Teaching part of family DNA

In Education Week we profile some of our principals leading the schools they attended as students.

Image: Nicole Molloy as school captain in 1984 sitting next to the then principal Fred Armstrong and the other student prefects.

Nicole Molloy has a black and white photograph of her mother standing beside the class of first-grade students she taught at Woollahra Demonstration School in 1972.

It’s a classic school photo: girls in pigtails and boys in school ties. Some of the children have their chests puffed out, others look shyly at the camera.

Woollahra was Sandra Molloy’s second teaching placement but, pregnant with Nicole at a time when there was no maternity leave, she would soon have to resign from the eastern suburbs school.

The Molloys were a family of teachers. Nicole Molloy’s father, Bruce, held a number of positions in the Department of Education, including Inspector of Schools. After the birth of their two children, Sandra returned to teaching and ended up as the inaugural principal at Maroubra’s Mt Sinai College.

But Woollahra Public School always held a special place in Molloy family memories.

“Mum used to speak very fondly of her time teaching at Woollahra,” said Ms Molloy, who was a student in the school’s OC classes in 1983-84 and is now school principal.

Ms Molloy said she did not always want to be a teacher, but after completing an Arts degree and a Master of Psychology she decided “to do something practical to get a job”. Teaching was a world she knew well.

“It was a job that I felt could pull together all of my interests and passions. The minute I did my first prac I just didn’t look back,” she said.

Ms Molloy’s first placement was at Bexley North Public School, followed by an eight-year stint at South Coogee Public as an assistant principal, deputy principal and relieving principal.

Her first permanent principal appointment was at Daceyville Public School, where her father had also taught. In 2016, she took the top job at Woollahra.

“It was a lovely circle that I would come to Mum’s school,” Ms Molloy said.

“Some of my fondest memories around doing my teacher training was spending time with Mum, in particular, but also my dad, my great mentor and muse, [talking] about leading schools and the challenges that come with that.”

Fred Armstrong, principal of Woollahra Public when Ms Molloy attended as a student, was another influence in her life.

“It was an innovative school,” Ms Molloy said. “I look at Fred Armstrong’s leadership at the time and talk to people who knew him and they say he was a risk taker, he wasn’t afraid to think outside the box and try new things.”

Her first term as a student at the school was unlike anything she had experienced in her education to that point.

“I came to a classroom where there was no furniture, a big open space and every Monday, we would be given the whole morning to write and then we would share it in class and that really blew me away.

“I had two teachers who were not afraid to delve outside the set syllabus and go with our interests. I value that incredibly because it really has informed my vision of learning.”

Image: Nicole Molloy with her old teachers Jenny Reidy and Maree Tynan in 2017, about a year after she was appointed to the school as principal.

Ms Molloy has remained in contact with those two influential teachers, Jenny Reidy and Maree Tynan, with the teacher-student relationship blossoming into an intellectual bond and friendship.

Ms Reidy said their former pupil ran ideas past them occasionally “but she doesn’t need to”.

“The whole purpose of being a mentor is that you get the person you are working with to a stage where they do not need you,” Ms Reidy said.

Since Ms Molloy began her career, the education system has become more transparent and teachers more scrutinised. The core business of a school principal remains teaching but the job now includes managing multi-million dollar budgets and large workforces.

“We need to be more accountable and that can bring challenges around respect for us as professionals and allowing us to have the autonomy to make the decisions we think are best,” she said.

For all the challenges of being a principal in today’s school system, Ms Molloy said she was pleased with what she and her staff had created at Woollahra Public School.

“I am proud that we are a school that encourages a sense of curiosity, of what else is possible … I am paid to come and learn. There are not many jobs where that is your day.”

  • Old school ties
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