Outstanding teachers honoured with national awards

Two NSW public school teachers have been honoured with prestigious teaching awards.

A man playing basketball and a woman leaning on a railing. A man playing basketball and a woman leaning on a railing.
Image: Left: Joshua Barden applied to go bush to break the cycle of student disadvantage. Right: Lien Chai’s play-based curriculum has improved students’ literacy and numeracy. Photos: Australian Schools Plus.

Lien Chai last night accepted her second award within a week as the Lansvale Public School educator was named one of 12 outstanding teachers in Australia at the Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards.

Joining Ms Chai on stage at Parliament House in Canberra was Emmaville Central School teacher Joshua Barden, one of 10 educators to receive an Early Career Teaching Award.

The awards presented by Schools Plus and co-hosted by Federal Education Minister Jason Clare reward inspiring educators for their innovation and commitment to their students’ education.

Lansvale Public School principal Laura Karam said Mrs Chai’s award brought pride and honour to the school community.

“Lien’s outstanding leadership, commitment to student success, and dedication to fostering a diverse and inclusive school community make her an exemplary educator,” she said.

Rosemary Conn, Schools Plus Chief Executive Officer, said the recipients were change-makers shaping opportunities for children, young people and society.

“These exceptional educators embody the spirit of innovation, empowerment, and nurturing that raises the bar in education,” she said.

Nathan Barker, Head of Community Investment for the Commonwealth Bank, said the awards recognised the impact educators have on their students and school communities.

The teaching fellowships provide $40,000 for teachers to undertake a strategic school project and a professional learning program. The Early Career Teacher scholarships are valued at $10,000 for professional development and mentoring.

Positive bush culture

Joshua Barden has used his “infectious positivity and dedication to his professional development” to focus on developing optimism among his students from low socioeconomic backgrounds through creative classroom initiatives.

“Joshua strongly believes all children should have access to a high-quality education and specifically applied for a rural position to make an impact on the lives of young people and potentially break, what is for some, generations of disadvantage,” his award citation said.

On the ‘Love Where You Live’ wall in his classroom, students place images about what they enjoy about their community to foster greater pride in the region.

Mr Barden has created new units of work relevant to students’ interests and challenges they are likely to face, with an emphasis on a life that is happier, healthier and more financially stable.

The students at the northern tablelands school on Ngoorabul Country studied health issues in their area, explored post-school employment opportunities, and built links with the community, including an after-school Rural Fire Service cadet program.

For his ongoing professional development, Mr Barden is involved with the Rural Learning Exchange in online lessons and the sharing of resources with other teachers in rural and remote schools.

Play-based curriculum

Lien Chai received her teaching fellowship for her work developing a play-based curriculum at Lansvale Public School, where 94 per cent of students are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Mrs Chai, a preschool teacher and Assistant Principal, created the curriculum to support vocabulary acquisition and numeracy skills.

She worked with community language teachers to explicitly teach the children words in their home language, ensuring that families reinforced the learning in the home environment.

The program at Lansvale Public School on Darug Country in western Sydney recognised the deficit in English vocabulary knowledge that low income and non-English speaking families may have.

Mrs Chai focused on teaching tier 2 (sophisticated language) words through play-based experiences.

“As a result of Lien’s work, the children have become more word-conscious learners and now use more complex vocabulary to communicate,” her award citation said.

In numeracy, Mrs Chai shared research with her colleagues, planned professional learning sessions and demonstrated lessons to build maths skills through play.

“This is clearly evidenced in data, with the 2021 Kindergarten Best Start results showing a jump from 36 per cent of the cohort able to produce a rote count from 10, up to 75 per cent in 2022,” her citation said.

Last week, Mrs Chai received a Minister’s Award for Excellence in Teaching for her pivotal role in Lansvale Public School being twice awarded an ‘Excellent’ rating by the Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority – the first NSW Department of Education preschool to receive this rating and the only one to receive it twice.

  • The Commonwealth Banking Awards were launched in 2016 to recognise and reward 12 outstanding teachers and school leaders across Australia, with 10 Early Career Teaching Scholarships for teachers with less than five years in the profession introduced in 2022.

  • Schools Plus is a national non-profit organisation that partners with schools, governments, education departments and philanthropists to deliver initiatives and resources.

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