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Finalist — Ron Armstrong



During the global pandemic, Ron Armstrong’s leadership of his tireless team of boarding staff at The Cathedral College (TCC) in Rockhampton ensured his school was one of the first in the state able to reopen to a full complement of students on site.

Since taking on the role of Assistant Principal: Boarding in 2009, Mr Armstrong has increased TCC’s boarding numbers from 120 students to full capacity at 190, with a waiting list. He’s known as an exemplary teacher who cares about the whole person and is available for long hours every day to parents of boarders. He’s also contributed to nationwide Boarding standards and professional development.

The trust Mr Armstrong has built among regional and rural Queensland communities and their families, his exceptional teaching and his courageous and caring leadership are just some of the reasons he is a finalist for the Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Outstanding Contribution to Teaching Award.

The English teacher is a champion for his College and students. During refurbishments to TCC’s boarding facilities six years ago, he lobbied hard for additional space. As a result, the College’s Years 7 and 8 students share rooms to support each other transitioning to boarding, and from Year 9 each boarder has their own room – quite exceptional in a boarding school.

“I believed our boarders deserve that, but it also encourages our kids to be comfortable. It has to be their second home,” Mr Armstrong said.

It was this hard-won space and the Assistant Principal’s constant liaison with the Rockhampton Catholic Diocese’s Workplace Health and Safety Officer and Queensland Health and the that saw TCC take its boarders back quickly after the COVID ‘first wave’.

During the tough period of remote learning, Mr Armstrong negotiated the re-allocation of boarding staff to on-campus roles to maintain their working hours. This allowed day teachers to concentrate on providing online learning, while boarding staff supervised 110 attending students who were children of essential workers. Mr Armstrong is particularly proud of his boarding staff and their flexibility to adapting to new procedures in response to COVID (and the Diocesan Leadership for supporting the retention of boarding staff through this time); since the boarders have returned, there have been two or three sittings for each meal, instead of the usual one, and two of three shower shifts instead of one, with staff cleaning the facilities after each sitting or shift.

While growing up on a dairy farm out of Rockhampton, Mr Armstrong spent three hours a day commuting to high school and back. For many students, the distance from home to school is a lot further and boarding provides a critical solution. Pre-pandemic, the educator travelled far and wide to meet with families, knowing how important it is to look someone in the eye and shake their hand if you are going to be responsible for their child.

“Our boarding parents, like all parents, want to provide the best opportunities for their children and provide them with more than they ever had, as we all wish to do. It is parents going out into their communities and talking about the quality of education at TCC and the level of care that their child received in boarding that keeps other parents coming to us,” Mr Armstrong said.

His expertise has been used to write the College guidelines for Boarding and his Principal, Rob Alexander, says Mr Armstrong “is a hero” to their school. He has also been seconded to schools across Australia to audit their boarding facilities and provide advice and guidance for improvements and growth.

At 60, Mr Armstrong has experienced a number of his own very close personal losses in his family and understands and recognises that people have to face tragedy and loss every day. “The support and assistance provided during these times is a measure of us as a society and as a caring Catholic community,” he said, “…and it is a responsibility of us all to support, assist and help those people in need.”

Mr Armstrong recognises that part of being a home away from home for boarding students is helping them deal with tough times sometimes; he and TCC are well able to do that. He values strong pastoral care in all of his staff and is renowned for the care he provides.

“We have to be their initial first support. I don’t think you can do that without having some experiences and being able to empathise,” Mr Armstrong said.

Mr Armstrong played rugby league and competed in the state titles for 100m and 200m sprints and long jump as a young man. For 25 years he has taught martial arts, once running his own schools, and holds black belts in Karate and Tae Kwon Do and is a qualified Muay Thai instructor, climbing instructor and archery instructor and regularly teaches archery to boarders. The Essential English teacher has had poetry published and is an avid reader and writer. Outside of teaching he has worked at an employment agency, as a Senior Education Officer at the Capricornia Correctional Centre and previously ran a school in Papua New Guinea. He strongly believes that the diversity of experiences in his life assist in developing empathy and understanding as a teacher.

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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