When Natalie (Nat) Fanariotis joined Caulfield Grammar School in late 2019 as Head of Wellbeing, the plan was to ease into cross-campus life over a couple of months. But with the rapidly changing landscape of COVID, this was quickly adapted.

“I remember having a meeting with senior leaders very early in 2020 to discuss the potential impact of the virus on learning and life within our local community,” says Nat. “At that stage, we couldn’t have imagined the challenges the virus would present. Fast forward to the present day, and we know our efforts to amplify our proactive and responsive wellbeing actions have been integral for our community.”

As Head of Wellbeing, Nat works across all campuses in partnership with pastoral and teaching and learning teams to strategically and systematically build school-wide wellbeing.

“Wellbeing has always been a priority at our School,” explains Nat. “However, COVID has prompted us to review and refine our efforts. We know that wellbeing and learning are intrinsically linked. Students with higher levels of wellbeing achieve greater academic outcomes, are more engaged in school, have increased motivation and self-efficacy, demonstrate more pro-social behaviours and form stronger relationships with others, manage periods of change and transition more easily, and experience better mental and physical health and life outcomes. When we prioritise wellbeing, we prioritise learning.”

With the ever-changing landscape, Nat has had to be adaptive and agile while simultaneously grappling with the impacts of COVID personally and upholding her professional image as Head of Wellbeing.

“COVID pushed me outside my comfort zone and into my courage zone,” she says. “I put pressure on myself to be a pillar of strength in the community and to find solutions to address the wellbeing challenges faced by staff, students and families. There was a big gap between my expectations and the reality of COVID.”

Nat shifted her focus to what was in her sphere of control and became aware of the need to set the example in a far greater and more personal way that would better serve herself and the community.

“I needed to practise more self-compassion, listen to and prioritise my needs more, and reach out to my community for support. I grew into a stronger leader, for which I am grateful.”

These opportunities to connect and learn from others, whether that be staff, students, parents or caregivers, are what Nat loves about her role.

“I have witnessed myself and others step into uncertainty with courage, determination, resilience and hope,” she says. “I am all about making an impact and empowering others to take action, and when I notice wellbeing growth in an individual, a group or a specific area of the School, it brings me so much joy.”

Prior to her role at Caulfield Grammar, Nat was the Implementation Lead for the National Mental Health in Education Initiative at Beyond Blue.

“Being part of the initial design, development and delivery of this initiative across Australia, working alongside the passionate people at Beyond Blue, and contributing to such a large scale and purposeful initiative was definitely a career highlight.”

Our School’s commitment to promoting gender equality and preventing violence against woman through the Respectful Relationships Initiative has been powerful and inspiring work for Nat especially.

“I have also been proud of the progress we have made in further embedding our Visible Wellbeing approach and our prioritisation of staff, parent and caregiver wellbeing – being able to offer targeted wellbeing education for adults within our community has been very fulfilling. We know that for our children and young people to thrive, they need to be around thriving adults.”