Plethora of Transformation: Fathma Mauger’s Quest of Excellence

Fathma Mauger | Principal | Larrakeyah Primary School
Fathma Mauger | Principal | Larrakeyah Primary School

Fathma Mauger is a stalwart leader who has shaped the educational horizon for over three decades. The leader behind vibrant classrooms, echoing with the curiosity of young minds, where innovation meets tradition, and every lesson is a steppingstone toward a brighter future.

For the past eleven years, Fathma has donned the mantle of leadership as the Principal of Larrakeyah Primary School, an Independent Public School that embodies her commitment to educational excellence. In the heart of Darwin, Larrakeyah Primary School pulsates with a spirit of autonomy and innovation under Fathma’s visionary guidance.

Achievements reflect the talents and capabilities of people; here, Fathma is the epitome of resilience. She was awarded Northern Territory (NT) Principal of the Year, Darwin Region, in the 2021 Teaching in the Territory Excellence Awards. She was a 2022 finalist in the Australian Education Awards – Principal of the Year (Government). Selected for Winners Hotlist 2022- The Educator Magazine and selected as one of The Most Influential Educators in 2023 – The Educator Magazine.

Under the leadership of Fathma, the school has been receiving national and international recognition. These accolades are:

  • 2021 International School Awards Top 3 Finalist for the “Continued Pathways to Further Education” category
  • 2022 Winning school in the Australian Education Awards- Best STEM program.
  • 2022 World’s Best School Prizes Top 3 Finalists for the “Supporting Healthy Lives” category
  • 2023 Finalist school in the Australian Education Awards—Best Use of Technology
  • 2023 Winning School 5-Star Sustainable School Award—The Educator
  • 2023 Winning School 5-Star Innovative School Award—The Educator

With her visionary traits, she was also invited as a speaker at several international events and conferences – the largest global platform for 2022 World Education Week, the 2022 Outstanding Schools Asia conference and the 2023 EduTech Asia conference.

Let’s delve into the narrative of Fathma as it unfolds not just as a chronicle of professional milestones but as an example of the transformative power of leadership in shaping the minds of the future!

Empowering Minds

In the heart of Australia’s Northern Territory, Fathma’s journey in education unfolds like a captivating narrative, spanning four decades and leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of learning. After graduating in 1986 from Charles Darwin University, Fathma embarked on a transformative educational odyssey.

Teaching was my calling, my passion,” she reflects. From the dusty corridors of a Darwin primary school, Fathma ascended the ranks—Assistant Principal, then Principal, navigating the diverse landscapes of urban, rural and Aboriginal-centric schools.

The seeds of leadership were sown by a perceptive mentor who saw her potential. “Leadership grows when someone believes in you,” Fathma asserts, her words reflecting the guiding philosophy that shaped her trajectory. Keenly aware of her responsibility, she fostered leadership in others, emphasizing, “Building leaders is as vital as building teachers.”

In her current role as Principal at Larrakeyah Primary School, Fathma strives to redefine education. “I aim to make a difference in students’ lives, inspire others and transform learning opportunities,” she declares. Challenging norms and thinking creatively fuels her passion for change, a journey not for the faint-hearted.

To lead is to be resilient, determined and strategic,” Fathma observes, narrating her struggle as a young leader in the face of resistance to change. Mentoring and resilience became her allies, propelling her towards effective change management—a crucial skill in her leadership arsenal.

Balancing leadership with a young family presented another challenge. “There’s never the right time,” she recalls being told. Yet, Fathma learned to seize opportunities, embrace risks and trust her instincts, illuminating a path for aspiring leaders in all industries.

Navigating the multifaceted demands of a principal’s role, Fathma emphasizes the essence of ethical leadership. Transparent decisions and clear processes are the backbone of overcoming challenges she emphasizes the importance of data and policies as unassailable pillars.

At the helm of a high-performing school, Fathma’s leadership revolves around a shared vision and empowering teachers. Inspiring and influencing others is crucial she encapsulates the essence of good leadership—where autonomy, commitment and a collective drive propel a community towards positive change.

Achievement, Respect, Responsibility

Larrakeyah Primary School is a high-performing school—a large and popular urban school of choice in Darwin city with a population of approximately 500 students. The school caters for students from Preschool to Year 6. Larrakeyah Primary is one of Darwin’s older schools, having first opened its doors in 1963.

The school is situated next to a naval military base which results in approximately one-fifth of the school’s population from defense families. The school is multicultural and one third of students have English as a second language and approximately 5% of students are Aboriginal.

The school is proud to be one of the first selected Independent Public Schools in the Northern Territory (NT) and the only NT government school accredited as a Cambridge International School. Larrakeyah Primary’s school motto ‘Pathways to Excellence,‘ reflects the school culture of high standards, high expectations and high achievement resulting from consistent national testing above the Australian mean in all areas.

The school has an excellent reputation and is known for its excellent student results and innovative programs. The school has a focus on high quality teaching and learning and the values are Achievement, Respect and Responsibility. The school’s vision is “we instill life-long learning through high standards, high expectations and high achievement.”

Fathma meticulously crafts a nurturing environment where the school’s values and vision thrive. “Clear processes for staff induction ensure understanding of school expectations and curriculum,” Fathma asserts, underscoring the importance of tailoring these processes to diverse school contexts.

In the heartbeat of the school, the vision is a living, breathing entity. “Regular reference in staff meetings ensures everyone aligns with the vision,” Fathma emphasizing how this collective understanding shapes conduct within the school environment.

A robust school culture, according to Fathma, is the essence for generational continuity and sustained excellence. High standards, expectations and achievement become the norm as staff and students rally towards established goals.

Fathma’s strategic approach extends to professional development, seamlessly aligned with the school’s plan. Knowledge and skills crucial to the organization are imparted championing internal monitoring to ensure everyone is on the same page. Collaborative workspaces and mentoring further fortify the school’s commitment to growth.

Access for All

In the realm of education, every student possesses the right to learn. Schools, under vigilant leadership, must champion inclusivity, diversity and equity. The commitment extends to whole-school programs designed for accessibility and inclusion. Teachers employ differentiation strategies to address individual learning needs fostering an environment where technology serves as a tool for personalized content access.

Innovate to Elevate

Fathma has propelled the institution to greatness through leadership and a commitment to innovation. “Good leadership is essential for continuous school improvement,” she affirms, a sentiment echoed in the school’s top 3% ranking among Australian schools.

Fathma’s impact on student learning is profound, focusing the school’s strategic plan on 21st-century teaching. Her mantra—challenge the status quo and inspire others to ‘think outside the box.’ This emphasis on innovation, encapsulated in the 4C’s (Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity), permeates the school’s pedagogy, particularly through inquiry-based learning.

The cornerstone of Fathma’s legacy lies in cultivating leaders and fostering a formidable team. Leading with a team delivers high-quality and innovative teaching programs. An innovative school culture, she believes, starts with a default of ‘Yes‘ and openness to innovative ideas. Fathma champions professional development to instil an innovative mindset, urging teachers to explore the transformative potential of technology, including AI.

Investing in teachers who embrace change is a priority, enabling them to glean insights from innovative schools globally. This commitment extends to international partnerships and conferences, enriching the school’s culture with fresh perspectives.

Fathma’s expertise extends beyond the classroom, shaping a STEAM program and pioneering initiatives like QUEST. This award-winning program connects students with industry professionals, fostering real-world learning and addressing career anxieties. The QUEST Expo showcases students’ projects emphasizing the program’s success and gaining international recognition.

The ASPIRE program—an offshoot for junior primary students exemplifies Fathma’s commitment to sustained innovation. Projects, guided by industry professionals symbolize the practical application of 21st-century skills.

Collaborative Progress

Fathma navigates key trends with precision. Adapting to technology means understanding its benefits to teaching and learning, Fathma highlights the imperative of professional development for staff, tapping into the skills of tech-savvy enthusiasts within the team.

Larrakeyah’s innovative approach extends to Focus Teams, strategically aligned with the school’s plan. Fathma emphasizes that the teachers drive change within their Focus Teams, underlining the collaborative ethos propelling progress. The Innovation and Technology Focus Team spearheads professional development, ensuring staff stays abreast of technological trends.

A second trend embraced by Fathma is the integration of STEAM subjects—Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. “We conduct our own research and develop a pedagogical framework,” Fathma explains.

Fathma’s vision extends globally, embracing education for sustainability and global citizenship. International partnerships with schools in China, Malaysia and Singapore foster real-world learning transcending borders and addressing global challenges.

Tech As a Tool

Fathma underscores the pivotal role of technology in education, emphasizing the need for school leaders to stay abreast. AI in primary schools should be teacher-managed, a tool for student benefit, Fathma acknowledges the balance between leveraging technology and maintaining teacher guidance.

In the primary school landscape, AI, embodied by tools like Chatbots, is a means to enhance learning. Teachers use Chatbots to save time and differentiate curriculum, Fathma explains highlighting the practical applications—from engaging with historical figures to streamlining administrative tasks.

However, Fathma asserts the teacher’s central role, “AI is the recipe, but the teacher is still the chef.” The human touch remains indispensable in shaping education, with AI serving as a complimentary tool.

School leaders play a crucial role in integrating technology effectively. Upskilling staff is essential outlining the importance of strategic professional development plans and collaborative staff planning to seamlessly integrate technology into curriculum delivery.

Strategic Tech Integration

Fathma recognizes the imperative of staying technologically current. A clear strategic plan aligned with budget and community expectations is essential. This emphasizes the need for systematic hardware updates, digital platform upgrades and pedagogical integration.

Fathma’s approach involves student-centricity, where listening to student voice and having students lead innovative programs takes precedence. This methodology addresses evolving learning needs and also grants students agencies in directing their learning journeys, fostering creativity and passion.

An illustrative success story emerges where students, driven by a desire to explore digital technology, identify a local issue. Fathma narrates, “They designed and built a robot to deter bats from eating mangoes, a sustainability project led by students.” This real-world problem-solving showcases the power of student-led innovation, underlining Fathma’s commitment to integrating technology seamlessly into education.

From Resistance to Recognition

Fathma delves into the challenges of transforming education, acknowledging the resistance to change. “Most people dislike changethey are comfortable in their ways and what is familiar,” she observes, encapsulating the common hesitance towards the unfamiliar.

To instigate a shift towards 21st-century learning, Fathma prioritized sharing a compelling vision. “Having a purpose and a shared vision enabled people to see that current practices did not support future-focused education,” she explains, emphasizing the importance of purpose-driven transformation. Key drivers were identified and collaborated with, while those misaligned with the vision naturally moved on.

Teachers became stakeholders in the transformation, taking ownership of redesigning pedagogy and curriculum. Celebrating success and acknowledging progress is important. Fathma recognizes the significance of fostering enthusiasm for innovative programs.

Aligning every aspect with the shared vision and pedagogical frameworks became Fathma’s strategy ensuring a concentrated focus on core objectives. “Deep engagement with all stakeholders is also important,” she adds, emphasizing the collaborative nature of effective transformation.

Navigating a system resistant to challenging the status quo posed another hurdle. Fathma’s solution involved positioning Larrakeyah Primary School as the only government school in the Northern Territory accredited as a Cambridge International School. Overcoming skepticism required raising the school’s profile and presenting undeniable data on high performance. “Being determined, innovative and transforming education became accepted and acknowledged by the education system,” Fathma shares. This highlights the success achieved through persistence and innovation.

Dedicated Development

Fathma embodies a commitment to continuous learning. “I continually learn and stay updated by being an avid reader, attending education conferences and maintaining a strong network,” she affirms, emphasizing the dynamic nature of the industry.

Fathma’s learning extends beyond local boundaries, as she actively seeks insights from successful schools nationally and internationally. “The best learning comes from other successful organizations and successful leaders,” she notes, underlining the value of cross-cultural and cross-institutional knowledge exchange.

Her commitment to professional development is evident in her attendance at NT Department of Education sessions, NT Leaders Summits and EDUTECH Asia conferences. Fathma’s role as an accredited ACER NT Lead Reviewer showcases her dedication to understanding the National School Improvement Tool for teaching and learning.

Networking plays a vital role in Fathma’s approach. Leading the Darwin City Hub and collaborating with other Principals and Cambridge International Schools enriches her perspective. “I have participated in individual Executive coaching for the past 4 years,” she states, highlighting the personal and professional growth derived from coaching sessions.

Establishing international partnerships with schools in China, Malaysia and Singapore underscores Fathma’s commitment to global education trends. “This keeps me abreast of current trends in education at a global level,” she asserts, showcasing her proactive stance in aligning Larrakeyah Primary School with cutting-edge pedagogy, STEAM initiatives and 21st-century learning.

Future-Forward Learning

Fathma envisions the future of education with increased AI integration. “Greater use of AI in curriculum tailors’ lessons to meet individual learning needs, making learning more engaging and obvious in classrooms,” she predicts.

Fathma plans to lead the charge, ensuring her school stays at the forefront of this transformative trend. “I embrace change in teaching and support teachers through resourcing and professional learning,” she asserts, emphasizing her commitment to leveraging AI for personalized and dynamic learning experiences.

Innovation Architect

Fathma foresees her future as an education advisor, guiding leaders to propel schools from ‘good to great.’ Her goal envisions schools as ‘innovative and dynamic,’ tailored to individual learners within a future-focused learning environment, aligning with evolving trends in education. This aspiration reflects Fathma’s commitment to shaping the trajectory of educational excellence beyond her current leadership role.

Future-Ready Education

Fathma imparts invaluable advice, “There is always ‘better.’” In a swiftly changing education landscape, she urges a paradigm shift, recognizing that “kids have changed.” Fathma advocates thinking differently, being innovative and challenging the status quo. “We can’t continue to teach in the same way as we did in the past 10 years,” she stresses. Her counsel emphasizes the importance of embracing innovation with purpose, cautioning against change for its own sake. “Innovation should be used to improve teaching and learning, our core business,” Fathma concludes, encapsulating a vision where education evolves in sync with the dynamic needs of students and the future.