EXCELLENT LEADERSHIP IN TEACHING AND LEARNING
MATHS TEACHER VITAL PART OF EQUATION TO IMPROVE SCHOOL PERFORMANCE
In 2015, Yeronga State High School’s (YSHS) NAPLAN numeracy performance was showing “red”, with 13 per cent of students performing below the National Minimum Standard (NMS).
The following year, Ben Habermehl became the Maths Head of Department (HOD) and by 2019, 94 per cent of Year 9 students met the NMS, having improved at a rate 30 per cent higher than the state average. YSHS has since received Gold Medal Status from the Queensland Association of Mathematics Teachers, one of only eight Queensland schools to do so.
His efforts have seen Mr Habermehl being named a finalist for the Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Excellent Leadership in Teaching and Learning Award.
“I was told I was the eighth HOD in ten years and so I thought, ‘We’ve got to change something here,’ and it was great to have the leadership team at Yeronga back me all the way,” Mr Habermehl said.
To achieve the turnaround Mr Habermehl consulted with his new staff, conducted an audit, wrote a handbook, looked at what other schools were doing and brainstormed for innovative ideas on unit plans, pedagogy and assessment.
The 800 students enrolled at YSHS represent 66 nationalities, with 43 per cent having a refugee background and 63 per cent having English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D).
Coincidentally, at the same time Mr Habermehl started at the school, it was part of the $3 million Y Connect Project, a partnership with Griffith University in which arts-based pedagogies (e.g. teaching through movement) were used in an attempt to enhance students’ engagement in learning. Mr Habermehl immediately jumped on board the project which has contributed to a great improvement in students’ retention of concepts.
“Learning the mathematical concepts through movement – it was just amazing watching the kids. They’re probably only just learning English but they could show you through movement their understanding of maths. It was fantastic,” he enthused.
“It’s one of those programs where you hope that when the money just dries up that it doesn’t stop. That the ideas then continue through to other schools and to other people to use the ideas.”
Mr Habermehl has also set up activities at the school to promote maths, such as Pi Day and the annual Numeracy Week, which include activities around the school and host guest speakers.
“It’s one of those things that breaks your heart as a Maths teacher when the kids say, ‘I don’t like Maths.’ But I think that a lot of negativity around Maths is because the kids aren’t engaged and they’re unengaged because they’re being taught at a level that they don’t understand. I have to give credit to the staff at Yeronga - they’re teaching in say a Year 10 classroom, they’re teaching content from Year 3 level all the way through to a Year 10 level. The differentiation that they do is amazing,” he explained.
The son of teachers, Mr Habermehl has taught in locations as far apart as Yarraman and the south of England.
He believes passionately in engagement as a priority in learning, advising, “If the kids aren’t engaged, it doesn’t matter what you cover − they’re not going to listen or learn”.
At YSHS, the students are listening, and they are well and truly learning.
The winners of the TEACHX Awards will be announced on 29 October, on the eve of World Teachers’ Day in Australia.