Top teachers awarded for educational excellence

NSW public school teachers were among the winners of the 2023 National Excellence in Teaching Awards.

A group of people standing in front of a banner. A group of people standing in front of a banner.
Image: The winners of the 2023 National Excellence in Teaching Awards. Carley Bugeja is fifth from right, Alison Forthuber third from right and Rachel Arner second from right.

Three NSW public school teachers have been recognised at the 2023 National Excellence in Teaching Awards.

Bellambi Public School Principal Alison Forthuber, Warilla North Public School Acting Principal Rachel Arner and Willmot Public School Principal Carley Bugeja were among 14 educators recognised from Australia and New Zealand.

The awards program was started by the NEiTA Foundation in 1994 supported by Futurity, to honour exemplary teaching across the two countries.

Ms Bugeja has been principal of Willmot Public in Sydney’s west for nearly a decade.

​She is responsible for 186 students in a community where challenges, complexity and disadvantage are experienced by many.

“When I arrived at Willmot Public, I had never worked in a disadvantaged community and knew little of the lifelong impact adverse childhood experiences can have on students,” Ms Bugeja said.

“It was evident early that mainstream approaches to managing and supporting challenging behaviour were not working, and so began my education about developmental trauma and trauma informed practice.

“Fast forward eight years and I am so proud of what we have achieved as a school.

“We are considered a lighthouse school for inclusion and trauma-responsive schooling. Our students are taught about the brain and strategies for self-regulation. I have led the shift from punishment and consequences, to helping and teaching lagging skills.”

Nearly half of the school’s students identify as Aboriginal and Ms Bugeja has worked hard to implement a culturally safe and nurturing environment, including through the creation of a Yarning Circle.

“Yarning is an informal conversation that is culturally friendly. Yarning Circles are designed to allow all students to have their say in a safe space without judgement,” she said.

Bellambi Public Principal Alison Forthuber was recognised for her work to strengthen and build on her school’s relationship with The Smith Family.

Ms Forthuber ensures the charity has regular office space to use weekly to meet with families and support the implementation of programs within the school community.

“My role is to ensure that this community here can rely and trust the school to support them and to support their kids,” she told the Illawarra Mercury.

“Every child is entitled to a high-quality education. It’s our moral imperative ... as public school principals to ensure that there’s that equity of access to make sure that our kids leave school literate, numerate and aspirational to go on and lead fulfilling lives.”

Rachel Arner from Warilla North Public was also recognised for her school’s partnership with The Smith Family, which includes working with the charity’s Learning Club and supporting the 28 student recipients of the Learning for Life Scholarship.

One of the top initiatives she helped pioneer was improving school attendance on Fridays by organising sports and special activities.

Ms Arner went to Warilla North Public as a child with her two brothers. Her mum still lives in the area and attends school events.

“It’s a lovely little community and because we’ve always been entrenched in it, it’s really nice to have that familiarity with the kids and with the families,” she told the Mercury.

For more information about the 2023 National Excellence in Teaching Awards, visit the website.

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