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Finalist — Sophie Gruhl



Sophie Gruhl had been teaching for only a few months when a student asked her a question she still finds heartbreaking.

“She asked me, ‘Why are you teaching here?’,” Miss Gruhl said. “And I just looked her and said, ‘What do you mean?’, and she said … ‘You should be at a rich school and not with us’.”

It was a moment that made Miss Gruhl realise just how low her students’ self-esteem was, and she has made an extraordinary effort to raise their expectations ever since.

Over the past 18 months alone, the Mabel Park State High School (MPSHS) teacher and Netball Excellence Coach has taken the school’s first Indigenous netball team to a tournament and has organised a second-hand shoe drive with her local gym through which she obtained over 50 pairs of high quality shoes for students to play in. She organised a Year 12 ‘Big Day Out’ in a successful attempt to increase attendance and decrease truancy, taught Muslim students how to float in a lake for the first time, managed a girls’ Metropolitan East Rugby League team and organised the Year 9 celebration evening. She’s also been appointed the school’s Years 11 and 12 Coordinator after she showed an exceptional grasp for differentiating student learning and an ability to build strong relationships with students.

Her outstanding teaching practices, her deep care for students, and the tangible outcomes she achieves, are just some of the reasons she is a finalist for this year’s Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Excellence in Beginning to Teach Award.

“I do what I can with every moment I see the students, whether that is with my students who I teach, my seniors who I coordinate or the students I know from lunch-time chats,” Miss Gruhl said. “Each interaction is an opportunity to teach the important things: kindness, generosity, self-respect and respect for others, dignity, leadership, and courage. I have the opportunity to change a student’s life without them realising it.”

The Science, Mathematics, Digital Technologies and Health and Physical Education teacher is also a GEMS (Girls Excelling in Maths and Science) Leader and was appointed a Curriculum Leader for the school’s inaugural Year 9 iMPact class – a Year 9 one-to-one device class, in which students are provided opportunities to leverage technology.

When COVID-19 hit and the school community ran out of hand sanitiser, Miss Gruhl innovatively planned consecutive Science lessons to teach her students about how germs spread and followed up with a practical lesson making hand sanitiser. The students’ hand sanitiser was then shared with the entire school and news of the innovative lesson saw Education Queensland International (EQI) publish an article on it and film a duplicate micro-teaching lesson so it could be shared more broadly.

To develop her understanding of Polynesian culture to better understand her students, Miss Gruhl undertook professional learning in Samoa at her own expense. When she wanted to improve her ability to deliver Indigenous perspectives for students, she contacted respected local Indigenous elders for guidance and welcomed them into her class to connect with students. This year, Miss Gruhl joined the MPSHS Aspiring Leadership group and has led wellbeing activities and knowledge-sharing sessions for staff.

While Miss Gruhl has shown a tireless commitment to making a difference for her students, she said it was the small things that had made some of the biggest impacts.

“I’ve taken little aspects from what I enjoyed about my schooling, for example, having matching team ribbons [for students’ hair] and celebrating student’s birthdays in my form class with a cake… these little things that make the kids feel special are what makes such a difference,” Miss Gruhl says.

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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