Education first for empowering principal
LORETO College Ballarat’s longest serving principal in almost 150 years, Judith Potter has been named as an Honouree for the Zonta Ballarat’s Great Women 2021.
Widely recognised as a leader in girl’s education and an advocate for equality, Ms Potter said while she’s humbled to be acknowledged, none of her achievements were done on her own accord.
“I’m very lucky to have had a career that I have loved the area that I chose and anything that I’ve achieved has been in working in collaboration with a whole lot of people,” she said.
“I don’t think we’ve achieved equality for women yet and I don’t think women realise the amazing things they can do, so that’s how that passion in education developed over the years.
“Equality is there so people are accepted for who they are and are not ranked in different lanes, we all have different gifts and talents, and we should be celebrating that, not looking through narrow criteria, that for me is something at the heart of my passions.”
Advocating for women’s right to education from a young age, Ms Potter said much of the spark behind her hard work comes from her family.
“My original passion for education comes from my parents, I come from a large family and we were given the understanding that the legacy they could give us was our education,” she said.
“My parents were strong on the sentiment of it wasn’t about the gifts you were given but what you did with them and that if you have gifts, you have a responsibility to develop them, not only for yourself but for the good of others.
“I’m also one of the last generations who, when I had my job in high school didn’t get the same pay as the boys so that’s where some of my passion comes from.”
Over 14 years at Loreto Ballarat, Ms Potter saw campus amalgamation, inclusion of rowing, as well as the building of the Mary’s Mount Performing Arts Centre and the Mulhall Centre as well as more recent planning of a new campus.
Although Ms Potter admitted it was exciting to have a part to play in building this infrastructure, she said the most important thing for her was always opening possibilities to allow the pupils to develop and explore interests.
“Getting people to understand how amazing the people in Loreto are over the years, these are amazing girls who don’t realise how amazing they are,” she said.
“At the end of my last year at Loreto, I said to the girls don’t let the negativity of someone else diminish you and that there are enormous possibilities inside you.
“I said they should all have the courage to try things out, sometimes the thing that might not work can be a pivotal point to lead you towards what you want to do.”
In addition to her role at Loreto, Ms Potter was also awarded the Australian Council for Educational Leaders Vic Fellowship in 2016 as well as a longstanding member of The Invergowrie Foundation Council.
“The foundation that was set up with a quest for the education of girls and women across Victoria and what we can do to enhance their education opportunities,” Ms Potter said.
“We commissioned research that was undertaken by Melbourne University and Deakin University on what is currently being done at STEM particularly for females.
“Because I think the language around STEM has put some people off but it’s actually essential to know the basics to live in the world.”
Having retired from her role as principal, Ms Potter plans to continue giving back through her position of a Melbourne education board.
“I appreciate education so much so if I can give back on the board, that’s something I would be very happy to do,” she said.
“I will balance my time unfortunately due to some health issues but I’m someone that always needs a focus and something to work on, I’m not someone who can just step right back.”
When asked for some final words of inspiration, Ms Potter said it’s important for girls and women to break the trend line of gender roles and bias.
“Don’t say I have to tick off every criteria to put myself forward but to have the confidence that you will learn on the job,” she said.
“Know that the world is a better place for your involvement in it and how important you are.”