Public education has allowed Nina Ferguson to match her career choice to a field of professional endeavour she feels passionate about.
And her love for teaching has led her to pursue opportunities in the school administration side which were not really at the forefront of her career thoughts when she started out as a teacher.
Ferguson graduated with a teaching degree from the University of Victoria and became a middle school teacher, specializing in math and P.E.
But since moving to the Central Okanagan School District from Calgary in 2006, Ferguson saw her career interests shift in an unexpected way to the school administration side.
She took on the role of vice-principal at Okanagan Mission Secondary and KLO Middle before advancing to become the current principal of Pearson Elementary.
She credits helping to organize a district student leadership conference as the opportunity that drew her attention to a different aspect of public education.
“I always loved teaching and loved the students but that conference opened my eyes to other opportunities in the district,” Ferguson recalled.
That interest was further enhanced in 2018 when she served a one-year term as acting district principal for Indigenous education.
“Filling in that role helped me to understand distinct learning leadership and lean more into the idea of inclusive and equitable learning,” she said.
It also gives her the chance to work with assistant superintendent Terry Beaudry, a leading proponent of expanding Indigenous education in the Okanagan School District for more than 20 years, who Ferguson said is one of many positive role models on the Central Okanagan Public Schools administration team who collectively foster a positive environment to pursue leadership roles.
“I have found the school district here to be very forward-thinking and progressive and supportive. I never considered my gender to be a limiting factor. I was surrounded by leadership people who encouraged me to develop my career interest and support the education efforts of our district,” Ferguson said.
She said a career in public education is different from the business world as success is not measured in dollars and cents, profits and losses.
“It is a great privilege and a great responsibility to work in public education as I think it allows you to have an impact on society,” she explained.
“You feel really empowered by the idea we are setting conditions for young learners to thrive, to feel empowered to follow their passions and become contributors to our society.
“For students in school, it’s a very curious and engaged part of their lives. We seek to keep that fire burning for them as they grow into adults where they can thrive and become leaders for their generation.”
Ferguson shares the same attribute of many who find a match between seeking a career that lines up with what they feel passionate about – being a principal is not a job you just don’t turn off and on, clock in and clock out.
The challenges can seem constant, particularly in this COVID-19 era, but the sense of purpose behind it counter the feelings of being overwhelmed in a given day or week, she says.
She says her advice for others, men or women, wanting to follow a career path in public education is to seek out volunteer opportunities working with kids – to develop that leadership role capacity within yourself that can be transferred to the school classroom environment.
“There are amazing experiences there, to be engaged with youth, to experience what it is like to be a leader whether it is at a camp, tutoring an individual or working in a daycare program,” Ferguson said.
She adds that COVID has diminished their role somewhat of late, but volunteers in schools also remain an important supportive cog in the education system.