Winners applauded – Roslyn Otzen Award for Exceptional Teaching

Alliance of Girls' Schools Australasia / 15 March 2021

In 2019 the Alliance created the Roslyn Otzen Award for Exceptional Teaching, to recognise the outstanding work of teachers in girls’ schools across our membership.

Named in honour of Dr Roslyn Otzen, Alliance co-founder and advocate for girls’ schools, the award not only honours exceptional teaching practice, but also serves as a means for all teachers to share best practice and to understand new and innovative teaching approaches.

After the previous award ceremony was cancelled due to COVID-19, we finally had an opportunity to acknowledge the awardees for 2019, 2020 and 2021 at our recent International Women’s Day luncheon in Brisbane. Coincidentally all three recipients are from Queensland schools.

2019 – Read like a girl: revitalising reading
Helen Stower – Programme Leader, Information Services & iCentre – Mount Alvernia College

As a teacher librarian in a girls’ secondary college, bringing literature into the life of teenage girls is one of Helen’s ultimate goals.

At the conclusion of 2014, Helen was successful in an application to lead the school library at Mount Alvernia College when she was appointed as the Program Leaader of the iCentre. When she stepped into the role, Helen inherited a beautiful, well-managed and well-resourced library. However, the place for literature is not on a bookshelf. Even the most powerful of books cannot change lives if they are not read. Connecting young people with literature requires action. The College Leadership Team challenged Helen to move beyond a management role and to lead in a way that would build a reading culture throughout the school community and ultimately contribute to improved learning outcomes for students.

Helen recognised this would be a significant challenge given social trends in Australia that contribute to decreasing reading rates among adolescents in general and adolescent girls in particular. Helen embarked on a strategic approach to establish such a culture and through research and action has developed a reading community at Mount Alvernia College that has ultimately changed classroom practice, extra-curricular offerings and community engagement.

2020 – Student Voice – Developing a Student Leadership Program
Ann Brownlie – Head of Faculty – Health & PE and Teacher in Charge Student Leadership at St Ursula’s College, Toowoomba

Central to the effectiveness of student leadership is the role of the principal in developing a school culture that respects the student voice and facilitates the student voice to be heard. Students must be prepared effectively to take on leadership roles and to this end, Ann was appointed to take on an additional role created to be responsible for the development of a school wide leadership program to be known as the ASPIRE Program developing leadership skills for all students from Years 7-12. This position provided Ann with the opportunities to lead and collaborate with students and staff to propose a new program to enhance school engagement at a student level. Similarly, the position enabled Ann to improve communication methods and processes, to plan and effect a change at the College.

Much has been achieved in the ten months since the inception of the ASPIRE Program. Throughout the review of practices and development of a refreshed leadership program, student voice was more than a source of data. Rather, it was positioned to where there is “shared decision making and implementation of action”, a key component of the College Wellbeing Framework. There will be a significant shift in mindset of many stakeholders, from one where students are in a managerial role of orchestrating and organising student events, to one where they will be playing an active role in leading and contributing to the strategic goals of school improvement.

2021 – Advocating for student-centred decision making and professional support
Janelle O’Neill – Director of Professional Learning at Mt St Michael’s College

Janelle commenced at Mt St Michael’s College in 2011 as Head of Department Mathematics with the mantra, ‘maths is for everyone’. As an advocate for student-based decisions in the preceding co-educational environments, she adapted her philosophy to the nuances of girls’ education. She sought external and internal data to ascertain needs, displacing students and staff from their comfort zone whilst enabling them with structured planning, scaffolding and assessment design aligned with the Australian Curriculum. In her endeavour to develop critical and creative thinkers whilst dissolving the parent narrative ‘maths is too hard for my daughter’ and ‘I was never good at maths either’, she established problem solving initiatives to develop confidence in applying knowledge and learning experiences for the content in different contexts. A consistent approach to all maths classes was adopted to eliminate the girls’ perception of favouritism or any disadvantage that could deter learning.

Subsequent to her work in the Mathematics Department, for the past five years Janelle has embarked on a cross-curricular focus incorporating explicit teaching and intentional leadership for girls’ education as Director of Professional Learning. Janelle has continued to advocate for student-centred decision making and professional support through building expertise and a learning culture. She has presented over fifty sessions to the whole teaching team, College Board of Directors and at external conferences. Janelle shares her understandings and gains feedback from external sources when delivering presentations. Her work highlights her passion for positive outcomes for girls’ and commitment to a collaborative and connected teaching team. Janelle continues to promote and nurture a student-student, student-teacher, student-parent-teacher and teacher-teacher learning environment.