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The story behind the picture — Queensland teacher Suni Moraes

From the desert dunes of Doha, to helping disadvantaged Logan students succeed, to being part of an inspirational team leading a brand new high school with a unique approach to teaching, the face of the QCT’s Reflections booklet, Suni Moraes, epitomises the agile, lifelong-learning Queensland teacher passionate about making a difference for their students and school communities.

Recently, more than 50,000 Queensland teachers with full registration were notified by the QCT about how to complete their five-yearly renewal form, in addition to paying their annual fee.

On the front cover of the Reflections booklet included in the mailout is Suni, an Experienced Senior Teacher and Data Co-ordinator at Foxwell State Secondary College, whose fascinating career has benefited students and school communities across southeast Queensland.

Born to Sri Lankan parents who moved to Doha, the capital of Qatar, Suni was educated at a British school for international students, Doha College, where she was taught about Commonwealth countries, including Australia.

“I had a very different childhood to what you might think – deserts, camels, bazaars and world-class architecture,” Suni said.

“I was really passionate about Science, in particular about Biology. When we were in the equivalent of Years 10, 11 and 12, we had career sessions in which students were introduced to options for tertiary education,” she said.

“I migrated to Australia to the University of Queensland (UQ), St Lucia, to do a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology. At the time UQ was undertaking ground-breaking research in that field and the Molecular Biosciences Institute, which was being opened up at UQ, was in educational articles, so it was a place that was inviting to international students.

“But, by the end of the Bachelor of Science, while the content was still fascinating, I still felt like there was something missing – it was almost like there was a gap – it wasn’t heading in the direction that I wanted to see myself. I wanted to build and share my scientific knowledge with society in a different way. What I knew was that I enjoyed working with young people, and being part of their learning journeys,” she said.

As she pondered her future, the Immigration Department sent out a missive that Australia needed more teachers. Her grandfather and aunt were principals, and her other three grandparents were teachers. Her father was also the first in his family to go to university, adding to the value that her family placed on education.

“It was almost like a sign for me,” Suni said of the missive, and she hasn’t looked backed since.

After completing her Bachelor of Science – Molecular Cell Biology, Suni studied a Graduate Diploma of Education in 2006 and volunteered at Milpera State High School, where refugees and migrants arrived with very little or no English. She also undertook her practical experience there.

“It was mind-opening for me to be able to work with students who, like me, were new to the country but hadn’t had the same experience in their education in terms of the English language that I had,” Suni said.

“There were aspects of their life that I was able to empathise with, and in any teaching career that is essential – that relationship that you nurture with the students,” she said.

The students’ thirst for learning drove her.

“They only had the barrier of language to overcome before succeeding in an Australian context and becoming a valuable asset to our society,” she said.

Her first teaching role was at MacGregor State High School, where she was an English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) teacher who taught English through Science, Mathematics, Information and Communication Technology and Business Studies.

“It was fascinating to see the light bulb go on when they connected something they’d learned in English with something they had learned in Science in their first language,” Suni said.

“That was the time I decided to do my Graduate Diploma of Education in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), as a Science teacher.”

In 2011, after a stint at Beenleigh State High School as a Science and Humanities teacher, Suni started at Woodridge State High School, which had its own Intensive Language Centre.

“They needed EAL/D teachers and qualified high school teachers who were capable of moving new migrant and refugee students from their emerging and beginning stages of the English language, all the way up to meet the standards of the Australian Curriculum in all subjects at an age appropriate level, so this was now my new challenge,” she said.

Suni studied for her Master of Education qualification at QUT while she was at Woodridge State High School and discovered a passion for data literacy. Like Molecular Cell Biology, it required the study and understanding of tiny pieces of information to build a bigger understanding of the picture.

“It was at Woodridge SHS that my career diversified,” Suni said.

She became an EAL/D SOSE and Mathematics teacher and a Junior Science and Mathematics teacher. She also worked in Special Education and taught Marine and Aquatic Practices. In 2014, Suni became a Support Teacher for Numeracy, moving to Head of Curriculum (Data) between 2016 and 2018, when she developed a whole-school data plan and introduced data tracking teams, which used the data to introduce support strategies for students’ wellbeing and academic success. In 2019, she became a Pedagogy Coach, before moving to Foxwell State Secondary College, at Coomera on the Gold Coast, as one of its foundational teachers this year.

Suni said her curiosity was first piqued about Foxwell when the Department of Education sent out information about “a new way of allowing students to engage in deeper learning to use student voice in the curriculum process”, which would be used at the school. She was further inspired after a meeting with its Principal, Kym Amor.

“I was looking for a way of meeting the gap between pushing students down this very content-heavy pathway towards the Australian Curriculum and keeping students engaged at their interest level,” Suni said.

She said the change in approach to learning, which included the students being involved at the curriculum planning level, was refreshing and posed a new challenge for her to take on.

“What Kym was proposing was a way to propel the shift from traditional teaching methods to deep learning methods. This means giving students voice and choice in shaping their learning environment; allowing students to seek and forge partnerships with outside agencies and leveraging digital technologies. It also means bringing in citizenship – the understanding of what your power is as a student – and character building – understanding yourself as a student before you even look at the curriculum – in all subjects. And that was something that made me say, ‘Wow – that is amazing, let’s make it work’,” Suni said.

She is currently a teacher of the Physical World, which links Humanities and Sciences units and has single assessment items where aspects cross over between these areas. Students also build their own projects and come up with their idea of what success is for them.

Foxwell ties Lyn Sharratt’s work on the 14 parameters of student success with Deep Learning and Positive Education. Suni said this is integrated into every lesson.

After more than 13 years of working as a teacher and in leadership roles, she said she had found a career path which enabled her to achieve what she had been looking for.

“I like the fact that I am a learner and a teacher at the same time,” Suni said.

“At any given moment I can learn from my students and my colleagues and principal. I like the fact that it allows me to continue on my learning journey, which I was passionate about when I first started my journey in Science – that exploration and investigation,” Suni said.

“I enjoy the fact that I do work with young people, and they make as much of a difference to me as I do for them,” she said. “I am passionate about seeing students go from being who they think they are, to who they want to be – building that sense of self, that citizenship and being successful in their own way.”

She is also grateful to be a teacher in Queensland.

“Over here the beach is just fifteen minutes away, the mountains are another fifteen minutes away, so my weekends, my lifestyle is great for my wellbeing,” she said.

Suni said Queensland was on an exciting educational journey and it was important to understand as a teacher that the education system was ever-changing.

“Sometimes we don’t always immediately see the benefits of a change,” Suni says. “You can be successful as a teacher just following the change, but you are not going to really flourish until you become part of it. Being intrigued by the latest research and trying new things – always with the student at the forefront – I think, is going to help us flourish as teachers.”

The QCT would like to thank Suni for being such an outstanding ambassador for the teaching profession in Queensland.

You can view our Reflections booklet here.

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