Article Highlights

Bill Dorman spoke at the 2007 awards presentation in Sydney recently. His prize funded a trip to Scotland, where he visited sculpture studios, meeting artists working in communities and schools.

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A powerful desire to assist kids suffering from anxiety and social phobia to cope with mainstream school life motivated Cheryl Bazzano, another 2006 winner who spoke at the awards ceremony.

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Outstanding teachers take centre stage

Outstanding teachers take centre stage

Photo: Caltex award winner Bill Dorman from Goulburn, New South Wales.

Bill Dorman is a big man with a big personality who's hard to miss. His email address starts with the name “Redbeard".

“You can see why, can't you?" laughs the teacher from Mulwaree High School in Goulburn. Indeed Bill's shaggy mane and beard are as noticeable as his passion for his work.

The sculpture and metalworking teacher started the Owning Our School project at Mulwaree High four years ago with fellow teacher and artist Suzie Bleach, aiming to help students with mental health problems. To engage the youngsters and improve their self esteem they teach them to build dramatic sculptures and mosaics, many of which are on display at the school.

"Work, I've discovered, is a universal language for everyone" - Bill Dorman

A winner in last year's Caltex and Rotary Club of Sydney Awards for Innovation in Teaching, Bill spoke at the 2007 awards presentation in Sydney recently. His prize funded a trip to Scotland, where he visited sculpture studios, meeting artists working in communities and schools.

While in Glasgow Bill also addressed a Rotary meeting and spent time with two trusts working with disadvantaged people. He not only learned about their woodworking and community gardens projects, he got actively involved in their work, helping to set up a metalworking shop.

“These were both non-tick-box organisations," Bill said. “They weren't merely interested in putting people through programs, they wanted to build a sense of community and extended family. This has inspired me to spread our program to a wider audience in Australia, not just to youngsters".

The 2007 winners

This year's winners, who were each awarded up to $6,500 to be used to visit an overseas educational institution of their choice, are equally as inspiring in their commitment.

They are:

A desire to help

A powerful desire to assist kids suffering from anxiety and social phobia to cope with mainstream school life motivated Cheryl Bazzano, another 2006 winner who spoke at the awards ceremony.

Cheryl, from Rivendell School for Specific Purposes in Concord West, attended the tenth Biennial International Association of Special Education Conference in Hong Kong. She brought back ideas, strategies, books and other resources which she intends to implement at Rivendell. She also promoted Rivendell's programs when she visited schools in Hong Kong.

“Meeting other special educators from round the world was a very informative experience," she said. “Australia certainly is at the forefront when it comes to working with students with special needs."

Most of all Cheryl brought back a determination to make the wider community more aware of the need for support and understanding of children suffering from Aspergers – a disability on the autism spectrum. A fairly recent psychiatric diagnosis, Aspergers is an emerging condition that requires specialised programs to help young people take their place in the community.

Giving pupils greater choice

A 2005 winner, Melissa Giddins, addressed the awards lunch too. Formerly an English teacher at Emmaville Central School in northern New South Wales, Melissa has since become Head Teacher English at Kandos High School, 350 kilometres west of Newcastle.

Her program introduces pupils to higher order thinking skills using such theories as the “multiple intelligences" developed by Harvard educationist Dr Howard Gardner, Bloom's Taxonomy, Ralph Pirozzo's Grid and others. It's led to improved results at both schools.

On her trip to the US east coast and Canada in April last year Melissa visited schools that base their curricula on multiple intelligences, a form of teaching that eschews the traditional notion of intelligence based on IQ testing as too limited.

Some of the American schools embraced modular based learning in which students are given greater choice. For example they can choose to study a course they are interested in, and the class for that course has a mixture of students of different ages and abilities. Teachers in turn can teach the courses they're passionate about. Research has shown this leads to more effective learning and fewer behavioural difficulties, Melissa said.

One of her challenges is to communicate what she's learned to colleagues as well as students and to continue implementing modular based learning techniques. Meanwhile Melissa remains grateful to Caltex. Her award not only allowed her to travel to North America, it helped her win the Head Teacher's job at Kandos High.

“I know," she says, “because it was mentioned when I got the promotion."