Rebecca West, deputy principal at Bonnyrigg Public School, New South Wales, Australia, knew as soon as she entered a classroom as a student-teacher 22 years ago that she had chosen the right profession. In part her choice, and her drive to become qualified in special education, was because her sister had been bullied at school and slipped through the cracks of the system, only years later being diagnosed with Aural Dyslexia. Rebecca was often the teacher for a class where students had a diagnosis of special needs and ensures that all students are known, valued and cared for. This became even more important to her when later two of her own children were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, strengthening her determination to ensure all student needs are met.
As a classroom teacher she always achieved sustainable growth in academic, behavioural and social skills of the students in her care, creating safe and engaging environments where learning is relevant and student voice is a powerful contributor.
Rebecca’s early years involvement in coordinating extra-curricular activities including sports coaching, choir and dance groups, as well as leading other teachers in these initiatives at school and across networks, was followed by an invitation to join the Lachlan Macquarie College (LMC) Working Party, where she leads professional development on teaching, learning and leadership. Here she collaborates with a high-level committee, including NSW Education Directors, Deputy-Secretary of Education and award-winning educators to deliver exceptional professional development for hundreds of delegates state-wide.
Her kindergaten to year 6 school is in a highly multicultural community serving people from poor backgrounds, including refugees, those fleeing domestic violence and traumatised split families, with most students significantly behind the state average of their peers when they begin there. Rebecca and colleagues created many social, behavioural and academic interventions to ensure their students have a safe and engaging place to achieve their absolute best. A “culture room” at the school celebrates Aboriginal history and culture. She refined the school professional learning structure to create a succinct method for teachers to collect and analyse student data, focusing on holistic, student-centred learning where inclusive practices are key to ensure student success. At the end of 2020, despite concerns over the impact the pandemic and remote learning would have on her pupils, 77% of kindergarten students measured at or above expectations in reading, 85% in both writing and numeracy.
A tech innovator, Rebecca uses play-based, experiential, STEM, and games-based learning. One of her most popular innovations was turning a writing task into a role-playing exercise based on the ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ game, allowing students to be creative while developing both their writing and reading skills. She also applied her flipped learning style to create mathematics videos on her education YouTube channel Clever Pickles, with students engaging at home, using easily found resources, like dice or playing cards, resulting in 95% of her class achieving their end-of-year numeracy targets before the end of Term 3. Her YouTube channel Talkin’ Chalk combined with social media shares content and engages in professional dialogue with educators worldwide.