CECGA administrators reflect on their career journey for International Women’s Day

·7 min read

GUYSBOROUGH – International Women’s Day (IWD) is Monday, March 8. This global day of celebration honours the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and promotes gender parity.

In Guysborough County, there are many women to celebrate – from small business owners, front-line workers, women in trades, to stay-at-home mothers and many more.

In this year of pandemic, one line of work most parents have come to appreciate, perhaps more than ever, is the role of educator. This year The Journal is highlighting the women leading the team at Chedabucto Education Centre /Guysborough Academy (CECGA): Principal Barbara Avery and Vice Principle Tera Dorrington.

What follows is an online interview with Avery and Dorrington discussing their careers and the importance of female role models.

Journal: What is your position and how long have you been in that position?

Avery: I have been in administration at CECGA for a little over eight years, six of those as a Principal. I grew up and attended school here in Guysborough and feel very fortunate to have been able to return and give back to this school community.

Dorrington: My current position at Chedabucto Education Centre/Guysborough Academy is Vice Principal. I have been in this role for almost six years. My first two years in this position was at SAERC in Port Hawkesbury, and I was here at CECGA for almost four years. I am grateful to be able to return to my old school and community.

Journal: Who were your role models in the field of education – and in life in general?

Avery: As I look back and reflect on my educational journey, there are many people who supported me along the way. First and foremost were my parents. They taught me the importance of hard work and perseverance and to take pride in everything I did – no matter how big or small – and to always believe in myself. They were strong believers that our experiences help shape who we become so I was always actively involved both in school and community.

I was also blessed with many great teachers and administrators throughout my public education who lent a hand in inspiring me to be an educator myself. When I was a student there were not as many women in secondary education, but those who were made a big impact. I was fortunate to have women role models as teachers and administrators and now as colleagues. I also feel that the male teachers and administrators I had also encouraged me in my pursuit in the Math and Science field and continue to feel supported by my male colleagues.

Dorrington: I am surrounded by so many positive and inspiring people, which granted me many role models. I am lucky to work beside such an amazing and dedicated principal every day. Barbara is full of knowledge. If I ever need advice or guidance, she is my ‘right-hand woman.’

There are also some hard working, successful men and women who work behind the scenes at the senior administration level and, as busy as they are, they always find time to mentor and support me. I have so many colleagues with such a wealth of expertise and experience and they inspire me each day.

During my time at StFX, I had two professors who encouraged and inspired me. Dr. Agnes Calliste and Dr. Ottilia Chareka were both such positive influences. Although they have both passed away, I often reflect on their words of encouragement and the life lessons they taught me. I even dedicated my mEd thesis to Ottilia! I can’t forget my parents. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their sacrifices, encouragement and ongoing support. They taught me the importance of hard work, perseverance and resilience.

Journal: What did you want to be when you were a child? Did you see women in those roles? Or in the role you currently hold?

Dorrington: When I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher. I loved playing school with my dolls and mini chalkboard. In high school, I had Angela MacKeen as an English teacher (who also happens to be Barbara’s sister). Angela always seemed to be having so much fun as she taught English, especially Shakespeare, that I decided I wanted to be an English teacher too! In my grade 12 year, Elizabeth Teasdale was the principal, but there were only three female high school teachers that I can recall.

Journal: Ms. Dorrington, how has being a mother impacted your career trajectory?

Dorrington: Being a mother has impacted my career trajectory in a positive way. It pushes me to reach my goals. I have two daughters who are watching and learning from me. I am modelling the value of the importance of hard work. As I continue my own education, I hope that it shows them that there will always be new things to learn. I want them to know that their possibilities are endless and grow up be strong and independent women. I hope that I am a role model for them.

Journal: What impact do you think it has on students and colleagues to see two women in the top positions at the school?

Dorrington: I think that having two females in our role, shows promise. It shows that success can be achieved regardless of your gender, race or the community you’re from. It shows that barriers can be broken. I hope it encourages them to achieve their own dreams, no matter what they are. It’s not about being at the top, it’s about doing something that you love.

Journal: Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to women considering pursuing top level positions in your field?

Dorrington: The advice I would give to women considering pursuing top level positions in our field would be to remember that a school would not be successful without the teachers, TAs, guidance counsellors, support staff and students. Treat them well. Also, make sure you eat a good breakfast, get plenty of rest and wear comfy shoes. It is a rewarding job. Like all professions, make sure it is something that you love, and it won’t feel like work.

Journal: How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?

Dorrington: It is very important for women to lift one another up, and we need to raise our children to do the same. As women, we need to clap and cheer for each other. We need to empower each other. Take advantage of programs such as Techsploration and get involved in your community. A message I would send out to young women about pursing their careers is to set your goals high and don’t stop until you get there. Work hard and never give up. Don’t compare yourself to others, embrace your own strengths. Most importantly, always look a challenge in the eye and give it a wink.

Avery: I am pleased to see advancements being made in public education since I attended in supporting and providing women the opportunity to explore under-represented careers by offering programs such as Techsploration in schools. The Techsploration program helps to inspire women to explore careers in Science, Trades, Engineering and Technology; through engagement with female role models, students learn about these careers while participating in hands-on workshops.

Journal: This year’s IWD campaign theme: #ChooseToChallenge; could you comment on that?

Dorrington: In regard to this year’s IWD theme, let’s remember that challenge means change. As we are raising our daughters to be strong and independent women, we also need to raise our sons to be allies as we strive for a world of inclusion and equality.

Journal: On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?

Avery: My message to all students is not to be scared to be a self-promoter; celebrate your successes and make your own way in this world by following your passion.

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal