Karen Spiller: Personifying Academic Expertise, Advocating Holistic Excellence

“A word of encouragement from a teacher to a child can change a life. A word of encouragement from a spouse can save a marriage. A word of encouragement from a leader can inspire a person to reach their potential.” – John C. Maxwell

If one is to study the persona of an educational leader, the most evident factor unveiled is their exhibition of aspects such as determination, passion, expertise and erudition.

Through this edition titled, Australia’s 10 Most Influential Educational Leaders to watch, 2019, we at The Knowledge Review, present to you a list of such exceptional educational reformers, wherein featuring on the cover is Karen Spiller OAM, the Principal of John Paul College, Brisbane.

Karen has been teaching and leading in Queensland Schools for almost forty years following a traditional career pathway of Secondary Teacher, Head of Department, Deputy Principal and Principal. Her journey as a Principal is twenty years young. She has held national and state leadership roles as National Chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools Australia and National President of the Alliance of Girls Schools, Australasia.

She is currently the State Chair of Independent Schools Queensland, a member of the national body Independent Schools Council Australia, the Australian Boarding Schools’ Association and Yalari which is an organisation which supports the education of indigenous young people. Karen is also a member of the International Education and Training Advisory Group to the Queensland Government and a member of advisory bodies for the Business Faculty of QUT and the Health Faculty at Bond University.

Through her career, Karen has held roles through the Anglican Schools Commission and the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority. She was Principal at St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School in Brisbane for 18 years and led it to becoming one of the most successful schools in Australia.

On the Trophy Shelf

All along her voyage, Karen has been adorning her hat with a number of feathers. For her, a medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Day honours list was very special.

Other highlights of her successful career include a Churchill Fellowship in 2011 which allowed her to travel and undertake further research into strategies for better equipping women for the role of Principalship in Australian schools.

The International Rotary Award – the Paul Harris Fellowship is also a valuable one for Karen as it was an award made by her local branch to recognise my leadership in the community as well as at a national level.

Karen has also received awards nationally by the Federal Government agency EOWA for Leading CEO for the Advancement of Women and for Excellence in Music Education and from the Modern Languages Teachers Association for Excellence in School Leadership. Karen feels honoured by all of these accolades and awards, as all she wants to do is help others as she has been assisted and mentored, and give back to the profession.

She is also a Fellow of the Australian College of Educators, the Australian Council of Educational Leaders, the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Australian Institute of Managers, the CEO Institute and the Australian Marketing Association.

Enlightening the World

Pertaining to her profound experience, Karen ceaselessly contributes to uplifting the value of education. For her, one of the most significant contributions has been encouraging the leadership of others.

“Seven staff who worked with me directly – are now Principals of other Independent Schools around Australia – and I have mentored at least another ten into senior leadership roles,” says Karen.

Additionally, through the Aspiring Women’s leadership conference which she launched in 2006 with her colleague Ros Curtis, she has positively motivated and influenced the career of hundreds of female leaders. This conference has been offered in both Brisbane and Perth annually since its inception in 2006.

“Research says that quality educational leaders make an evident difference to the academic outcomes of students and their experience of school life as well as to the success of a school. When we have an ageing workforce and evidence of declining interest in school leadership roles, it is vital that we have strong and motivated teachers in the leadership pipeline,” Karen expresses.

Karen emphasizes on the necessity of each student being in classrooms with highly qualified, passionate and successful teachers who can genuinely support each student to achieve their best and make them feel good about themselves. This has been achieved through setting high expectations of Karen herself, the leadership team and all the staff of the school. Each change and teaching strategy has been grounded in educational research.

In addition, Karen also enjoys presenting research papers at international and national conferences on a variety of topics including educational improvement and change.

The Bridge towards Success

John Paul College was established in 1982 as Queensland’s first Christian Ecumenical College. It is an independent, co-educational K-12 College with an Early Learning Centre, a small Boarding house and an English Language College. JPC’s purpose is; To Educate, To Inspire, To Make a Difference.

As a relatively young school, the calibre of its alumni is a great testimony to the success of the school. This list of alumni includes Dami Im, Mitch Larkin, David Baxby, Luke Trouchet, William Liu, Clare Ferguson, Lachlan Power and Paul Olds.

Known in the 80s and 90s for its Marching Band on the international stage at the opening of the Sydney Olympics, the Calvary Stampede and Expo ‘88, as well as being one of the first schools in Australia to introduce 1-1 laptops, JPC is especially proud that ACARA identified it as one of the few schools in Australia that demonstrated significant improvements in their writing and numeracy progression based on the 2018 NAPLAN results.

Describing the work culture at John Paul College, Karen says, “We are all here for one reason – our students.” She expresses that it’s the reason she and other educational leaders get out of bed every morning; not just to pay the mortgage. To Educate, To Inspire, To Make a Difference – this is why they come to school every day. To ensure that every child we are privileged to teach, receives the very best we can give.

“Do I need to say more about a passionate and positive school culture? The schools I have worked in and now lead, all have had a genuine commitment to broad educational opportunities. This means a focus on leadership development, community service and extensive extra and co- curricular activities that often include exchange opportunities, and local and international travel for students,” She adds.

Beyond Challenges lies Wisdom

When asked about the challenges that she came across in her career, Karen says, “Change is always difficult. There have been times both in my previous schools and at JPC when some people have been resistant to change. I guess this is human nature. Quite often people think they or the school is perfect the way that it is. My view is that if you are not moving forward, you are stagnant or moving backwards.”

One of the books that changed Karen’s life is ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. “I read this in 2005 and have been a different leader ever since. It gave me the language and thinking capabilities to be more confident in what I felt needed to be done. I am more passionate and more focussed since embracing Collin’s work,” Karen express.

When it comes to staying motivated and instilling the same upon her students, Karen believes that it’s easy to keep motivated when one thinks of the awesome responsibility she and other leaders have, to influence positively the lives of their students, in whichever school they are privileged to lead.

For Karen, it is not only about giving students the best education possible to allow post school options, but to also giving them choices in their future career and within the world of work. More importantly, it is about them feeling confident and capable, feeling that they can make a difference in this world and local community.

“As a Principal, you have so much ability to change people’s lives for the better, and that includes our staff. Inspiring students to make a difference is such an important responsibility. Our young people have a privileged education that millions in the world don’t have access to. In some cases, they are the most educated in their family. They too, have an awesome responsibility to reach forward and make a difference to others and our community,” says Karen.

Karen expresses her pride in being the Principal of John Paul College, and together with the passionate, professional staff and dedicated school board, she wants to ensure that JPC provides an outstanding education to all young people, who in turn, go into the world continuing to make a difference.

Recent Posts