Today, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the ACT Child Care Director of the Year, Melita Pendergast. Melita took top honours at the 2019 ACT Pedagogical Leadership Network’s Education and Care Awards.
In the first of our ‘Inspiring People’ series, we speak with Melita about her journey and the women in her life who inspired her.
What made you choose child care as a career path and become a leader in the early education and care sector?
I always knew that I wanted to work with children, even when I was at school. I started studying primary teaching at university, then in 2005 I took a bit of a break from my studies, walked into a child care centre looking for a job, and have been in the sector ever since. I now manage Communities@Work’s Abacus Child Care and Education Centre and Capital Hill Early Childhood Centre.
Were you influenced by any inspiring women in your work environment?
Absolutely! In my first child care role, I worked with the most amazing team leader, Carolyn Cousins, who’s been my mentor from the start. She taught me so much, especially the importance of professional development and continuing to learn. I wouldn’t be the educator and the leader I am today without having had Carolyn as my mentor.
What other role models in your life have inspired you to succeed?
I grew up on a farm in Tumut and my mum, Marea, is such an amazing woman. Hard working. Kind. Brave.
Her mother, Fay Alston, was the same. She ran a farm and taught herself how to read. She was feisty, while still being the most hospitable person I ever met. She was a natural with livestock and did all the jobs on the farm. Three weeks before she passed away, she was still fencing!
My dad’s mother, Neen Pendergast OAM, was also an incredibly strong woman and advocate. She sat on the local council and fought for people who couldn’t fight for themselves. She won an Order of Australia medal in 2005 for her service to the Snowy Monaro community.
While I’m not like any one of them, I have bits from all of them. I think the strength that each of them had in different ways has shaped and influenced how I approach life.
What are your strategies for success?
For me, success is about knowing I’m doing my absolute best, whatever it is. It’s about the effort I put in, not whether I do well compared to other people. You know, there are times when you’re trying your absolute best and things go completely wrong. But if you can get up and continue doing your best, then you’ve succeeded.
What inspires you to be a better you?
I thrive when I’m learning new things, reflecting on practices and thinking about ways to provide better outcomes for children. One of my personal goals is to do something each week to inspire myself. This can be reading a book or article, listening to a podcast or networking with other early childhood professionals. The more I learn, the better outcomes I can provide for children and families – this is at the heart of everything that I do.
Like my grandmother Neen, I also believe in the importance of advocacy. At Capital Hill, whenever I get to speak with politicians and ministers, I use these opportunities to advocate for the education and care sector.
I also love growing the next group of educational leaders. The more we can support educators to be better at their jobs, the better it is for the children.
How do you help your staff reach their full potential?
I did a leadership class with Caron Egle years ago – another brilliant and inspiring woman – and learnt that an important part of leadership is getting to know everyone on an individual level and recognising that everyone learns differently. So, I get to know each of my team really well. How do they respond best? What motivates them? When should I push and when not?
I also have an open-door policy, regularly share my learning with my team, and always look for innovative yet practical, hands-on learning experiences to help them become the best they can be.
What advice would you like to share with other women?
Continue to grow and to learn as you go. Every experience you have – good or bad – is an opportunity to learn something about yourself. When you can be reflective of those bad experiences, you can really learn a lot about yourself and think about how you would do things differently next time. I remember that when I’m working with children, and always remember that for myself.
Communities@Work is Canberra’s largest community organisation and provider of children’s services, with almost 4,500 children enrolled throughout its 12 child care centres, 15 before and after school care services, 12 school holiday programs, and 100 family day care educators.
For more information about Communities@Work’s extensive range of education and care and community services around Canberra, please visit commsatwork.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 6293 6500.
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