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Finalist — Donald Cameron



Mindfulness and lessons from neuroscience and yoga are helping to retain more than 95 per cent of early career teachers at a Logan high school, thanks to a state teaching awards finalist.

Marsden State High School’s Donald Cameron has been credited with driving transformational change in the school’s teaching and learning culture. This is just one of the reasons he has been named a finalist for this year’s Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Excellent Leadership in Teaching and Learning Award.

As the school’s Head of Department –Teaching and Learning, Mr Cameron oversees the training and mentoring of over 70 early career teachers. In 2019 he created the FOCUS team of 25 highly dedicated teachers who work to improve staff development and performance.

Mindfulness is a big component of Mr Cameron’s teachings and yoga classes, which he has introduced, have become very popular with staff.

He instructs beginning teachers that you can’t always control what happens in the classroom, you can’t control everything about your students, you can’t control results, you can’t even control your emotions all the time, but what you can control are your actions. By developing the things you can control, like the teacher’s skill and toolkit, he helps early career teachers increase their sphere of influence.

In his first year of teaching, the educator was full of excitement – he felt his students would be waiting with bated breath for him to pass on his knowledge about the carbon cycle.

“That was the exact opposite of what happened. I walked in and I had no control over what was happening. I was trying to put across things that I thought were really interesting, but the students were like, ‘Are you from another planet?’,” Mr Cameron recalled with a chuckle.

Originally Mr Cameron graduated with a degree in environmental science and then decided to complete a postgraduate qualification in teaching.

Thirty years on, he is still studying how to improve his teaching practice and those of his colleagues, and this mindset has informed the latter half of his career. He notes that while attention is often focussed on the retention of beginning teachers, he is just as invested in growing the capabilities of mid-career and later-career teachers.

He set up the Teaching Framework at Marsden State High School which includes the Australian Professional standards for teachers and the school’s key teaching priorities. One key priority for retention of learning involves triggering the 'error alarm’ in your brain.

“You’re doing a Maths sum, you’ve gone to the back of the book and found the answer doesn’t match yours. At that point you can engage in learning, which can be challenging, or you can avoid it. Most people avoid and within 48 hours the brain wipes the memory of not knowing,” he explained.

The Teaching Framework has led to Mr Cameron’s work on a Student Framework where his goal is not for students to learn a subject but to learn the art of learning.

For students to develop determination through improved efficacy, he identified three contributing factors – their teacher, their peers and their parents.

True to his reflective practice, he continues his work to develop students and his fellow teachers.

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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