Introducing Elise Whiley, Head of PDHPE

Head of Department and Homeroom teacher Elise Whiley is giving back to Santa Sabina in spades thanks to the education she received here which she values so highly.

An alumna of the class of 2001, the always upbeat Ms Whiley in fact owes her career as a teacher to her time at Santa where she says she ‘had such fantastic strong women teaching me, particularly in PDHPE, who encouraged me when they saw it was a passion area for me’.

She is back at Santa because of what the school meant for her and her family (her father was president of the P&F associations of both Del Monte and Santa Sabina) and the encouragement the teachers gave her to pursue her own path through life. Although we have many staff members who are alumni or descended from them, Ms Whiley is almost unique in having a Dominican nun as her forebear – her great aunt was Sr Mary Ignatius (Hegarty).

Since her Santa school days she has taught and/or run academic departments in a variety of schools – Ingleburn High School, De La Salle College, Georges River College and St Vincent’s College Potts Point. She returned to us in 2020 as our Head of Personal Development, Health and Physical Education, the study of which is compulsory up to the end of Year 10. In Years 11 and 12 there are options in the physical education area in both the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) and the HSC.

Ms Whiley studied Exercise Science initially, was momentarily tempted by Dietetics or Chinese Medicine but it was in teaching where her heart really lay.

Why is Ms Whiley such a fan of the study of PDHPE?

‘It’s a holistic subject covering all the dimensions of health including your physical health, your mental or cognitive health, your spiritual health and it’s a well-rounded subject area’, she explains.

‘One minute you’re on the field playing an invasion hockey game then the next minute you’re learning about resilience or nutrition for exercise. It’s so diverse and it’s life-long learning – everything you learn in PDHPE you’re going to be using forever’.

In addition Ms Whiley likes to role model the seeking of new challenges and the buttressing of mental health which she sees as the biggest issue facing young people in the 2020s. At school she tried almost everything, even activities which did not come easily to her. She found the challenges to be character-building and ‘that has stuck with me my whole life’.

‘I am absolutely optimistic that our students are strong young women who just need mentoring’, she says.

Currently studying the science of wellbeing in a Yale University course, Ms Whiley has learned the importance of gratitude, sleep and exercise. The short course on what makes us happy in life includes strategies to increase happiness which she has been sharing with the girls of the Secondary Campus. In Homeroom Ms Whiley has been providing students with a happiness tool for their ‘toolbox’ to help them navigate through these tricky times. At the start of each day for a week each girl individually told Ms Whiley a couple of things they were grateful for and explained why they felt that way. Each afternoon they followed up by rating their happiness at the end of the day. As the week proceeded the daily measures of happiness started to increase and Ms Whiley was thrilled to see the success of the Yale strategy.

And what is Ms Whiley’s own secret to happiness?

‘Having good relationships’ is her immediate response. And this is backed up by her self-caring habits of reading and exercise, especially yoga.