Director of Columba Cottage Michelle O’Brien

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Winner of the Early Childhood Director of the Year.






Michelle, you are the director at Columba Cottage. How long have you been there, and what do you love about your job?

I have been at Columba since it opened in Feb 2009, starting as an Educator in the room, then being promoted to role of Director in June 2010. Like all early childhood educators, it’s the young energetic children who make our lives exciting and give us a purpose to wake up with passion for the day ahead. Of course, this is contagious and most times, exhausting.

Everything we plan is for a reason and is delivered with energy, passion and enthusiasm. For myself and my team, no matter how tired we are at the end of the day, their hugs and love empower us to come back each day, energised and refreshed to do it all over again.

On a more personal note, as a Director I am proud of the opportunity I have been given to implement my vision and passion towards a centre of excellence for children/families and staff.

Columba Cottage has a very loyal and talented staff base, with 24 employees currently furthering their study in early childhood education. What is it that makes Columba Cottage what it is?

When employees are truly respected, appreciated and provided with great working conditions, you have outstanding individuals who surround themselves with outstanding team members. Therefore, our business has a very small turnover of staff, which leads to continuity of care. Our high functioning team members are empowered to aim for the highest qualifications possible and are supported to do this. When all stakeholders are consulted, there is a strong emphasis on collaborative processes and shared leadership.

This benefits the children and their families, as they are assured that Columba Cottage services provide the most up to date practices and truly ‘open up a world of opportunities’ for all children who attend our services. Our highly qualified educators mentor many TAFE/uni students to see and learn about our ever evolving industry and provide hands on advice in regards to the new national curriculum framework and how we implement, plan and program for this.

You recently took out the award for Early Childhood Director of the Year at the Australian Family Education and Care Awards. Tell us about your experience and the criteria involved in winning this award?

My nomination was provided by June (Educator and OSHC Co-ordinator) and was received with over 193 other Early Childhood Directors from around Australia. The judges perused all nomination submissions and from this process, selected the state finalists. Each state finalist then had to compose a submission to contribute their own perspective to the judges. After a lengthy deliberation, the state winners were announced. The prize for each state winner was a two-day, all expenses paid stay at the Shangri-la Hotel at the Rocks in Sydney. Included was a pamper hour at the spa, cocktail evening, training session and gala dinner night, and resources to the value of $450 for the centre and a personalised banner.

Before selecting the national winner, each finalist was interviewed on the first day by a panel of six judges, and the national winner was announced at the Gala Dinner the following night.

Even though I missed out on the national title, it was made quite clear that becoming a state winner was a major prize in itself – one to be very proud of. This opportunity provided great recognition and appreciation for all of my dedication to the industry and most of all, it has led to the development of some great friendships with VIC and WA Directors, which will provide further opportunities for networking together.

A week after the awards, my assistant Director Lucy and I visited the VIC centre and worked collaboratively together, sharing our innovative ideas and passion for the future. Plans have been made to exchange educators as a training tool, offering opportunities to experience other high quality childcare services and maintaining a competitive edge in the industry.

There are two other awards that you have been involved with recently, Employee of the Year here in Port Macquarie, and the North Coast Training awards held in Coffs Harbour …

I was announced the judged category winner of the Port Macquarie Employee of the Year 2012, being nominated by Lucy, my assistant director. I was required to face another panel interview for this, showcasing my unique visions and goals for the future; unfortunately, I was unable to attend, as Employee of the Year and National Director of the year coincided on the same night. I was absolutely thrilled in receiving the major prize of a trip for two to Hollywood and $1,000 spending money.

I am the proud mother of two adorable children, Samantha 16 and Thomas 13, who stated, “We are not missing out on a holiday of a lifetime”; so, with my very supportive husband, Peter, it will be a family trip in early 2013.

North Coast Training awards were held in Coffs Harbour on Friday 15 June, where we were again nominated and judged as a regional finalist for the North Coast Small Employer of the Year.

Can you tell us about all the areas of care that are on offer at Columba Cottage and how parents can enrol their children?

When I commenced my role of Director in 2010, the centre was licensed for a maximum of 79 places per day. Due to an overwhelming demand, we expanded our license to offer 90 places a day. We have successfully opened and are operating a Before/After School program and operate Vacation Care in the holidays for all children from schools in the Port Macquarie area. We are proud to announce that we are the only childcare centre in Port Macquarie currently offering Saturday care for children aged 6 weeks to 12 years. Saturdays are open to all children, even those who attend other centres during the week. To enrol your child, please phone the centre to book a personalised guided tour, and if there is availability, you will be able to secure a place or complete a waiting list form. We offer as many ‘stay and play’ opportunities for children in the two weeks prior to starting free of charge, to familiarise the child and family with the centre and most importantly to develop a bond between educators and families.

We are currently in the process of completing a submission to further extend places available at our service and offer a preschool program between the hours of 9 – 3.

What does the future hold for Columba Cottage?

We are in the process of extending our available places, another possible 48 places a day at the centre, and are looking at offering many of these places as a 9am – 3pm session that can be subsidised by both CCB & CCR, if applicable to families. We understand that there are very different family needs in our community, and we are organising our business to cater for as many of these needs as possible. In the further future, we will be offering more and varied services in the local area. For any further information, visit our website at:

This story was published in issue 80 Greater Port Macquarie Focus

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