Mark Robertson: Teaching and Leading with Passion
Mark Robertson|Oakleigh Grammar School

The time-old tradition of holding teachers in reverence has been existing in this world since the existence of mankind. It grew out of an acknowledgement that learning should not be hoarded, rather it has to be passed on. Life embraces all without distinction hence; its lessons become shared experiences. Thus while passing this experience; both teachers and students enter into a relationship, wherein both are students and teachers of one another.

This realization makes a good teacher great. They know that the best thing about teaching is continuous learning. Such teachers enchant their students. Not only do they urge to make a difference in a student’s life but desire it passionately. They treat all their students as equal ones and invite them to build a student-centric classroom, or school together with them.  A great teacher in this way makes students an author of their academic, professional and personal life, while always guiding them.

This calls to mind an American Historian, Henry Adams’ words, “A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.” Adhering to the same, we at The Knowledge Review on our quest to find an influential educator, crossed paths with Mark Robertson, the Principal of Oakleigh Grammar School.  His journey from a teacher to a Principal and now an educator depicts how continuous learning has helped him grow and evolve. Today, he uses his accumulated knowledge and experience to change lives and educate a community.

Nothing Equals Passion

Robertson is a passionate leader who has the knowledge and the experience to take risks, step up to the plate and help take the biggest leaps forward within his educational institution. Leaders like him make things happen. Robertson tells us how his journey as a teacher and influencer began.

“After completing my studies in Bachelor of Education, I secured employment in the Government Education system to teach Secondary Physical Education and Accounting/ Legal Studies. This job helped me hone the skills necessary to become an effective and inspiring teacher in the classroom setting. Recognizing my passion for excellence and strong ability for organization, I was promoted young and was soon charged with overseeing Sport in my region.”

The unfolding chain of events after the aforesaid event in his life marks his journey as a teacher, who teaches us that optimism, continuous learning and a love of learning itself is the key to everything. He says,

“Recognizing the need to broaden my skills further, I taught Accounting in the TAFE sector part-time and even moved into the sales lighting industry to experience ‘life’ outside of schools- an understanding I gained that I firmly believe gave me vital perspective to further understanding the context of education within society and to appreciate the pathways that young people in our schools are on.”

Returning to teaching two years later saw me energized, enthusiastic and ready to step into the independent education sector with renewed vigor.” However, it did not stop him from learning further. While working as a full-time teacher, Robertson constantly had his eye on the future, also pursuing his Masters in Educational Studies. During this period, he served at  Haileybury College. Call it a path breaker or a milestone in Robertson’s career, his time here helped shape him into an educator and the influential leader that we know today.

“It was here that I was privileged to work amongst gifted educators who helped to influence and shape me within a traditional institution that would allow me the space and time to grow both as a person and an educator.”

“During my time, I was promoted to Head of Commerce and felt privileged to be part of the Haileybury “fabric” for 8 years before my promotion to Head of Middle School at Yarra Valley Grammar School. Yarra Valley was an important time in my development as a leader as I was able to work closely with the current Principal as part of the senior Executive team. This proved to be instrumental in developing and shaping me and exposed me to a strong leadership style. At this time, I was beginning to cultivate my leadership style and enjoyed overseeing my team of educators and of course, helping to shape and support students during this often difficult stage of adolescence. After 5 years as Head of Middle School, I decided that my next move would be a critical one as I was emerging as a passionate leader, eager to make a significant difference in the lives of young people,” he recalls.

Growth Equalizes Continuous Learning

Having emerged as a passionate and strong leader was only one part of Robertson’s evolution as an educator. His personal quest was to embrace life and cultivate his own path, resisting the temptation to become complacent and stagnant. The following choices in his life inform us as to how he achieved this.

“I decided to apply for the position of Head of Senior School at Mount Scopus Memorial College- a large Jewish school in Melbourne’s East. This remains one of the most significant moves in my career to date as I was thrust into a very different world to what I had known previously- a world of Judaism, a community that possesses a deep love for the State of Israel and a community with considerably high aspirations for success”.

“After leading the Senior part of the school for 4 years and my entire family being warmly embraced as part of the Jewish culture, I was appointed Principal of a large, multi-campus, Anglican school. Landing my first Principal’s role was exciting, immensely rewarding yet challenging on so many levels. I learned so much about human behaviour in those first years and believe it provided me with an incredible grounding for the complexities we face as school leaders and indeed citizens in such a rapidly changing world. My current school, Oakleigh Grammar is an absolute community hub in the truest sense and a very unique school- one I believe has given me true satisfaction and pride. I work with an immensely talented Executive team on a range of exciting strategic initiatives that serve our students for a future world,” he states.

Not Just an Ordinary Educator

The duty of an educator or a teacher does not end with being just a teacher or a Principal. Their duty goes beyond classrooms, as mentioned above, a teacher influences a student’s life in many ways. Robertson realizes this and his quest always has been to achieve something beyond classrooms. He says the world of education can be very challenging. “I have faced challenges in my career that are too numerous to mention and I would like to think that I have experienced a range of encounters because of the breadth of settings I’ve been in as a leader. In saying this, people are people everywhere and it has been important for me to strive to understand motivations and key drivers in order to confront and adapt to challenges I have faced”, he adds.

However, overcoming trepidations is what makes one a true leader. Not only was Robertson successful in overcoming any problems but he also succeeded in eliminating many crucial issues faced by his students.  “I certainly feel proud of how I’ve dealt with challenges. Sometimes, courageous decisions need to be made in difficult circumstances and I believe that despite pressures from numerous sources,  I am always able to maintain a clear sense of integrity and conscience and make them with my student’s very best interests in mind,” comments Robertson.

However, he also believes there is always something that can be bettered and is continuously working towards improvement in all he does. “I’ve had difficulties in my career and have always created opportunities for myself to reflect upon ways that I may have handled things better. I firmly believe that the chance to reflect is vital and educators must take the opportunity on a regular basis as an inherent part of our “cycle” of output.Education is inherently a multi- dimensional process and is not linear- the way we manage this process often relies upon some type of deep, reflective practice and no one should be above personal reflection or using collaborative approaches to improve themselves further. Without a doubt however, I believe that dealing with student’s mental health struggles have been the single most confronting aspect for me as an educator. The mental health of young people is, in my opinion, the most challenging and compelling aspect facing education today,” he shares.

Motivation is a Two-way Process

Robertson’s quest to bring change through education lies at his heart. “I have always been driven and committed to pursuing a higher ideal and just love the varied role of an educator. I love to collaborate on ideas and systems, work as part of a team within a community and I really love inspiring others to be their best,” he says.

However, inspiring him to achieve his goal are the young people around him. He says, “To me, being around young people and having the privilege to witness the future unfold around me is very exciting and always feels fresh and energizing. Young people are a constant reminder of how hope exists in our world and that we should not be frightened by change and all it entails.”

Envisioning Equal Growth

As mentioned above, a leader recognizes that change is the only constant and one should harness this chance to learn something new and teach others that change can be a positive opportunity. However, when it comes to great leaders like Robertson, they believe leaders should not only navigate the path but create opportunities for those around them to grow as well.

“This is a powerful one as I strongly believe that good leaders produce and inspire other, good, effective leaders. A successful leader needs to remain open to others and be highly accessible- we are constantly cultivating competencies and enabling others so that they may grow too. This parallelism is vital for any organization but it would be highly ironic if it didn’t happen regularly in education! I try to remain open with my staff and team so that they can understand the inner mechanisms of the “why” behind decisions so we are able to make these decisions as a team of educators, synergising effectively. states Robertson.

A Word for Aspiring Educators

Robertson’s journey until now and what we foresee in the future makes us realize one thing that only deep-rooted passion towards education can help any teacher achieve greatness. His continuous endeavor to improve lives around him giving us hope that teachers, educators and leaders like him will always create opportunities to help others achieve their true potential.

A great leader like him inspires us through his actions and work. He says the reason why he achieved what he did is because of his love of humanity and sense of hope for the future of his students. He also, advises having the same to any aspiring educator. “Make sure you are an optimistic educator and fundamentally like working with children. Find mentors with whom you connect personally and keep a career plan in mind, speaking to those in positions of leadership to touch base and understand how you’re performing, sharing what your future aspirations are, as they can help you to connect with others in the profession too. Work with others and never against them as team players are highly valued in education,” he concludes.

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