Rhythm and resilience: A deputy principal’s inspiring journey to success

30 Mar 2023

A talented dancer and performer, Caroline Gill has had a long history with the University of Waikato, achieving multiple qualifications in sport, dance and education, which has helped shape her career.

Waikato alumna and Sacred Heart Girls' College Deputy Principal, Caroline Gill.

Currently working as Deputy Principal (DP) at Sacred Heart Girls’ College, Caroline’s story is one of perseverance, resilience and tenacity.

Caroline started at Waikato University fresh out of high school in 2003, originally hoping to go to teacher’s college.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher,” says Caroline.

When she wasn’t accepted on her initial application to study primary teaching, it was a shock, and Caroline was forced to rethink her plans. She spoke to a University study advisor, who helped her find a new direction.

“I thought, well, the best thing I can do is follow what I love and where my passions are, and I really love PE, wellbeing and health, and performing arts,” says Caroline, who was active in community theatre and as a dance teacher.

“The advisor was awesome and said, we can make that work. So I enrolled in a Bachelor of Sport and Leisure Studies majoring in Dance and Drama, and I loved it.”

Caroline was awarded a Sir Edmund Hillary Scholarship for dance, giving her financial support and mentoring during her undergraduate degree.

In her second year, Caroline had her twin daughters, Alysha and Grace. While it was a challenge keeping up with her studies as a single mum, the support of her family, classmates and teachers helped her get through.

“It was definitely busy, and very full-on, and taught me a lot about time management, perseverance and resilience. It also made me more driven to succeed. Once I had the girls I was determined to be a better version of myself, to show them the value of education.”

She recalls the kindness of one of her teachers, Dr Bevan Grant, now an emeritus professor at Waikato. She had signed up for his third-year sport and leisure studies paper, while in the early stages of her pregnancy.

“The girls weren’t supposed to be due until June, so I thought I could finish it, then I had to go on bed rest for a month with complications. I was in hospital and didn’t know how I was going to do it. Mum borrowed a laptop, and Dr Grant came and visited me in my hospital bed, and he was really cool. He went over and above, and invented the concept of hybrid learning before it was a thing.”

In 2005, she completed her Bachelor of Sport and Leisure Studies degree, then went on to do a Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Secondary) in 2006.

She was offered her first teaching job at Sacred Heart in 2007, then moved to St Peter’s School in 2008, where she taught dance and wrote new standards and resources for the New Zealand dance curriculum for the Ministry of Education and NZQA.

In 2011, she decided she wanted to do further study, so enrolled in a Postgraduate Diploma in Education, which evolved into a Master of Education degree.

With full-time work, and raising her young daughters, at times it felt overwhelming, and Caroline considered quitting. However, her teacher and thesis supervisor, Dr Anthony Fisher, encouraged her to continue.

“He really reaffirmed for me that I had the potential to be more than a classroom teacher,” says Caroline. “He gave me the confidence to believe in myself. I had applied for a number of leadership roles and been told, ‘you don’t have enough strings to your bow’. I really struggled with that, and thought what else do I need to do, but he said, ‘you have so much to offer’, and he gave me the confidence to pursue my leadership journey.”

After graduating with First Class Honours, Caroline got a teaching position at Tauranga Girls’ College, where she was offered a variety of leadership roles including dean, a leader of learning and an acting DP role.

When her girls graduated high school, Caroline took another leap, and applied for the DP role at Sacred Heart, moving from the Bay back to Hamilton in early 2022.

“I was pretty excited about coming back to ‘my place’,” says Caroline. “I love our students, and I’m really proud of our staff, and it’s great to be part of this community.

“My key projects are around teaching and learning - curriculum - which is what makes me tick. I am focused on ensuring we are preparing our students with the skills they need to succeed now and the future.”

Caroline is one of 39 current Sacred Heart staff who are alumni of Waikato University. In addition, thousands of Sacred Heart students have attended Waikato over the decades.

“There are strong connections between our school and the University of Waikato,” says Caroline.

Reflecting on her career and study journey, Caroline says there are many paths to take to leadership and success.

“My advice for students is to be prepared that there could be bumps in the road. And if you are really super keen on something, don’t be afraid to keep trying and persevere.”

She also emphasises the importance of family support while studying. Caroline says she couldn’t have completed her studies without the support of her mum, Mary Anne, and siblings.

Waikato University is a family affair for the Gill whānau. Caroline’s uncle Paul Field graduated with a Bachelor of Social Sciences in 1975, her brother James Gill, a former New Zealand representative golfer and banker based in Hong Kong graduated from the Waikato Management School in 2006, and her daughter Alysha is currently studying a Bachelor of Business Studies and is a recipient of the Te Paewai O Rangi scholarship.

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