Profile: Justine Mahon, Principal, St Cuthbert's College

justine mahon

You have recently moved from the Deputy Principal role to the Principal role at St Cuthbert’s – how did you find the transition?

During my time as Deputy Principal and Head of Senior School for 15 years, I managed many different areas of the College, including leading the development of our strong pastoral care programmes. The transition to Principal at the College I love so dearly has felt like a natural progression, and I am really enjoying expanding my leadership role across the Middle and Junior Schools. I particularly love spending time with our younger girls, watching them grow in confidence and resilience, and seeing their wonderful curiosity about the world.

As an Old Girl, I like to think that the College’s values of hard work, striving for excellence, leadership, and caring for others are deeply ingrained in me, and have helped guide me throughout my life.   Those values, and our motto “By Love Serve”, are at the heart of St Cuthbert’s College and play an integral role in our girls’ outstanding academic, cultural and sporting achievements. I feel very privileged to lead the College to build on that legacy of excellence, and believe those core values have never been more important as we prepare our girls to be successful in in the world.

How would you describe the School?

At St Cuthbert’s we are passionate about learning, and we encourage the girls to strive for excellence in all they do.  The College’s impressive 2017 IB results placed us as one of the top performing IB Schools in Australasia which is a fantastic achievement for both the students and their dedicated teachers.  Similarly, our NCEA results are stellar.  The College’s values, pastoral care programmes, and approach to developing the different dimensions of each girl, all play a fundamental role in our academic, cultural and sporting success.     

We believe that teaching the girls about the importance of caring for one another and supporting them to do their best without comparing themselves to others is really important to developing their self-confidence and resilience.  In my first assembly as Principal, I suggested to our girls that they imagine two flowers growing side by side – each will bloom beautifully when it is ready.  We also encourage the girls to enjoy their journey, and I often remind the girls about the continued relevance of the words of our very first Principal, Miss Isobel Macdonald, who said in 1916, “To all who come within its gates, our School should speak of friendliness and welcome and the joy of living.”

What do you aim to achieve as Principal?

My vision for St Cuthbert’s is to enable every girl to succeed and thrive in a global environment – through developing her individual strengths, challenging her thinking, and building her resilience. 

Under my leadership, this vision will drive the College’s future curriculum development and pastoral care programmes. Developing students as critical and enterprising thinkers within a global context is fundamental to enabling each girl to achieve her potential.  Students will be living in a technologically complex, fast paced global environment, and we need to ensure the education we offer responds to that.  Equipping each girl to succeed and thrive in that world is at the heart of my personal vision for a St Cuthbert’s College education.  

What attracted you to the School?

St Cuthbert’s has been a very important part of my life.  As a student it provided me with the confidence, resilience and curiosity to strive to be the very best I could be, study further and pursue a wonderfully varied career both in New Zealand and overseas.  As Principal, I am excited to have the opportunity to nurture that same confidence, resilience, compassion and desire to learn in each new generation of St Cuthbert’s girls.

Tell us about your choice of career as an educator.  Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people to set you on your way?

I have a lifelong love of learning, and education is very important to me.  Inspiring others to embrace knowledge is a highly rewarding part of an academic and teaching career.

My very first teaching job was at Rutherford High School, which was New Zealand’s largest secondary school.  The Principal of the College, Eric Clark, has greatly inspired my career in the way he was such a strong advocate for building a community around the school.

From my experiences in those early years of my teaching career, I have seen that students need to feel connected to each other, and to a community, to develop the resilience, leadership skills, and self-awareness.  That connection to their community enables students to feel a part of something greater than themselves and promotes an understanding of how they can make a difference in the world.  Connection to each other, their families, teachers, and the wider College community will continue to be an integral part of student life at St Cuthbert’s under my leadership.

Describe the pathway your career has followed.

The foundation of my career was the exploration of knowledge.   I have always been very curious and was an avid reader growing up.   I really enjoyed studying English, German, and classics.  Studying the German language was the catalyst for a second career, and I worked for a time in West Germany’s New Zealand Embassy for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

However, I missed the vibrancy of schools and returned to education teaching German, English and classics to students in schools across New Zealand, Germany and the United Kingdom. I strongly believe that for students to be successful, there needs to be a framework of care, and this belief inspired me to gain a Post Graduate Diploma of Education majoring in Counselling.

Throughout my career I have been a teacher of both teachers and students, and prior to returning to St Cuthbert’s as Deputy Principal, I was a senior lecturer at the Auckland College of Education, developing strategies to ensure teachers were fully prepared for the classroom. I have experience across the tertiary, secondary and primary sectors ranging from curriculum development to teacher mentoring and coaching, business management, and leading careers advice.  

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe in providing opportunities for people to discover where their individual strengths and passions lie and supporting them develop those strengths personally and professionally.  My leadership style is an eclectic mix of strategies, involving coaching, mentoring, consultation, and decisive decision making. 

My commitment to our talented teachers is a core part of my leadership, to ensure they continue to develop deep scholarship in their specialist areas, and have the opportunity to try new challenges, develop their areas of passion and maintain a network they can comfortably call on for support and advice.   I want all members of the College – students, staff and parents – to feel they can come to me with ideas or concerns and know they will find an open door and a Principal who will listen. 

Can you share your thoughts about independent education - in New Zealand and internationally?

I believe that it is important that our education framework provides parents with choices, enabling them to decide which type of school and environment best suits their individual child.

What encouragement would you give to parents considering a private education for their children?

Independent schools offer a more individualised approach to learning which supports each student to achieve their potential, and to discover their unique strengths and passions.