2023 Roslyn Otzen Award for Exceptional Teaching winner announced

The Alliance of Girls' Schools Australasia / 22 March 2023

The 2023 recipient of the Roslyn Otzen Award for Exceptional Teaching has been announced as Margo Shave, Secondary Teacher at St Margaret’s Anglican Girls’ School in Brisbane, for her sustained innovation and excellence in the area of celebrating First Nations culture within the school.

Margot said it was an honour to be nominated for the award.

“I was surprised and grateful to be nominated for the award by our school leadership team at the end of last year. As the 2023 Award Recipient, I am humbled to be chosen from a pool of so many worthy candidates, working in girls’ schools across Australasia. From here, I look forward to liaising with fellow teachers and hearing their stories of innovation and excellence,” said Margot.

About Margot’s work: 

After receiving a St Margaret’s Innovations Grant in 2019, Margot launched a two-year project of empowering their 22 First Nations students to explore and document stories, songs, artworks, interviews and photographs from their community and culture. The project invited students to connect with family and community and culminated in a 32-page colour magazine, Gidhal, published in the school’s 125th anniversary year in 2020. 

St Margaret’s has proudly partnered with Yalari for many years to provide a rich education to First Nations students who are integral to their school. By creating Gidhal, the school shaped its own form of Reconciliation – a coming together of stories as an expression of listening, debunking stereotypes and celebrating the unique cultures of these students.

Bolstered by the overwhelming response to the magazine from the students, their families and the broader school community, Margot launched a second project, Elder Stories ,in 2021, after receiving another Leading Innovations Award from the school. With some new First Nations students at the school, Margot again invited them to lean into a story from an elder and share a profile or interview with a parent, grandparent or community member or showcase an outstanding achievement or story of overcoming hardship. After 18-months, this venture was encapsulated in a magazine, Mulu Maguydan, published and launched in NAIDOC Week,2022.Both magazines are used across the entire school from pre-prep to year 12 and they act as a rich repository of stories and testament to their commitment to retaining and supporting First Nations knowledge of country.

Both Gidhal and Mulu Maguydan are tangible acts of Reconciliation within their school as the goal behind both projects have been to strengthen relations between Aboriginal and Torres StraitIsland people and non-Indigenous Australians through sharing knowledge. This comes from asking questions and learning about the unique community and culture of the families of their First Nations students.

In the time since Gidhal was published in October 2020, both magazines have been used across the entire school with First Nations students sharing their stories with Pre-Prep and primary classes. Articles from the magazine were incorporated into the Year 10 Religion, Values and Ethics classes. The Sociocultural Faculty was inspired by Aunty Lesley Williams’ stories in Gidhal and included several chapters of her biography, Not Just Black and White as part of their Year 10 Rights and Freedoms unit. To further increase engagement, Aunty Lesley was invited to conduct workshops with grade ten students, where she shared first-hand experience of how the lives of IndigenousAustralians were controlled by the government throughout her early life.

Since the beginning of the magazine projects, there is evidence of improved engagement from First Nations students and increasingly these students are volunteering for opportunities, regularly speaking on whole-school assemblies and proudly sharing stories of their culture with the school. One example is year ten student, Sofia Nona, who shared a traditional Torres Strait Island story at the Goodji Festival in August this year to a packed auditorium of peers.

One of the overarching goals of the magazine project was to help St Margaret’s First Nations students connect with other First Nations professionals and organisations within Brisbane. With many of their students being boarders and coming from remote communities, they aimed to initiate connections with Brisbane artists, designers, poets, writers and researchers, in turn helping their students imagine a professional life for themselves in the future.

During the creation of Gidhal, their First Nations students visited The Institute of Modern Art where they viewed an exhibition,“The Country Within” by Palawa woman Mandy Quadrio whose art practice brings forward First Nations ’histories and self-representation. They also attended a workshop at the Brisbane Institute of Art, undertaking a screen-printing workshop with artist NancyBrown, where they took away small drawstring bags–another way to explore the different methods of storytelling. 

Freelance writer and Torres Strait Island woman, Rhianna Patrick liaised with Margot on both magazines and also curated the Queensland Museum’s Torres Strait Island exhibition: Island Futures, What lies ahead for Zenadth Kesin 2021.As part of this exhibition, she invited their Torres Strait Island students to share their ideas about the future and these thoughts and ideas were incorporated into the exhibit. 

First Nations artist, Nikita Newley, was invited to be an artist-in-residence at the school during Reconciliation Week in 2021, conducting workshops with both First Nations and non-First Nations students from prep to grade 12. Another First Nations writer, Ellen van Neerven, also helped work with their students in the editing stage of their stories and interviews.

The Queensland State Library team at the Aboriginal Education Centre, Kuril Dhagun have been valuable supporters of both magazines and run researching workshops for their students.