teachers. Teachers need to be aware of parent’s expectations for their children and must be able to clearly explain their objectives and hopes for each child. We can continuously work on improving in this area.

TNAP: Parents sometimes put teachers on a very high pedestal and sometimes expect a lot from them. What do you wish more parents knew about the teaching profession?

Every teacher is trying his or her best. Teaching is an enormously complex role and not everyone will be very good at every aspect of it. Just because a teacher is still working on one area, for example, getting information to parents on time doesn’t mean she isn’t wonderful in the class with the children. Teaching is tough and requires a master multitasker, but all our parents know this if they come in as a parent helper for the day! They are then full of admiration for the teachers and what they achieve.

TNAP: Complete this sentence. Teaching is…

Indeed challenging but it is one of the most rewarding journeys of learning and discovery you could ever begin.

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