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Keith Graham OAM

A lifelong passion for teaching and sports has culminated in Keith Graham’s being awarded the Order of Australia Medal this Australia Day, for service to school sports.

The Principal of Rochedale State School describes it as a very humbling experience and one that he hopes “represents the hundreds of teachers who give up lunch times and Friday afternoons doing some sport with kids”.

Having spent 28 years teaching, he sees sport as a great vehicle to build a relationship with kids, but elaborates, “You’ve got to be authentic. If they believe you’re there to help them and believe in you and that you believe in them, then they’ll do anything for you. Conversely if they think that you’re fake and don’t want to connect or have time for them they’re quite happy to rebel”.

As a student himself, he was inspired by his own teachers to go into the profession after school. “I grew up in Logan, a sort of low socio-economic area, and I always looked at teachers who were probably slogging themselves with some kids who weren’t always overtly motivated but could engage them."

"​I think that led me into teaching in my first 16 years, back in Logan, in some very tough schools, trying to do the same for people. To show that it doesn’t matter where you live or what you do, you can achieve what you want provided you put some hard work into it.”

Over the years there have been many changes in schools, with the 51-year-old noting, “A positive change is about the school now being more open and transparent and part of the community. The negative I’ve seen is children’s real lack of resilience these days. It’s a very fine line in trying to educate parents that initially you’ve got to let children, particularly older children, solve their own problems and find their own feet and only come in when it’s obvious with a child that the problem is beyond them”.

As a senior mentor to young teachers he is also aware of the ongoing issue of retention and recalls his own early days as a teacher straight out of university: “I think [in] my first year as a teacher, my boss at the time pretty much said, “There’s your class, there’s your room, I don’t really want to see you”. It was a bit of that ‘sink-or-swim’ philosophy”. 

​Now that he’s the boss he takes a different approach with those new to the job, making sure they have a teaching partner and that he or one of his deputies regularly checks in with them. 

The research will tell you, if you get them past five years, they stay. That five years I see personally at school is critical and I personally accept that challenge that I want to get them past five years.

​Having played team sports his whole life, he sees a value in what sport can pass on to kids even if sport is not their primary interest.

Some of these values include teamwork and learning to work together but the touch football coach says there are valuable lessons it can pass on about character too, explaining: “You’ve got to learn in life you’re not going to win at everything.

Sometimes there is only one trophy and even for primary school kids that’s an important lesson. So learning to win humbly, lose graciously and understand if you gave your best and you didn’t win the trophy there’s not much more you can do”.

As previously mentioned, he can’t say enough about teachers volunteering their time for school sports which can provide opportunities for kids who can’t as easily take up club sports.

The coach, who has trained individuals who have gone on to compete at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games, notes of these high-achieving athletes, “They’ve pursued their careers and often when you talk to them their love goes back to the teacher on the oval on a Friday afternoon and that’s where their inspiration for sports started”.

Principal Keith Graham has proven an inspiration himself for student and teachers alike. Having been recognised for his efforts, he now plans to continue making a difference, with the father-of-two stating his immediate goal is to just “focus on the wonderful kids here at Rochedale”.

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