Principal Ashleigh Martin reflected on how each student finds their own path in life in the December 2023 edition of Labora.

A lens that drives my leadership is to never assume. There is a story behind every face, and I like to remind myself that interactions are not transactions, not to judge too quickly and to always assume best intentions. I don’t always live up to this, but when reflecting on my leadership or decision making about people, I always ask myself – do I have the complete picture?   

The importance of never assuming was ingrained in me as a Year 8 boy. I was going through a difficult period in my life and one particular evening was challenging. I was proud I got myself up and ready for school and, as I approached the gates of my school that morning, I was met by a teaching staff member who didn’t really know me.  

I realised then, that amongst all the turmoil of the night before, I’d forgotten my tie. I had my books, my bag, my blazer, I was slightly dishevelled, but I was proud of fronting up. But no tie. Without any niceties and not even a good morning, this staff member berated me for not having a tie and sent me home to retrieve it. No chance for a right of reply, no chance to tell him home isn’t a great place for me right now. Just “go home and sort yourself out”.  

It broke me in that moment. I didn’t go home that day and I didn’t go to school. I don’t know if that teacher ever realised the impact this one-off interaction had on me, however it resonated enough with me that I am sharing it decades later. If I saw him now, all I would say is “Never assume.”  

Every interaction at school matters. Teaching matters. Relationships matter. You can’t pretend if you want to be a great teacher. You have to be up for the challenge to provide discomfort for students in a safe place, stretch them, challenge them and most importantly, know them.  

You must give of yourself every day. It’s not easy and we all have to value and advocate for the work of educators. We should never take for granted at Caulfield Grammar School that we are fortunate to have teachers who understand their impact and give of themselves every day. Staff who care and go over and beyond. We all should be proud of this. You can have the facilities, the resources and the reputation but if you haven’t got the people and the connection, a school is soulless. Our staff are engaged and passionate and, as Principal, I understand everything stems from this.   

I recently caught up with a student who graduated in 2018. A privilege of my role is staying connected with past students and listening to their reflections on their time at our School. Consistently in these conversations is the theme that school was a time of many peaks and troughs; highs and lows. What struck me with this conversation was her reflection that most of her school life she was constantly torn between what others wanted for her and what she really wanted for herself. There were times of resentment and times of pressure, feeling she wasn’t meeting the expectations of her family. She spent a great deal of her school life questioning “Whose life is it really?”.   

Six years on this Grammarian now has the benefit of hindsight and perspective. She appreciates the insights of her family, their lived experience and the wisdom of her teachers at the time. She recalled that ‘embracing her people’ was fundamental to her time as a student. However, after six years she has now pursued her passion. This is great. It’s her life to live. Ruby Waddingham, our School Co-Captain at Wheelers Hill Campus, captured the moment perfectly with her words at Speech Night, “Do things you love and that make you happy”.  

I commend our Class of 2023. There is a great affinity for our Year 12 students, and we are exceptionally proud how they ended with gratitude and respect. 

Amid the celebrations and emotions of concluding their time with us, I encouraged our Year 12s to genuinely take the time to reflect. To soak it all up and not wish it away, and to leave with no regrets. I reminded them that “problems don’t age well” and if there’s something we need to resolve, it is best dealt with rather than leaving with anything unsaid.  

2023 has been another year of progress and purpose for our great School. Most importantly, it has been another year where our Caulfield Grammar School community continued to strengthen and relationships thrived. My sincere thanks. 


‘Work hard that you may rest content.’