10 years on, these leaders are still learning from each other

Finance executive Kate Temby and Principal Kerrie Dowsley have been in a co-mentoring program for almost a decade.

They met when Kate was Managing Director at Goldman Sachs, a founding member of ABCN, and Kerrie was leading St Albans Secondary College, an ABCN partner school comprising 53 nationalities and where 50% of families are in the lowest socio-economic status quartile.

This year, COVID-19 disrupted their regular breakfast catch-ups, but not their strong bond.

Kate Temby and Kerrie Dowsley
Kate Temby (left) and Kerrie Dowsley are continuing their regular catch-ups during COVID-19, meeting online instead of at a cafe for the time being.



Kate Temby:

I volunteered to participate in ABCN’s Partners in Learning (PiL) program because I have a strong interest in the power of education to expand possibilities for young people. The uniqueness of PiL is it brings commercial business skills together with educational leadership.

Even before I met Kerrie, I understood the breadth of St Albans Secondary College’s challenges and achievements. My first impression of Kerrie was that she had such a huge role. I was to mentor her however there was so much to admire about her. Our relationship has been built on many years of listening and openly sharing our personal and professional experiences. Our conversations are truly collaborative.

Early on, I met with a group of senior teachers as part of a leadership development program. They were all staring at me with eyes that said, ‘What would this person [from the finance world] have to add value to our school?’ I have been in front of tough audiences before and I always look to what we have in common. Here, we were individuals coming together to try to improve an organisation and outcomes for both teachers and students.

I have been very appreciative of the openness and sharing from both Kerrie and the school. I was very privileged to be invited to be an expert advisor as part of the school’s recent four-year strategic plan. It is one of the most thorough planning processes I have been part of.

‘My Partners in Learning relationship with Kerrie has been a career highlight.’

It is so rewarding to contribute to sustainable improvements across the school. About eight years ago, Kerrie led the initiative to introduce teacher peer-to-peer reviews. We talked about the key change management principles and how Kerrie could engage her team to take on a new approach. Kerrie was very open to my suggestion of starting with a small cohort of 20 people initially to build confidence in the program. It is fantastic to see peer-to-peer reviews are now a core part of the school’s culture.

Kerrie has taught me the importance of doing small things well. Years ago, the school was focusing on student uniforms. Kerrie was clear that the power of doing this was that it showed respect for the school, which is a core value there. Just do one thing well and repeat it.

Kerrie and I usually meet one-on-one once a term over breakfast, although since COVID we have met on Zoom. Normally I also meet with her senior leadership team each term and discuss a particular area of focus. Unfortunately, due to COVID, we have not done that this year.

During the Melbourne lockdown, St Albans was in a hot spot. The school has been closed, they have had COVID cases and some staff have lost family members. Kerrie is a compassionate leader; she can rise above the noise and connect with staff, students and the community. Her superpower is her clarity. Everything she does is based on her core beliefs and values.

Kerrie has given me insight into the breadth of my own skills, validating the way I approach people management. I am now confident that my skills are portable and I have aspirations to extend my focus beyond education and finance.

My PiL relationship with Kerrie has been a career highlight. My initial ambition was to build a long-term relationship with the school. I am so fortunate that Kerrie and St Alban’s Secondary College have been so open to learning and I have helped, in a small way, to improve the outcomes for students and staff and to have developed such a deep and trusting friendship with Kerrie.

Kerrie Dowsley:

Prior to starting the mentoring program, I was nervous and unsure about being partnered with a senior business executive like Kate but also excited by the opportunity. I didn’t know what I’d have to bring that could equal the knowledge and skill base she would have. It seemed to me at that time that, culturally and organisationally, a school is so different from a corporate environment.

My first impression of Kate was that she was light and bright and open. She was relatable. I was surprised by Kate’s immediate commitment to our relationship and to a school and community of people that she had nothing to do with. She was instantly invested in such a genuine way, and this has been unwavering since that first meeting, even across significant changes for her professionally.

In one of our early team meetings with Kate, she asked us what our ‘headline achievement measures’ were. Following a brief and slightly awkward silence, she explained the importance of measuring and reporting to your community on key achievements that align with the values of the school. This is at the very heart of how Kate works; everything she does links back to her organisational and personal values. She showed us the power of communicating the connection between achievement and values.

She’s given me a different lens through which to look at our work. Prior to joining the mentoring program, our leadership team was doing a good job of the school’s strategic work, however we weren’t always intentional about tailoring communications to our audiences. Kate showed us how important stakeholder management is to the success of our work and to bringing about sustained improvement and change.

‘There are so many things I love and admire and find funny about Kate.
The fact that she went on Survivor for a start!’

Our people, whether it be staff, students or members of the community, now understand their role in the big picture and are enabled to enact the strategic vision. She challenged us to get our annual plan onto one page. The resulting document, which we call The Skinny, is a great way of summarising our key actions and success indicators for the year.

Kate’s superpower is that she connects with people in such an effortless and sincere way. There are so many things I love and admire and find funny about Kate. The fact that she went on Survivor for a start!

While I do think the mentoring is more one-sided, we are united through our commitment to education and our belief in its power as a game-changer. We are women in leadership, and this connects us and transcends any difference in our respective worlds of education and business.

In August we caught up on Zoom – it was our first catch up this year. It was great to talk to someone who could provide an outside perspective, who wasn’t experiencing the intensity of running a school through COVID-19. Kate was refreshing and reaffirming, and this conversation reminded me, again, how really fortunate I am to be in a partnership with her – it’s as deep and entrenched as it is influential.

Click here to learn more about ABCN’s Partners in Learning program.

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