Friday 11 August 2023 is a date that Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School maths teacher Stephanie Thomas will no doubt mark as a defining moment in her career.
Amongst more than 800 of her peers, Thomas was named Education Rising Star of the Year for 2023, a recognition reserved for the crème de la crème of educators with five years or less of teaching under their belt.
Since launching her career in education, Thomas has not only refined traditional pedagogies but has also introduced avant-garde teaching methods, setting her apart from her peers.
In her Year 10 General Mathematics class, she has built a supportive environment, utilising ‘playful’ methods to reinforce learning. The innovative use of wrap-around whiteboards in Year 11 & Year 12 Specialist Mathematics has allowed her students to collaboratively work and elucidate their thought processes throughout their lessons.
Yet, Thomas is more than a mathematician; she’s a maestro in pedagogical psychology.
With a keen focus on metacognition and the self-system, Thomas has employed a diverse range of visual tools, such as the ‘zones of learning’, to ensure her students remain engaged and challenged.
Thomas’ inventive rewards system, which includes tailored pencils, bolsters the collective spirit of her classes, underpinning her philosophy that diligence should be the cornerstone of every learner.
Thomas said her philosophy of teaching centres around preparing students to be confident, lifelong learners.
“I don’t expect all students to use mathematics-specific content in their future endeavours, but I hope that the holistic approach to education means that students graduate with a repertoire of skills and capabilities, which they happen to have learnt in the mathematics classroom,” she told The Educator.
Indeed, this approach has served her senior students well, especially during ATAR preparations. It’s no surprise that under Thomas’ tutelage, an impressive majority of her 2022 General Mathematics students saw substantial improvements in their internal examinations. Specifically, five students bolstered their scores by a staggering 30%.
“On a superficial level, I will often use interactive quizzes or games to engage students. On a deeper level, I aim for intrinsic engagement by inviting students to bring their own experiences into the classroom,” Thomas explained.
“I use this prior learning to make lessons meaningful and significant to students. There is nothing more engaging than feeling valued in the classroom and achieving success when it previously seemed impossible.”
Recognising that the relationships teachers develop with students in the classroom is more critical to engaging students than the level of their qualifications in Mathematics, Thomas has always made sure her students know that she respects them as people, first and foremost.
“When I first started teaching, I introduced myself as a person, and I invited students to introduce themselves as people. I care about their strengths and passions. I want to know what they are involved in outside of the classroom,” she said.
“I am still constantly continuing to build this inclusive classroom dynamic in 2023 – the job will never be complete, because I will always want to learn more about my students.”