Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards
Auburn North Public School (NSW)
As Deputy Principal, Instructional Leader, Chantel Mirzai has collaboratively led a change process that has completely transformed Auburn North Public School, elevating it from a school with declining outcomes to one of the state’s most outstanding performers.
Chantel has inspired a culture of academic success while supporting the wellbeing of her western Sydney primary students – almost all from language backgrounds other than English, including many who have been refugees.
She began in 2015 by emphasising collaboration among teachers, backed by coaching and videos to improve classroom practice. Students were prompted to extend their understanding and received specific feedback, while literacy and numeracy concepts were introduced in more orderly sequence. Finally, she set aspirational student and school performance targets.
The transformation worked. In 2018, Auburn North outpaced practically every Australian school with similarly disadvantaged students, with growth in students’ achievement in the top 5 per cent for NSW.
Auburn North Public School needed a transformation to bring about significant changes in many aspects of its teaching and learning programs. In recent years its results had slipped below other similar schools and the principal knew the school needed to more effectively meet the needs of the school’s students.
Chantel Mirzai had led Year 3 in 2013 to achieve the school’s best-ever NAPLAN results. Her teaching, leadership, collaboration, and strategic thinking skills were exceptional so the Principal selected Miss Mirzai to collaboratively lead whole-school change so every student achieved or exceeded their full potential. Miss Mirzai viewed this not as a challenge but an opportunity to make a very significant difference in the lives of all 700 students.
Auburn North’s catchment is among the most diverse and disadvantaged in Australia. All but 2 per cent of its students come from a language background other than English, and 20 per cent are from a refugee background. Often their parents have limited English and the families are coming to terms with traumatic histories.
Starting in 2015, Miss Mirzai collaboratively developed a series of improvement programs that were uncompromising on results at the same time as being supportive of children’s wellbeing and social needs.
Drawing deeply from international evidence about school improvement, she incrementally introduced new elements – starting with the High-Impact Professional Learning Project, to bolster collaboration among teachers. She implemented coaching for teachers, including the use of video to encourage colleagues to reflect on and modify their classroom practice.
Then Miss Mirzai worked systematically to improve the standard and consistency of teaching across the whole school.
A Visible Learning Project emphasised explicit teaching and focused on the clarity of teachers’ explanations of concepts, as well as “scaffolding” – in which students are prompted to explain and extend their understanding. The third component was provision of specific feedback from which students can learn and improve.
Miss Mirzai streamlined literacy and numeracy teaching across the school, to ensure concepts were taught in an optimal sequence. Next she worked with Auburn North’s teachers to enhance their analysis of school and student performance data, setting aspirational targets against which her colleagues could monitor progress.
Also in line with compelling international evidence, Miss Mirzai has set about engaging parents more deeply with their children’s learning. The K-6 ‘Parents as Partners in Learning’ program provides grade-based, small group workshops, in which parents participate in the same activities as their children, in reading, writing, numeracy operations, problem solving and technology.
Language teachers and other interpreters support parents in more than eight community languages, and they can take teaching resources home and access video resources on the school website.
Clearly parents feel welcome in the school community: more than 150 attend daily morning assemblies.
Improvement in academic results has been nothing short of phenomenal. In 2018, Auburn North’s NAPLAN performance far outpaced practically every primary school in Australia with a similarly disadvantaged demographic profile, across every domain in both Years 3 and 5. Its “value-add” – a measure of the growth in students’ achievement – is in the top 5 per cent for NSW.