16 September 2022

Canberra primary school principal leading the way in support of children and their families

| Kelly White
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Man reading a picture book to a child.

Principal of Evatt Primary School, Michael Hatswell, reads to a student in the school’s Nest Café. Photo: Evatt Primary School.

A school is more than a building – an education, more than the grades on a report card. For many children and their families, school is a welcoming space where they can feel safe.

At Evatt Primary School, wrap-around support for children and their families is the priority. The school’s educators and support staff, led by principal Michael Hatswell, have created a thriving culture for children of all abilities and their families.

“A child’s family and parents are a huge part of their journey in terms of their academic and social growth, and the way they navigate through society and life,” Michael says.

“We’ve got amazing teachers and support staff, who go above and beyond in the work they do to support the kids and their families.”

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The team at Evatt Primary has pioneered a range of award-winning initiatives, such as The Nest Café, a small storage space that – in partnership with the Parents and Citizens Association – has been transformed into an inviting, fully functional café where parents can read with their children before school. The school’s partnership with Abilities Unlimited Australia was recognised with the Outstanding Partnership of the Year Award at the 2021 ACT Public Education Awards.

“We want to provide the very best education and opportunity we can for every child, every day,” Michael says.

“It doesn’t matter how you present at school, whether you’ve got additional needs or you’re a neurotypical kid – we want you to love learning. We want you to love coming to school. We want you to feel safe and happy every day.”

Parent reading to child in a busy cafe.

The Nest Café is an inviting, fully functional space where parents can read with their children before school. Photo: Evatt Primary School.

Michael grew up with a sister with additional needs in Orange, in the NSW central west. He understands the experience of people living with disability, and the role families play in supporting their loved one.

“My sibling has high complex additional needs. She’s a beautiful human being who I very much still heavily support with her disability journey — and that’s formed a lot of my values and beliefs around the work our team does at the school,” Michael says.

“Orange was a great place to grow up, it gave me everything a kid could want, great schooling and extra curriculars —my big things as a kid were music and sport.”

Throughout high school, Michael had the opportunity to work with primary school children teaching music. He credits this, and his teachers, with inspiring him to pursue a career in education.

“I found a real joy in seeing them grow and develop,” he says.

“I also had some amazing teachers throughout school, some of whom have shaped the person I am today.

“The principal of Orange High School at the time was someone all the students and teachers looked up to and respected. I certainly, where possible, have stayed in touch over the years.”

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After graduating high school, Michael moved to the ACT to pursue a Bachelor of Education at the University of Canberra (UC).

“The teaching degree at UC gave us a great balance between theory and on-the-ground experience in schools, learning alongside a classroom teacher and within a classroom.

“We had some fantastic lecturers, tutors and professionals who have led the way in their field.”

Michael gratefully took up an opportunity to study a Masters qualification at the University of Canberra through a scholarship provided by the ACT Education Directorate. It married his two interests – inclusivity and education.

“I learned a lot, not only from the courses and tutors, but from the peers I studied with – some have also gone on to be principals in our system.

“In the last 18 years I’ve worked in education, there’s been a huge shift and a real focus on inclusion, equity and quality.”

For Michael and the team at Evatt Primary School, there’s no shortage of time and effort they’ll put into their work.

“Our teachers are phenomenal – they are able to navigate so many complexities and still provide an amazing education and a range of opportunities for all their kids,” Michael says.

“We’re really proud of what we do. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re really excited about the journey ahead.”

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