Supporting the independent education community

Principal Focus: Sally Ruston AM

Headlines Story 2 Sally Ruston OAM 295 x 197.png

The IEU congratulates Head of Abbotsleigh Junior School Sally Ruston on her Australia Day honour.


Sally Ruston was made a member of the Order of Australia in January for significant service to primary education and professional associations.


“I’m thrilled primary education was recognised in this way,” Ruston said. “It’s not about me but the profession I’m so passionately engaged in.”


Ruston has been Head of Junior School at Abbotsleigh since 2000. Previously she worked at Newington College K-6 Preparatory School, Lindfield; she began her career at All Saints, Bathurst, in 1983. She has been an IEU member throughout her career.


“Many professions beyond education are often seen as lofty and worthy of recognition but educating young minds is my greatest joy,” Ruston said.


“As [doctor and former President of Stanford University] Ray L Wilbur said, and I totally agree, ‘The potential of a child is the most intriguing and stimulating thing in all creation’. Primary education is such a worthy and purposeful vocation.


“At the start of every year I’m filled with excitement at what we can achieve with children. Children come to us with such optimism, such energy and such naiveté. It’s really a privilege to work in this space.”


After nearly 40 years Ruston has lost none of her conviction that teachers can make a difference in children’s lives if they work with “expertise, passion and compassion”.


Ruston also values developing her colleagues, having seen its impact. “Your influence can be far reaching when you pull together a band of teachers who are equally committed to good outcomes for children and each other’s wellbeing,” she said.


As well as her principalship, Ruston has held numerous influential board positions, including Federal President of the Independent Primary Schools Heads of Australia and Chair of the Independent School Teacher Accreditation Authority. She is currently Vice President of the Australian Primary Principals Association.


Ruston said Abbotsleigh is supportive of graduates and practicum students and maintained this during lockdown.


Enabling new teachers to gain experience while matching them with mentors and wonderful programming models sets them up for success, she said.


“If you curate new teachers’ experience carefully, they too can make a difference in the lives of children,” she said.


The solution to the current teacher shortage is about retention as well as attraction, Ruston says. She was instrumental in setting up Abbotsleigh’s early learning centre in 2010 to provide teachers with a quality on-campus service. She said retention rates have improved significantly as a result.


While juggling principalship and IEU membership at times has required diplomacy, Ruston has always maintained her membership because she is committed to contributing to a “reasonable and measured” voice that speaks for teachers and support staff.


Becoming a Member of the Order of Australia is not the first time Ruston has been recognised for her service to primary education. She was The Educator’s Australian Primary Principal of the Year (non-government) in 2019; she won the Excellence in Education Award from the Australian College of Educators in 2017; and she was honoured with the John Laing Principals Award from the Principals Australia Institute in 2015. In 2021 she was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Teachers’ Guild of NSW.


COVID has delayed the presentation of Ruston’s Order of Australia honour. She’s looking forward to afternoon tea with NSW Governor Margaret Beazley later this year.


Read more from our March 2022 edition of Headlines: