Marion tackles another PhD rather than retire

Photo of Marion Shields

‘I suspect as a kid I had ADHD,’ says Marion Shields with a laugh. ‘All of the symptoms that I now teach my students about ADHD I possess—never shut up, butt in, can’t sit still, always jiggling, want to be up and doing, doing a thousand things at once—all that.’

This is a self-diagnosis, but there’s a lot of energy about her as she talks, and excitement, and passion, and laughter.

‘When I was a kid it was a pain because I was always in trouble at school, but now it has stood me in good stead and I will say to the students in class, “As a 71-year-old I know what I’m talking about.”’

Shields is a teacher of teachers and her room decor illustrates her work. There’s an oversized plastic M&M attached to her computer, and various children’s toys and drawings around her office. Her interests are in special education, early childhood, and training preschool teachers.

She’s into her second doctorate, a PhD about leadership in preschools. Her first, a Doctorate in Education (EdD) studied the induction of principals and the stresses placed upon them.

Marion Shields, the teacher

Born in England, Shields was 15 when her family moved to Perth, where she finished her schooling. After teacher training, she taught for a year in Perth (1964) before going to Brisbane and marrying Laurie (1966).

She lost her job at the school in Brisbane and a friend suggested she study special education. She studied at Queensland University and interviewed for a job with the Endeavour Foundation, which ran special education schools, and was accepted.

Her first day was mayhem. ‘The children had arrived and were all put in an undercover area with their bags waiting to go into classes while a teacher supervised them. It was incredible.

‘I walked in and was introduced to a teacher who was hanging on to one child by an arm, another by their hair and had a foot on another.

‘I thought to myself, Oh, my goodness, what have I done?’

She survived. But not without effort.

This was interrupted when Laurie took up a job as a pastor-pilot in Papua New Guinea. That ended in tragedy with him dying in a plane crash after 14 months. Shields returned to Brisbane with their seven-month-old daughter, Catherine.

She worked again at the Endeavour Foundation (later taken over by the government) and began to make a name for herself—as the first female principal of a Class 1 special school in Queensland.

Looking for a new challenge, she won a position in a newly created Centre for Leadership Excellence. After two-and-a-half years she became a principal again—in a large primary school across the river from Brisbane’s CBD.

At 55, she accepted a retirement package and moved to Adelaide where she taught and worked with principals while doing her first doctorate (Flinders University).

She began in the education department at Avondale College of Higher Education (south of Newcastle, NSW) in 2008.

New challenge, new emphasis

With her current PhD, Shields is attempting to understand what makes a Christian leader in Christian preschools. She’s conducting her research with the help of the leaders of four large Christian preschools in NSW—a Catholic; a Uniting Church; a Pentecostal; and a Seventh-day Adventist preschool.

‘It’s hard to initially define Christian Early Childhood leadership as anything different to excellent leadership found in any good preschool,’ she says.

Her PhD supervisor is pushing her on this because she keeps coming back to the difference being a holistic ministry of prayer, love, and a different way of looking at and relating to children, families, and staff.

Thoughts on retirement

‘The fact is that I love teaching. I love sharing. I love the spiritual side of it.’ But she will retire, she says, in a couple of years.

Shields’s advice to people planning to retire is this: ‘When you retire, don’t waste what God has given you. If you have a good brain, don’t waste it. If you have a brilliant education and you’re still with it, don’t waste it.

‘Use the talent you have, or have developed, to help other people who don’t have what you have.’

‘I don’t think I could stop work and just do nothing. I think that happens when people are in a job they don’t like. I’d suggest they get out of the job before they get to that point. Get one that is fulfilling. Go out on a high note, not on a whimper.’

It’s difficult to see Shields—ADHD or not—going out on a whimper.

You can find the full story of Marion Shields, along with that of 12 others, in Refusing to Retire. An e-book (and pdf), it’s available for only $6 and will come directly to your inbox. You can purchase it here.

Bruce Manners, author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retire.

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