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Kirsti Ellerton

With the advent of new technology and with her own dedication, experienced teacher Kirsti Ellerton is making sure distance education students are as connected as any student in the state. As Head of Senior Implementation at Brisbane School of Distance Education (BrisbaneSDE) she has led approximately 300 staff members in the implementation of curriculum for the new Queensland Certificate of Education. She has just been named a finalist in the Queensland College of Teachers Outstanding Contribution to Teaching TEACHX Award for her work.

Mrs Ellerton said BrisbaneSDE was a real eye-opener for her when she arrived in 2012 after working at a face-to-face state high school for several years. The teacher of 24 years has relished the opportunity to teach students in different geographical locations across Queensland and the world.

“In my very first lesson at BrisbaneSDE, I had a student who said, ‘If my internet drops out, don’t worry, there’s a blizzard coming’. It turns out he was in Tibet somewhere,” she said.

Constant advances in technology give rise to powerful possibilities in online education. Mrs Ellerton’s students include athletes, dancers and travellers, as well as students who choose to study at an online school simply because of the potential for greater focus and flexibility that it offers.

“Students shouldn’t be limited by their location— it shouldn’t be that a student who is up on the other side of the Cape should have a lesser educational experience than one who is in a city. They should have all the same opportunities, and their teachers should have all the same opportunities for professional development. Online education allows this to happen”, she said. 

Many senior students study a single subject at BrisbaneSDE because it isn’t available at their face-to-face school. Mrs Ellerton teaches one such subject, Philosophy and Reason, which focuses on the development of critical thinking skills.

Teaching critical thinking online is a challenge and breaks new pedagogical ground. Mrs Ellerton has been instrumental in developing these skills, including leading work in teacher training with the University of Queensland’s Critical Thinking Project.

As a beginning teacher, and the only music teacher at her first school, Mrs Ellerton quickly realised the need for teachers to form professional networks. She has since created the Queensland Philosophy Teachers’ Network for teachers in her field. The transition to the new Queensland Certificate of Education, with its associated changes to curriculum and assessment, prompted her to initiate a ‘collaboration hub’ which has grown into a network of more than ten schools. Both have provided forums for discussion, resource sharing and mutual support. Mrs Ellerton said that the greatest reward from teaching is the delight of seeing former students not just successful, but also happy. 

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