Principal vying for excellence award after turning Ashwood High School from zero to hero
- There are 39 inspirational teachers, principals, business managers and support staff who are finalists in the 2022 Victorian Education Excellence Awards.
- New research from Monash University has found there is something to be learned from teachers who excelled during the pandemic.
- If teachers work in supportive teams, and collaborate on lesson plans and teaching methods, they are less likely to burn out, says education expert Professor Umesh Sharma.
- The Victorian Education Excellence Awards will be announced on October 21.
How do you turn a failing school facing closure into one of the top 10 state schools in Victoria?
Ashwood High School principal Brett Moore would know. He was placed as an executive principal in 2015. The school had 22 students in year 7. Now it has 220.
“I saw so much potential in the place,” he said.
Ashwood High School principal Brett Moore.
Moore developed a “path forward”, changed the name of the school, introduced an accelerated academic program, and met everyone in the school community, from the canteen workers to the cleaners, and people from the feeder primary schools.
He is one of 39 inspirational teachers, principals, business managers and support staff who are finalists in the 2022 Victorian Education Excellence Awards.
Moore, who is part of The Q project at Monash University, which assesses evidence and research to inform teaching to improve student learning and wellbeing, said the school anchored its strategies on results.
Those strategies include students having access to what they will be learning the day before class, and setting their own personal learning goals before every class, as well as teachers implementing “multiple exposures”, where teachers provide different samples of what they are expecting, giving the student an understanding of how to apply the knowledge.
“It’s sophisticated, but that’s what teaching is. It may look easy, but it’s not. That’s how you get those results,” he said.
In 2021, amid repeated lockdowns in Melbourne, the school’s median VCE study score was 33. Where in previous years, results had been below average, the school has put its academic performance on par with many high-fee private schools.
“I’m there for all students,” Moore said. “You have to move the top, reduce the tail. You have to add value for every student in the school.”
This year’s awards finalists reflect how teachers have risen to the challenge during lockdowns and with ongoing teacher shortages to ensure their students thrived.
Drama teacher Andrew Byrne has been nominated for a teaching excellence award.Credit:Simon Schluter
Prahran High School drama and theatre teacher Andrew Byrne is also a finalist for outstanding secondary teacher and managed to conduct rehearsals throughout COVID-19 lockdowns for the school’s first-ever production. He involved more than 100 students, nearly a third of the school, in the production.
The passionate teacher also helped the school on its reconciliation journey.
Outside of school, Byrne is the president of Drama Victoria and is on the board of Drama Australia. He had to adapt quickly to cater to teaching online.
“I struggled and kids struggled [during COVID-19],” he said.
Every Wednesday, he ran online rehearsals for the production. He said he felt supported by his school, which valued the arts.
“I love it. I love working with kids. It’s the most rewarding experience. It’s just the best.”
New research from Monash University, which involved a survey of five teachers, found there was something to be learned from teachers who had excelled during the pandemic.
Professor Umesh Sharma, lead author of the study, In any crisis there is an opportunity for us to learn something new: Australian teacher experiences during COVID‑19, said despite the unique obstacles, teachers had a “few in-built characteristics” to help them through difficult times, but they needed great institutions to succeed.
“If they aren’t working in great schools, they are going to have difficulties.”
Sharma said if teachers worked in supportive teams, and collaborated on lesson plans and teaching methods, they were less likely to burn out.
He said teachers needed to feel empowered, to have a supportive leadership and to have autonomy.
“We need to acknowledge it was a difficult time,” Sharma said. “We are saying how, if we support teachers going through a difficult time, they can work with families and make learning fun.”
Moore says he’s extremely proud to be a finalist among the best teachers in Victoria. He’s been teaching since 1984 when he started at Sunshine West High School, and worked in Indigenous education in Arnhem Land for six years.
“I’m open to learning myself. I’m committed to quality public education and then to be acknowledged like that, I was extremely humbled. How could I not be?”
The Victorian Education Excellence Awards will be announced on October 21.
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