Lou Dogao, Principal of Holy Family Catholic Primary School, Lindfield is retiring after 11 years of serving the community of staff, parents and students. With a life dedicated to others, he shared with us moments in his teaching journey. A time when his leadership inspired one of his students to become a teacher themselves, a fragile moment that harnessed a depth of gratitude and a moment when a parent gave a special card on the passing of his mother.
Can you tell us a little bit about what led you to choose a teaching career?
I was going to study to be a social worker and forgot that I had applied to the Catholic College of Education Castle Hill until I received an invitation to interview for a place. I went in and it just felt right.
What does School Leadership mean to you?
For me, school leadership should not be complex but it is challenging. I believe a School Leader is someone who is present in a way that says ‘I see you’ to students, staff and parents; someone who dreams big and believes ‘impossible things’; someone who listens to the parrot of purpose who is always sitting on your shoulder constantly asking you ‘why?’ and know that if you can’t provide an answer then maybe don’t do it; someone who asks the right questions; someone who realises they don’t have all the answers and that they don’t need to; someone who is led by the children and the cross on the building, they are your raison d’etre.
What does student success mean to you?
For me, a student’s success is measured by their ability to apply their learning to new situations, to contribute new ideas, dare to dream, have the confidence to pursue the dream, and the resilience to face challenges and solve problems. A growth mindset throughout life.
Who inspired your path in education and leadership?
I was first inspired by my parents, intelligent learners, one who finished primary school, one who only completed Year 4, both valued education. Later, inspiration came from a teacher, Brother Celestine, who would also become a colleague and mentor. He shared his passion for learning, literature and his depth of faith. The path to leadership came later, at a time when I was not remotely interested, a time when I was feeling very comfortable with my lot in life. I attended a series of retreats in Hay called The Journey Experience, led by a Marist Brother, Bill Tarrant. The first Journey challenged us to ‘Go out into deeper water’ and I did just that.
What is a favourite memory of your career?
There are many ‘favourite memories’ scattered throughout my career. From the gloriously glowing eyes of a Year 5 student who, having persisted over a number of voluntary lunchtime tutorials, mastered division of 5 digit numbers by 2 digits; I can still see the smile. Another was an accidental meeting with a young mother and past student while on an excursion to Canberra. She recognised me, came and said hello and proudly told me that she had gone back to university to study teaching all because I had inspired her when I taught her in Year 4 – we can and do make a difference.
What is something you learnt in your teaching journey?
I have learnt much over the years. I learnt that the opportunity to teach and work with students is a privilege and each student is a gift to be loved and nurtured. I learnt this very early in my career when late one night, alone and in pain, I emptied the desk of one of my Year 7 students who, along with her parents, was taken too soon in a tragic accident. I also learnt the importance of looking at the world through a child’s eyes. Often, at the end of the day, I would sit at a particular student’s desk, you probably know which one. I would look around and try to see the classroom through their eyes and think about what I could do to make tomorrow better, more successful for them.
How does it feel to have embedded so many years into education?
There are many feelings running through my mind when I think about the ‘so many years’. Feelings of disbelief that so many years have passed, feelings of pride, a blessed life and tiredness come to mind.
What is a moment that still makes you feel proud?
There are many moments that still make me feel proud. Those moments when, after working with a child, staff member or parent I see that they not only understand something I have shared but take that learning beyond the original intention. I remember possibly the greatest compliment I have been given in a card a parent sent me on the death of my mother. It read, ‘I never met your mother but she must have been a very special person because I have seen her work.’
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would direct my younger self to a quote that is stuck to my monitor. “And behold. I am always with you, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 Don’t sweat the small stuff and remember, you’re not on your own.
Thank you Lou for your service, your gift of leadership and for every student educated in your care. Catholic Schools Broken Bay wishes you all the best in the next chapter and that it brings many blessings.