MEMBERS SPOTLIGHT: PENNY WILLOUGHBY

Say hello to Penny Willoughby, Founder behind Alatus.

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Penny was herself a gifted underachiever. After almost failing her HSC (VCE), she was convinced she wasn’t very smart. Since then, we have loved watching Penny overcome a range of obstacles, including low confidence and a tendency to perfectionism, in order to turn her experiences into a success story.

After a rewarding career in the corporate sector, Penny held a range of educational roles including classroom teacher and Vice President of the Victorian Association for Gifted and Talented Children (VAGTC).


Penny is passionate about the rights of all children - including gifted learners - to have their learning needs met, be understood and accepted for who they are. Penny has affinity with gifted children that ignites their passion for learning and enables them to achieve new heights and exceed their expectations. Her vision is to fundamentally reimagine how a school can work for the gifted child and to inspire educators around the world.

A short summary of what your business is and why you started it?

Alatus is a proposed - subject to registration by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority - new primary school, opening in 2020 in Melbourne, specialising in gifted learning. Alatus is re-imagining how school can be for gifted learners with no age-based classes, low ratios of students to mentors (teachers) and a bespoke learning program that is conceptual, purposeful, thinking-based and creative.

After working with gifted children (those with academic ability in the top 10% of their peers) for twelve years I felt compelled to do something to change their experience of school. I can’t count how many stories I’ve heard from children and their distressed parents about how frustrated they are with being bored at school, having to sit through ‘learning’ that they knew years before and not feeling accepted for who they are. The gifted child’s frustration often turns into disengagement, underachievement and self-doubt. In an alarming number of cases, children may become depressed and completely disorientated in their lives. 

I’ve always valued equality for children and for me, Alatus is about bringing equality to those children who desperately need a school that understands them.

Is there anything exciting you are working on over the next 2-3 weeks or any big wins that you would like us to highlight?

We’ve recently launched our website and social media to a heartwarming response from parents of gifted children. It’s be so affirming to hear that people are waiting for what we’re creating.

What is your biggest tip for someone starting a business?

Know that pretty much everyone who starts a business has days when they doubt they can achieve what they’ve set out to and when the big goals feel unattainable. Rather than focusing on the full scope of what you have to do, just set some achievable goals for today, keep your focus on these and celebrate the small achievements. Over time, look back at what you’ve achieved to give you courage to know you can conquer what’s still to come.

What do you find beneficial when it comes to working from a co-working space such as One Roof?

I just love everything about it! Initially One Roof was a means for me to get up and out of the isolation of working from home. But it’s become so much more than that. It’s a welcoming place to put your head down and get things done while also harbouring so much wisdom and inspiration in the amazing entrepreneurs sitting around you. It’s a safe and supportive place to discuss your goals, ask questions and express what’s on your mind. Essentially, what One Roof does the best, is let you be the person you have to be for your business.

Tell us about YOU, what do you like doing when you unplug from work?

I love creating patterns and sewing unique clothes, attending Melbourne Theatre Company shows, trying new recipes, playing slave to my cute cat (payment for which is the loveliest cuddles) and running a happiness group where we chat about things like how to manage perfectionistic tendencies. And, when I get the chance - and the water’s not too cold (yes, I’m originally from northern NSW) - windsurfing.

How can people get involved with Alatus?

To succeed, we need help to build awareness about Alatus. Anyone who would like to help could follow us on Facebook or share about Alatus with anyone who might know clever young children.

What have you found most rewarding about starting Alatus?

My answer to this is very personal. A couple of years ago I would have said I am not up to doing anything too ‘big’ because I didn’t have the confidence I could do it. The most rewarding aspect of the journey is my changing perception that I am more capable than I thought.

Life motto?

My personal manifesto for 2018:

  • I am the one who most affects my happiness

  • I am being true to myself

  • I am choosing what’s best for me

  • I am having fun

  • I am doing what I love

  • I am living inside my skin

  • I am trusting my capabilities

And finally, is there anything else you'd like to share?

It helps so much to have great support from friends and family. For example, I’m so lucky to have a talented husband who built the entire Alatus website in his spare time (it’s not even his professional training) and we get brilliant feedback about how spectacular it is.

WANT MORE OF PENNY?

Find her on Facebook here, follow her on Instagram here, or check out her website here.

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