The motivation to succeed

​​Outstanding Primary School Teacher of the Year Emma Ross shares how the Victorian Education Excellence Awards gave her the motivation to continue to advance as a teacher and spread best practice across her school.

When Emma Ross developed a maker space and a Girls in STEM initiatives at Canterbury Primary School, she saw it as just another day in supporting students to achieve their best. When the opportunity came to apply ​for the Victorian Education Excellence Awards, it was a chance to showcase the success she had achieved.

'I felt a bit silly applying because usually teachers feel they're in this job for the students. But one day my principal, David, came to me and said he'd nominated me.

'It felt a bit weird, as a teacher you it's easy to assume that everyone is doing the work you are.

'But as we talked about the projects that I'd been working on, he guided me on what I thought the focus of my application could be and all the work we'd done across our school that I'd been involved in.'

Her career journey is one that might inspire other teachers to nominate for the awards and share the amazing work educators are doing in Victorian schools.

'I think teachers need to realise that you're able to put yourself forward for the work you do every day with your students.'

The work teachers do every day to make their school a better place

As part of her time at Canterbury Primary School, Emma was able to take a special interest in STEM education and turn it into a way for her students engage in learning more meaningfully.

Her projects were derived from a desire to expand the individualised approach to instruction using the Zones of Proximal Development across the school, and designing explicit teaching that works for each student.

She developed narrative writing workshops based on computer game characters, introduced a school maker space where students and teachers explored, designed and invented together in an 'anything is possible' learning environment, and co-led projects such 'Young Minds of the Future' with her Assistant Principal Carly Pluck, where 500 students and teachers from local schools were able to develop products and solutions to identified problems – and then connect with industry experts to gain feedback on their innovations.

Creating a space for everyone to learn

The maker space and the Girls in STEM initiatives were achievements that Emma was particularly proud of, as they supported her passion of reversing the under-representation of women in STEM careers and contributed to deeper learning outcomes.

'We had a spare room we were using, and we were able to develop a maker space and set up the space to really encourage students – and girls in particular – to get involved as a lunchtime program and then formalise it across the school.'

'My students and I researched the different parts of what could go into the space and then we co-designed the space and then we ran lunchtime sessions for everyone across the school.'

Success is a whole-school task

'What's good about our school is that our teachers were really interested in learning new ways – and when I presented these ideas to them, they were really receptive.'

Emma led her school's STEM Annual Implementation Plan team and has run professional development sessions in teaching and assessing Science Inquiry Skills. This helped her and her peers develop a whole-of-school direction that made the most of best-practice teaching approaches and the resources they'd invested in.

'When I got shortlisted as a finalist, my Assistant Principal Carly Pluck and Principal David Wells were there on the night with my sister, supporting all the work they'd also put so much time into.'

A chance to continue changing the lives of students

Having won the award for Outstanding Primary Teacher of the Year, a shocked Emma was able to take advantage of the professional development prizemoney and seek advice from some of the world's leading STEM educators.

'I went on a five-week trip to the United States over the school holidays and over a few weeks working, and I went to three separate conferences about technology and education where I was really able to develop strong relationship with schools across the globe.'

'I also visited San Diego's Hi-Tech High, which was the most amazing school for best practice and gave me some really great ideas for concrete programs I could bring back to my school.

'The deeper learning conference also gave me the insights into pedagogy I needed to embed across the school and make it valuable for all year levels.

'I also went to visit a maker space in New Jersey of a professional idol of mine.

Motivation to share best practice

'Coming home, the trip gave me the motivation to continue to contribute to my school and to improve what we had to offer these students.'

'I presented to the school improvement team and then, as I am the learning specialist, I take three or four staff PDs a term where I've been able to embed my experiences and knowledge.

'This then expanded outside of my school, and I am planning to share what I've learned across our FISO network with Chatham and Auburn Primary Schools.

'The experience changed me so much and gave me so much more motivation to keep me advancing as a teacher and spread best practice.'

Applications are now open for 2018 nominations

Whether school professionals are inspiring young minds, contributing to educational outcomes or delivering new learning experiences, the Victorian Education Excellence Awards recognises excellence in all shapes and sizes.

Nominations for the 2018 awards are open until Sunday 24 June and applications are even easier to submit this year.

For more information and to apply, see: Victorian Education Excellence Awards