In her mission to inspire the teachers of tomorrow, Griffith University’s Dr Leonie Rowan never forgets the message that serves as her own inspiration.
“There is a Chinese proverb that says: A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark. Every aspect of my teaching is designed to motivate future teachers to focus on the impact they will have on children in their care,” Dr Rowan said.
Given the Australian Teacher Education Association last week named Dr Rowan its ATEA/Pearson National Teacher Educator of the Year, clearly her approach is succeeding.
Based at Griffith’s Gold Coast campus, the Senior Lecturer at the School of Education and Professional Studies said she was motivated by a simple belief: “Schools are not fair…but they can be.”
“Like many others in teacher education, I operate from a position of ‘educated hope’, a perspective that maps the existence and persistence of serious educational and social problems and then uses this information to work for change.
“Knowing that students can be inspired and motivated to creatively re-shape schools in the pursuit of educational and social justice inspires me to continue teaching as I do.”
In guiding future teachers, Dr Rowan employs strategies to encourage appreciation of social justice, connect to students’ interests and create a classroom environment in which they feel valued and safe.
She also applies diverse teaching resources drawn from popular culture and even uses novelty props, such as hats, to convey the range of responsibilities facing teachers in the contemporary classroom.
“Empathy and engagement lead to informed and inspired teachers,” Dr Rowan said. “That’s so important because teaching is one of the hardest professions in the world, up there with politics and parenting in the way that everyone has an opinion about it.
“There is so much at stake, so maintaining a clear purpose and a positive approach is vital to achieving positive outcomes when graduates take control of their own classrooms.”
Dr Rowan was not the only Griffith University academic honoured at the recent Australian Teacher Education Association national conference in Brisbane.
Logan-based Dr Katherine Main received the Early Career Researcher Award and her work, particularly that related to Middle Schooling, is proving influential.
“To be recognised by one’s peers through the ATEA is really an honour. My goal is to make a difference in teacher education by building the capacity of junior secondary and middle years specialists to teach in these challenging and exciting years,” Dr Main said.
Among her achievements, Dr Main was pivotal in establishing a Memorandum of Understanding between Griffith University and a purpose-built Middle School at Calamvale Community College, on Brisbane’s south side.
“The MOU builds a reciprocal partnership whereby both pre-service and in-service teachers work together to embrace the middle schooling/junior secondary principles of best practice,” Dr Main said.
“This includes the notions of individual and collective efficacy and quality teaching to continue to improve student outcomes through data-driven practice.
“My aim is to find the best ways for pre-service teachers to bridge the theory-to-practice nexus.”
Head of Griffith’s School of Education and Professional Studies, Professor Donna Pendergast, said the ATEA awards were highly competitive and Dr Rowan and Dr Main could be proud of the acknowledgment of their excellence as teacher educators.
“This is a real privilege and an honour. To win says so much about the standard of Griffith University’s teacher education programs and personnel,” Professor Pendergast said.