Top-class teachers shine at national awards

Four NSW public school educators have won a prestigious award for their inspiring leadership and commitment to students.

19 March 2021
A teacher stands in a corridor with students out of focus behind her
Image: Jennifer Parrett: Improving outcomes for rural students.

A creative response to COVID, an emphasis on wellbeing, the search for inspiration underwater and a passion for professional learning have helped four NSW educators secure one of the nation’s most prestigious teaching awards.

The four NSW public school teachers, among 12 people recognised today at the Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards, are:

  • Jennifer Parrett, Principal James Fallon High School, Albury
  • Lloyd Godson, Teacher Hastings Secondary College Westport Campus, Port Macquarie
  • Rebecca West, Deputy Principal Instructional Leader Bonnyrigg Public School, Sydney
  • Paul Taylor, Principal Banora Point Public School.

NSW Department of Education Secretary Mark Scott congratulated the recipients on the awards.

“The teaching awards highlight some of the outstanding teaching and leadership in our schools,” he said.

“This award provides a great opportunity for our educators and their schools to further develop their inspiring approaches and make a difference in the lives of their students.

“It is inspiring that three of our four winners are working in regional centres – reflecting our commitment that quality teaching and leadership happens in every public school across the State.”

Each recipient will receive a $45,000 fellowship including $25,000 to rollout a strategic project in their school, $10,000 towards professional development and a group study tour to high performing schools.

Jennifer Parrett - supporting student wellbeing

James Fallon High School is a microcosm of Australia’s migration history. Alongside a growing number of First Nations students in rural Albury in southern NSW are the children of successive waves of migration from Europe and central, south-east and south Asia.

Increasingly, they are being joined by new arrivals from conflict-ridden regions in Africa and the Middle East, often via years in a refugee camp.

The demographic shift, said principal Jennifer Parrett, “has challenged the school community, and I have responded by initiating changes to support student wellbeing and engagement first and foremost, with standardised measures to follow”.

Her emphasis on mental health includes putting all 60 teachers through training in trauma-informed practice, to help them understand how traumatic experiences can lead to behavioural issues, and to learn strategies to support students without escalating their distress.

Ms Parrett is now commissioning a Wellbeing Hub, with low-key meeting rooms and time-out spaces where students can decompress without getting a suspension.

Her motivation is straightforward: “I have made a lifelong career of improving the learning and life outcomes of rural students, especially those who need more support than others, and I am committed to creating equity for our young people.”

Two men crouched down on a jetty with electrical equipment.
Image: Lloyd Godson: Sharing his love of the ocean with students.

Lloyd Godson - career changer is changing lives

Being a teacher was not in Lloyd Godson’s life plan, but he could not be happier about the mid-life career change.

Working with the likes of the Australian Geographic Society, and Dr Bob Ballard, who located the Titanic, Mr Godson was an adventurer known for combining physical challenges such as living underwater with scientific exploration.

Now a Science, STEM and Marine Studies teacher at Hastings Secondary College in Port Macquarie, NSW, Mr Godson runs scientific excursions to the Great Barrier Reef, and guides student underwater robotics teams to win international competitions.

He has also established a social business enterprise with his students - an on-site recycling project ‘Precious Plastics’, where plastic waste is converted into usable products that his students design and sell.

Mr Godson said he was “shocked” by his award.

“I had it in the back of my mind as a career goal and something to work towards. The opportunities it provides to me, my school and my students is absolutely incredible. I'm very humbled to be in such extraordinary company,” he said.

Mr Godson said his move across to teaching had been inspired by teachers and educators he had met in his former career. “What I've learnt [from them] is that creativity, passion and enthusiasm go a long way when trying to engage young people,” he said.

“I think a lot of people around my age are looking for more meaning and purpose in their job. Teaching is a tough gig for sure, but every now and then the students remind you that you are making a difference in their lives and that is really rewarding and powerful.”

A teacher at a table with two students
Image: Rebecca West: Eager to share with other schools.

Rebecca West - learning through a pandemic

When the COVID pandemic hit, Rebecca West was determined students at Bonnyrigg Public School would not suffer.

During the period of remote learning, and armed with her individual knowledge of each of the school’s 300 students, the Deputy Principal: Instructional Leader swung into action with modified programs for the most vulnerable, and extra resources and guidance for their families.

Then she created a series of handwriting videos to add to her popular Clever Pickles YouTube primary education series, some of which have more than 100,000 views.

The work was part of the school’s commitment to ensure no student fell through the cracks and was rewarded with the students’ academic performance remaining consistent despite the time away from the classroom.

Ms West said she was very excited by today’s award and “felt such gratitude at receiving this high recognition”.

With the fellowship funding, Ms West is eager to share the learnings at Bonnyrigg Public with others.

“We would like to forge some strong connections with schools near and far so that we can build a supportive professional learning network together and also create connections for our students with other schools,” she said.

A man in the foreground with children talking in an out of focus background
Image: Paul Taylor: Committed to professional learning.

Paul Taylor - a lifelong learner

As principal of Banora Point Public School, Paul Taylor likes to emphasise the importance of working together.

“I am accepting the award on behalf of an amazing team at Banora Point Public School,” he said. “This award is recognition of the effort and commitment of a teaching team who are deeply committed to children and learning.”

That focus on others is not surprising given his career-long commitment to improving teachers’ practice through professional learning.

He has made it his mission to bring international educational leaders to NSW, to meet local teachers face-to-face in a long-running series of conferences intended to inspire positive changes in teaching techniques, aligned to student needs and demographics.

The wildly popular iOnTheFuture events, which include practical masterclasses, allow Australian educators to learn directly from pioneers and experts, and explore how they might deploy or modify the techniques in their own classrooms.

Mr Taylor is motivated by “deep personal commitment to drive my own professional learning” and to inspire others to expand their teaching toolkit.

The effectiveness of these evidence-based approaches has been demonstrated at Banora Point Public School on the NSW North Coast. Progress in the school’s reading performance has steamed ahead in recent years - moving the large primary school from well below the state average reading growth to significantly exceeding it.

Mr Taylor said the award would help embed a new project centred on school culture that develops connectedness, belonging, equity and voice throughout all classrooms.

“We want all of our children to feel they matter and have something to contribute,” he said.

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