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Alanna Tobin


High school teachers and students are engaged in lunchtime activities, thanks to a state teaching award finalist who is driving up academic results through exciting classroom lessons, and helping to build school culture through her connection with her students.

Tropical North Learning Academy – Smithfield State High School Science teacher Alanna Tobin is a finalist for the Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Excellence in Beginning to Teach Award.

The former researcher uses an extraordinary array of strategies to engage students: from virtual DNA extractions and ‘Playdough Pictionary’ in Chemistry, to Minecraft for Earth Science, discussing rock climbing and mountain biking in Physics, and playing games and quizzes, which sometimes involve movement to calm the more restless students.

“I try and make every lesson different, I try and make it interesting … I do try hard to come up with things that students will respond to,” Ms Tobin said.

“We run interactively– we use quizzes like Kahoot, I do concept mapping, I do a lot of competitions, I do a lot of storytelling. I try and think of things from my life that I've done that I can kind of bring in to help them understand what we're doing. We tell jokes and sing songs and do group work,” she said.

“It's hard to be engaged in a lesson if it is fully teacher-led; things need to be interactive, students need to carry the cognitive load, students need to work with their peers, students need to be challenged. Students need to be in a place where they feel comfortable to take risks and ask questions.”

Ms Tobin said while engagement was crucial, so was building relationships with students.

“That’s the most important key to success, so getting to know the kids – them knowing that the classroom is a safe environment and that you support them – it builds courage in them, it does help them succeed.”

Her drive to better connect with students was behind the formation of a “lunch club”, in which teachers and students participate in lunchtime activities, including basketball.

The club, which consistently engages fellow teachers and many students, is helping to build positive connections and enhance the culture of the school community.

Ms Tobin’s dynamic lessons and relational approach to teaching is also seen as the reason her students achieve higher percentages of A to C results than the school average. Her Year 8 Science class has a higher percentage of students achieving an A to C than any other subject in the year level.

As a lead teacher of the Service Learning Student Group, Ms Tobin also helps the service-minded students raise money for charities and organisations. Her strong connection to students and her use of interactive lessons were also behind students staying engaged during the COVID-19 learning-at-home period last year.

“Teaching is a very rewarding job and I just feel lucky to be a part of it,” Ms Tobin said.

The TEACHX Awards winners will be announced on 28 October, the eve of World Teachers’ Day in Australia. Finalists receive $500, and winners $5000, for professional development.

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