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Here’s to the educators, leaders and schools who somehow thrived in 2020

2020 will go down as one of the most disrupted and challenging years for Australian school communities.

Yet, despite the substantial pressure and constant changes many endured, some have not only survived 2020 hopefully intact, but have continued to thrive and be a beacon for what can be achieved in education.

For the first time since its inception, the annual Australian Teaching Awards utilised a virtual format this year to ensure the event would go on despite COVID-19 social distancing protocols. 

Australian School of the Year: Gawura School (St Andrew's Cathedral School), NSW

Gawura School, also referred to as St Andrew’s Cathedral School and located in the heart of Sydney, is the only 100 per cent Indigenous school in Australia. The school prides itself on affording Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students a “high-quality private school education attaining results well beyond national averages for indigenous students, and providing exceptional cultural experiences”. 

A pioneering model of Indigenous education, Gawura provides “exemplary opportunities for, and restoring the dignity of, local Aboriginal children and their families”. 

In discussing the school, one judge commented: “An innovative approach to a First Nations lead education within a mainstream system. It's great to see a greater emphasis on ensuring that the broader has a high level of respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and perspectives.”

Another said: “Terrific school ethos with strong expectations in learning evidenced by supporting data”, while another commented, “A lighthouse program in Indigenous education with wonderful almost unheard of outcomes.”

Australian School Principal of the Year: Donna Wright, Bandiana Primary School, VIC

Principal Donna Wright’s key philosophy is “to teach children to be the best version of themselves, to be empowered through self-advocacy, to empower others and to have empathy”. She leads a highly inclusive school and is known for her excellent communication, collaboration and innovation skills. 

“An exceptional leader who has undertaken further study to improve her leadership - submission provided a great deal of evidence which demonstrated the positive impact her programs are having on the school community,” one judge said in relation to Wright.

Another added: “Great results of a positive school environment. Absenteeism is well below the state benchmark. Rising NAPLAN results. Focus on teaching to the individual child. Extensive data walls. Enrolment numbers exceeding capacity.

“Professional learning plans for staff. Distributive model of leadership. Developing partnerships with Bastow Institute of Education Leadership. Mentor to beginning teachers – takes on fewer responsibilities to focus on good classroom teaching. Survey results – high level of trust at 98 per cent. 

“Has continued to upskill by undertaking a formal leadership course. Has completed several presentations in the wider community. Won the Victorian Principals award in 2019.”

Department Head of the Year: Samantha Reynolds, Saint Stephen’s College, QLD

Last year Reynolds was a finalist for the Australian Education Teacher of the Year Awards and has been the winner for the Most Significant Contribution for five years for Saint Stephen’s. 

Reynolds has been the Head of the Art and Applied Technologies and Business Departments for 10 years, and for three years she was a syllabus writer for QCAA. The remit of her responsibilities is impressive, currently managing 21 subjects spanning P-12, comprising nine staff and more than 800 students. 

“Samantha demonstrates an extraordinary level of professional commitment and expertise and has created out of the box opportunities for students as well as contributing to her discipline areas and the profession through curriculum and syllabus design and teacher education,” one of the judges said. 

Another judge praised her for being “innovative with a real-world focused approach to her students' studies”, while another said she has a “broad remit” and is “highly awarded”.

Teacher of the Year – Primary School: Carla Gagliano, Masada College, NSW

Carla Gagliano is known for being passionate about teaching and learning, as well as helping students develop their skills in critical and creative thinking. Gagliano prides herself on being a lifelong learner and engages in a wide range of professional learning experiences.

The primary school teacher is also well known to the wider educational community through conference presentations, co-authoring a book chapter and being the recipient of a professional learning scholarship.

“Carla demonstrates a deep understanding of learning and teaching, continues to engage in high level personal learning,” one of the judges said.

Another praised her “deep pedagogic understanding and practical implementation while supporting others to grow and develop”, labelling it “outstanding”. 

Teacher of the Year – Secondary School: Samantha Reynolds, Saint Stephen's College, QLD

In addition to being recognised as Department Head of the Year, Saint Stephen’s College’s Samantha Reynolds took out the Teachers Mutual Bank Teacher of the Year for Secondary School.

“Students are encouraged and empowered to be innovators through Samantha's teaching because she builds academic, technological, creative and design thinking. Samantha presents as a champion of multi-disciplinarian education and project based learning,” one judge said about her pedagogical prowess. 

Another judge praised the educator for her “innovative programs designed to engage students with a real priority to collaborate with colleagues”. 

Click here for a more comprehensive look at this year’s different categories, winners and finalists.

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