WINNER OF THE 2021 PROFESSOR BETTY WATTS OBE MEMORIAL AWARD FOR AN OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION TO TEACHING
When Zara Hebbel arrived in Sydney as a 10-year-old from Sweden speaking very little English, she was put on a bench at the back of a classroom and “left there to immerse”.
That isolating experience and what happened next was life-changing. Moving to Queensland, Ms Hebbel had a teacher who adjusted the class’s activities to warmly include the 10-year-old.
Decades later, Ms Hebbel has won a state award for her passionate championing of student inclusion, based on her innate understanding of the difference it makes in children’s lives.
The extraordinary Goomeri State School teacher, who has taught children in year levels from play group to Year 12, in urban and rural settings, in Indigenous communities and at an international school in Sweden, is the winner of the Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Outstanding Contribution to Teaching Award.
“Every child has the same needs, whether here in Barambah, in Brisbane or at the exclusive international school: to feel safe, to feel valued. With reasonable adjustments and scaffolded learning, they can experience success. Every child can learn,” Ms Hebbel said.
Starting as a preschool teacher at Marsden State School before heading out to Goomeri, and then to the Indigenous community of Cherbourg, Ms Hebbel in the early 1990s was faced with the challenge of better preparing Cherbourg’s preschool children for school.
“After consultation and research, we proposed a pilot program, a unique three-quarter day preschool timetable with an afternoon home-visiting program – a Queensland first.
After a trial year, we had consistent feedback from all three feeder schools that there was a significant difference in school readiness for those children,” Ms Hebbel said.
The home visits helped connect the school and the community, and included a resource library for play-based learning in the home.
Inviting families to a ‘Monthly Day in the Park’ and encouraging community involvement in school demonstrated respect for first language and culture.
These activities of the preschool team in the community also made the program more visible.
Ms Hebbel said cohesion was crucial to school and student success.
“T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More. Moving a school forward from good to great cannot be achieved by any one individual, it takes a whole school approach,” she said.
Ms Hebbel is passionate about early intervention for children.
“It’s how the brain develops. Prior to the age of eight the brain is much more flexible, so if we can ensure that children are provided with individualised support, to make connections, they will benefit long-term,” Ms Hebbel said.
“It is the pride of my career, 10 years plus of making a significant difference,” she said.
Her expertise in breaking down barriers for children, building positive partnerships with parents, collaborating with advisory specialists and celebrating success, saw her move into special education.
Ms Hebbel established an Early Childhood Developmental Centre at Murgon State School, and systems and procedures as Head of Special Education Services at Murgon State High School, before returning to Goomeri State School P-10.
“After all these years, my passions are still early childhood education, literacy – a love of books and reading, valuing diversity – special needs, and multicultural and Indigenous education, and ensuring every child has access and achieves success in learning,” Ms Hebbel said.
Ms Hebbel has won $5,000 for professional development.