Wray Community - Gloria

Wray Community - Gloria

Driven by passion and purpose, Gloria is a special needs educator dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for individuals with special needs. Her work involves developing and implementing functional, customized programs and curricula that enable individuals with autism to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives.

It's no secret that working in the special education sector is challenging, so witnessing Gloria's dedication to working in this field for over a decade is truly inspiring. 

We find out how she has defied society's expectations by following what felt right for her until she discovered her present calling. 


You've worked for over a decade in the special education sector, can you tell us more about when you realised that your passion for the field had been ignited? 

I actually stumbled into education. Initially, my plan after graduating from James Cook University with a degree in psychology was to pursue case management or therapy work. 

However, at that time, there were no suitable positions for me, and I was offered a teaching position in a special education school instead.

The turning point for me, and what ignited my conviction to make a difference for my students happened in my first year, I had a challenging student who had frequent meltdowns.

At that time, I had not yet been formally trained and could not understand why she kept getting upset. There was one day where she was starting to show signs of escalation again and, more out of frustration more than anything, I told her that she could just tell me if she wanted something. To my surprise, she verbalised “biscuit”.

That was the first time she had expressed her needs to me. I realised there was much more to the behaviors of my students with moderate to severe needs than what appeared on the surface. This sparked my journey to make a difference in their lives by becoming someone they could trust and reach out to when in need.

You've experienced a transition from teaching to management and learned more about yourself; could you share a little more about that?

During this transition, I found myself working with newer colleagues more frequently. I've always enjoyed the casual coaching moments in the classroom, where I shared how I would teach a particular skill to a student or manage a challenging behavior. When I transitioned into a more supervisory position and formal coaching was required as part of my role, I discovered that my strength as a leader lay in providing guidance during formal coaching

Perhaps it is because it is very important to me for quality teaching to happen in the classroom. Students learn well when teachers teach well. As my portfolio continues to expand over the years, I hope that I can remember this and continue to place priority on my teachers’ development.

You work in a demanding sector with many stakeholder needs to consider. Have you ever experienced burnout or moments of overwhelming stress? How do you recognize the signs, and what steps do you take to deal with it?

I know that I am not coping with stress when I experience lengthy periods of lethargy and cognitive overload. In those situations, I need to spend time alone and have zero demands on myself. The obvious treatment is really to catch up on sleep so that my brain can recalibrate.

I am an introvert, and so being away from the outside world and retreating into my own safe haven every now and then is very important. In these instances, I may not respond to texts or calls, but that is really me prioritising myself and ensuring that I have the time I need to deal with my stressors.

How has your understanding of success evolved, and what advice would you offer to your past self about defining and pursuing success on your own terms?

I would tell myself that success is not defined by what the world says it should be, and there is no need to compare yourself to someone else who meets that criterion for being a “successful person”.

Instead, success is defined by what truly makes you happy, and that looks different for every individual.

For example, in my younger days, the traditional route for a 'smooth road to a successful life' was to be in the Express stream, go to a Junior College, and then a local university.

I never really shared this with others, but there were definitely moments where I felt inadequate that I did not meet the traditional expectations of that successful student. However, I knew that was not for me.

I am glad that, instead of pursuing what everyone else felt was the better road, I listened to myself. I developed so many life skills from studying Mass Communication in a polytechnic, and then about human behaviour from pursuing Psychology in a private university. Success to me now is to do what I am passionate about, and to do it well.

One thing that helps us to recalibrate when things get challenging is indulging in simple everyday adventures. Is there one that you indulge in?

While I am in a middle management position, I believe that my heart is still that of a teacher. Whenever I need a breather, I find myself walking to the classes and spending time with the students.

Being with them not only helps lift my spirit, but also reminds me of purpose of the work that I do e.g., developing the curriculum or other programming in the school. The classroom environment is dynamic and fun, and adds a splash of colour into the mundane day to day paperwork that I sometimes am busy with.