The Torres Strait’s first-ever outer-island SWD (students with a disability) teacher, who is making an extraordinary difference to communities, has won a prestigious state teaching award. Laura Loucks, who grew up in the small rural town of Chesley, in Canada, is now based at the Tagai State College Badu Island campus, more than 2000 km north of Brisbane.
Since graduating, Miss Loucks has undertaken a Graduate Certificate in Special Education, a Master of Education and a Diploma of Early Years Education, and is currently studying a Master of Education and Professional Studies program at Griffith University, to better help her students. Her dedication to provide the best possible education for children, and her respectful work with communities are just some of the reasons she has won the Queensland College of Teachers Excellence in Beginning to Teach TEACHX Award.
Miss Loucks first started teaching on Warraber Island as a Years 4 to 6 teacher four years ago. She started building up relationships with the community through running after-school sports, including Australian Football League. Her passion for helping students with a disability, especially through the use of technology, saw her promoted in 2017.
“Every day is a brand new adventure,” Miss Loucks said of working with students with a disability. “Everything is not going to go to plan—it’s going to be messy, it’s going to be fun, and you just have to be flexible. Everything you think you know about a student or from what you’ve read, it doesn’t always go to plan, but it makes you a better and stronger person, from your own personality to your own teaching practice,” she said.
Teaching in the Torres Strait can be complex for teachers with English as a first language, with some students speaking English as their third or fourth language.
“When you have got the added layer of a kid who is not neurotypical, that makes things so much more difficult,” Miss Loucks said.
Miss Loucks has worked hard at building relationships with health providers and support agencies, including Queensland Health, universities and charities. She has also attained funds through grants and organised for various specialists to visit communities to talk to local health and education workers about specific disabilities and learning difficulties. Her work has helped to break down stigmas, resulting in an increase in the number of parents seeking additional support from specialised services for their children. Parents also come to her directly at times for support around their child’s development.
“That comes back to better relationships, they know that they can come see me if they need something,” Miss Loucks said.
Her expert knowledge and support for teachers across a number of communities to help students with a disability has seen a growth in staff confidence in planning and supporting these students. Miss Loucks also leads the school’s Positive Behaviour for Learning Committee, which has seen a massive reduction in behavioural issues. She is also the leader of the school’s STEM School Improvement agenda, and successfully applied for a $2500 grant for a Science Week STEM round-robin challenge. The challenge will involve local Rangers, a Health Clinic, stores, the Fitness Centre, the Council Native Title Office, and Bio-Security groups working together to create student STEM problems using technology, traditional Torres Strait Islander methods, and recycled materials in solutions.
“It is about building that knowledge and engagement, getting the parents up to the school and seeing the quality of the work that teachers are doing, and that the kids are doing, and then having those positive interactions and positive learning experiences,” Miss Loucks said.
The winners of the TEACHX Awards were announced on Thursday 24 October 2019, the eve of World Teachers’ Day, at a ceremony at Customs House. Miss Loucks won $5000 for professional development.