Top of the class

1 July 2019
How an alumnus is inspiring students and teachers statewide
Murat Dizdar helps nurture some 800,000 students across more than 2,200 NSW schools. And it all started with a Bachelor of Education at the University of Sydney.

Murat Dizdar grew up in public housing in inner-city Glebe. The son of Turkish immigrants, he developed a prodigious work ethic. He was accepted into the selective Fort Street High School in Petersham and gained an ATAR of 99.95, making him dux of the school. With the world finally at his feet, would he study medicine or law? He enrolled in Economics/Law at the University of Sydney in 1991. But two years later, he dropped out.

The thing was, he really wanted to become a teacher. “Education transforms lives and I wanted to make a difference – a sentiment shared by teachers far and wide,” Dizdar says. “Education positively contributes to all aspects of society. Teachers have the most important job in the world – they prepare children and young people to lead rewarding lives as engaged citizens in society.” So he dropped right back in, enrolling in a Bachelor of Education (Secondary: Humanities) in 1993, majoring in economics and geography, also at Sydney.

At the University, Dizdar again took inspiration from his teachers, as well as those who had come before him. “My lecturers motivated and challenged me to do better and grow my capacity to teach,” he says. “Alumni of the University of Sydney include [Justice] Michael Kirby, [Aboriginal activist] Charles Perkins, and [poet] Les Murray – I felt I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” Dizdar says his two years of law also equipped him with vital analytical thinking skills.

After graduation, Dizdar became a social sciences teacher at Ashcroft High School, near Liverpool in Sydney’s southwest, in 1997. He was soon promoted to Head Teacher of Social Sciences. Next came Deputy Principal at Belmore Boys High. Where Dizdar really came into his own, though, was as Principal of the challenging Punchbowl Boys High and later Senior Principal of Punchbowl and Belmore Boys High Schools.

Through deep engagement with both the boys and their community, Dizdar transformed these schools, opening up a whole new world to the students. Talk about leadership for good.

Effective leaders know it isn’t the title bestowed upon them that is important but their actions to influence the school community that has a lasting impact on students.

But there was to be no resting on laurels. Seeing a pathway to improving educational outcomes for even more students, Dizdar stepped from the classroom into the department, becoming School Education Director at Granville then Regional Director of schools in south-west Sydney. Then in 2017, he became Deputy Secretary, School Operations and Performance, his current role, in which he is responsible for providing a high-quality public education for more than 800,000 students attending NSW schools. He also oversees support of 80,000 teachers and school leaders to deliver this quality education.

“It is a role that affords me the opportunity to influence and shape public education for two-thirds of the student population in NSW,” Dizdar says. 

“My current work involves leading a project to ensure every student is known, valued and cared for in our schools. The project aims to have students at the centre of all our decision making, and we collaborate to share practice that makes the biggest difference for 800,000 students across the department.”

It may seem a tall order, but Dizdar relishes the challenge. And while he may no longer be correcting homework, his feet are still firmly planted in the state’s schools. “My passion for education remains the same,” he says, and now it means regular school visits to talk with, listen to and learn from students, teachers, school leaders and support staff. “On these school visits, I am constantly inspired by our people, reminded of our impact on young lives, and afforded an opportunity to stay abreast of any issues faced by our schools so I may make timely and informed decisions,” he says.

The high school students of NSW have a champion in Dizdar, who understands the impact of their schooling on the rest of their lives. “Education positively contributes to all aspects of society,” he says. “Teachers have the most important job in the world – they prepare children and young people to lead rewarding lives as engaged citizens in society. A teacher’s impact reaches far beyond the classroom and can have a profound effect on the students they teach throughout their entire lifetime.”

Along with these estimable ideals, Dizdar offers some practical tips for aspiring teachers. “Look for opportunities to teach – it may be coaching a sporting team on the weekend or helping junior students in a particular subject,” he says. “Shadow exemplar educators to model their behaviour and practices, seek feedback at every opportunity and take on suggestions. We all need to be lifelong learners who strive to do better and be better – embrace this and you will be set on a path to becoming a great teacher.”