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Finalist — Amy Freeman



A Mackay teacher who helped transform the culture of her school after introducing a new communication-based approach to teaching is a finalist in state teaching awards.

School morale, student engagement and student behaviour have all improved at Mackay District Special School (MDSS), thanks to teacher Amy Freeman, who introduced a new, school-wide communication-based teaching method.

Miss Freeman has also been described as ‘a lifesaver’ thanks to the support materials she provided to staff and parents during the learning@home period this year.

The MDSS teacher, who is a finalist for this year’s Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Innovation in Teaching Award, said she developed a passion for working with special education students while she was at university.

“Not one day is the same and our kids, they see things in different ways and you go through all the emotions with them – you laugh, you cry, you’re challenged in ways that you never thought you could be and your heart is always full, and the memories that are made with these kids – they’ve literally changed my life,” she said. “I feel you have to educate with your heart as well as your mind.”

Miss Freeman introduced a Core Word Classroom (CWC) approach for all teachers at MDSS. The initiative started off with one core word a week and a resource pack of ideas and visuals for teachers to use in the classroom. Miss Freeman then created and analysed data for every MDSS student and assessed them using the communication matrix to ensure each pupil was being taught at the correct curriculum level, using their preferred communication method, whether it be Auslan, Key-Word Sign, Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Displays (PODD) or iPads with Proloquo2go.

“Students were able to refuse and reject items, however in the other three domains of communication: how to obtain objects and actions, social interactions and gathering information – it became apparent there was a gap in student communication” Miss Freeman said.

Miss Freeman said ensuring that each child had a voice, even those that weren’t verbal, was imperative. And by identifying communication gaps with each child, she was able to work collaboratively with teachers on the best ways forward for each student to access curriculum.

MDSS Deputy Principal Sereta Uitenweerde said the changes which had taken place at the school since Amy introduced the CWC approach had been “remarkable”.

“The work Amy has done in this relatively short time of a year has led to increased student engagement and participation in purposeful and enjoyable learning experiences that foster their ability to function independently in the community. With the communication-based approach that she has implemented across the school, teachers have gained knowledge in replacing existing problem behaviours displayed by students with more appropriate communicative behaviours,” Miss Uitenweerde says.

Miss Freeman, who undertook the CWC project while still teaching a class of students, also helped provide teachers and parents with resources during the COVID-19 learning@home restrictions, including recording activities like cooking, painting and making a poppy for Anzac Day, which families could then undertake with their child.

The winners of the TEACHX Awards will be announced on 29 October, on the eve of World Teachers’ Day in Australia.

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