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Mitchell McAulay-Powell


A former lawyer turned teacher making an extraordinary difference in the lives of at-risk Rockhampton students is a finalist in state teaching awards.

Changing classroom design to cater for different students before they arrive and even dressing up as Disney characters to break through to some teenagers, Mitchell McAulay-Powell is changing the lives of students who had disengaged from schooling.

The Carinity Education Rockhampton teacher is a finalist for the Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Outstanding Contribution to School Community Award.

Mr McAulay-Powell has achieved inspirational results with students who were at risk of completely disengaging from education.

A Zen Den available at any time in his classroom, allowing students to self-manage their wellbeing and learning, and relationship-building, have been crucial to student success.

“It’s not just asking a student how they are and having one wellbeing poster in your classroom, it's about really getting to know them and working really hard to really break that stigma (around wellbeing) and turning their self-confidence issues into courage,” he said.

Mr McAulay-Powell’s classroom features “breakout zones”, where students can complete tasks or de-escalate by participating in drum circles, undertake arts and crafts or partner-up to play board games, working together to achieve their goals. Students can use fidget toys, access wellbeing pamphlets, or even just sit in a beanbag designed to feel like a hug.

He said “micro-moments” were important.

“Whether it's five seconds in a classroom, whether it's in a playground, having a smile, giving a high five, any way I can possibly have those positive interactions they can take on board,” Mr McAulay-Powell said.

“I’m always a very smiley teacher, I’m always smiling no matter what. I'm a bit of a walking cartoon, I use humour, and I really encourage them to communicate and be social.

“I love thinking of new ways to engage with students and to try to get them into the classroom.”

His approach is working, with students achieving individual-record attendance levels. One student has attended school every day for two months after not going for two years.

Mr McAulay-Powell said he struggled at school when he was growing up and he is able to use these experiences with his students.

“Schooling was quite tough for me … but I had some amazing, amazing teachers who really connected with me,” he said.

He later had a life-changing moment when a student he tutored won an award and said, “I wouldn’t be where I am today if you didn’t help and tutor me”.

“The next day I quit my job as a lawyer and basically started my teaching degree. I've loved every moment of it. It's been an absolutely incredible experience. I love it. I know I can make a difference in these kids' lives,” he said.

Winners of the TEACHX Awards will be announced on October 28, on the eve of World Teachers’ Day celebrations in Queensland. Finalists win $500 and winners $5000 for professional development.

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