This is how one of the boys in Michelle Stokes’ 3/4 class at Park Avenue State School in Rockhampton describes his teacher, explaining why she deserved her recent award recognition, and neatly summarising her entire approach to teaching in the process.

“It’s about making that strong relationship with the kids to get academic success,” Stokes explains.

"[And] if I appreciate who they are, and am accepting of them, they will respond and be engaged in their learning.

“...if we can build relationships we ... get compliance and engagement, and if we get engagement, we can get academic success.”

Stokes is the winner of the 2018 Central Queensland Teachers Health Showcase Award for Teacher of the Year.

The educator received a $1000 development grant, which she hopes to put towards employing more specialist teachers.

A teacher for 10 years, but with three of those at Park Avenue, she’s led some big changes at her school, but not without some big challenges along the way.

On first learning that she would be taking the 3/4 class – which included two trauma-affected students, four with autism spectrum disorder, two with an intellectual disability, two from Indigenous backgrounds, two with English as a Second Language, one being investigated as gifted and talented, and one that was in foster care – Stokes spent the holiday break repeating mantras –  that she would connect with these kids, and that she would get them engaged.

“I convinced myself that I could do it,” she says.

Stokes begins each class with a “morning circle”, where students relate how they’re feeling, “what their learning goals are, who can help them, and anything else that’s going on”.

“They’re all listening to each other, they’re all giving each other ideas, they’re all supporting each other,” the teacher says.

It’s just one part of Stokes’ focus on “the whole child” which emphasises the importance of reflecting on individual strengths.

“We are a strengths-based classroom ... we have strengths of the head, strengths of the heart, strengths of self-control ... [and] every day through our vocab program, we define these words and we see how their emotions relate to their strengths.”

Attendance in the class has gone up 10 per cent since she started, and academic achievement has improved, but the teacher isn’t content to take all the credit. 

Park Avenue itself is kicking some big goals, having received a commendation for Excellence in Inclusive Education as part of the Showcase Awards.

Stokes says the school has a strong focus on positive neuro-education.

“The neurosequential model we use is Flipping Your Lid.

"It’s like a brain in the palm of your hand, so the wrist is your brain stem, the thumb is a different part of the brain ... and when you lose control of your emotions you 'flip your lid' and you can see that your brain is no longer a functioning brain.

"It’s about thinking brains and feeling brains.”

Park Avenue has also been improving writing achievement in the 3/4 cohort using inquiry cycles and the universal design for learning – with positive effects across the whole school.

“The initial intent of ensuring inclusion for a few has resulted in improved curriculum delivery for all,” according to the school’s summary progress report.

And that’s a testament to the teachers themselves, Stokes says.

“I do like how our school works as a team [and] I think that carries through to the classroom...”