After a whirlwind 60 minutes of speaking with Tony Vallance, 2019 recipient of the Australian Educator of the Year Award, it’s easy to understand why his students are so responsive to him. His energy and enthusiasm for teaching, STEAMworks and building connections is palpable. Read on to learn more about this outstanding teacher.
A Passion for Teaching
Tony’s teaching journey began with a love of helping others have those “ah-ha” moments. From a young age Tony has nurtured a passion for psychology, neurology, and behavioural studies. These interests shaped his teaching philosophy, and identified the key quality Tony recognises as the key to success as a teacher: building relationships with students.
STEAMworks makes the dream work
As a Learning Specialist at Lilydale High School, teaching years 7 – 10 STEAMworks, Tony has access to virtual reality devices, 3D printing, robotics and even a reptile park.
It would be a misconception to attribute the high level of student engagement to these fun and fantastic devices. In Tony’s classroom the emphasis on student ownership is the breeding ground for a creative environment.
Tony and his students have literally built his STEAMworks classroom from the ground up. During lunchtimes you’ll find Tony and his students repurposing second hand items to create an imaginative and inspiring space. With resources often in short supply Tony urges students to be creative, incorporating old cardboard, Play-Doh and Lego into collaborative learning practices.
Connection before Correction
“Connection before correction” is a common catchphrase you’ll hear from Tony. When a student misbehaves or acts out, instead of responding with frustration, he’ll ask them how they are. Part of his teaching ethos is to recognise behavior as a symptom. Approaching a student with questions and empathy often uncovers unexpected circumstances occurring at home and creates an opportunity to acknowledge these difficulties and provide support.
Developing a Unique Teaching Style
Before students even enter the classroom they are greeted by a choice of a high five, fist-bump, bow or hug as an acknowledgement that they are seen and important. He feels that this greatly reduces the need for behavior management and creates a motivated environment.
As welcoming as this approach is, he doesn’t recommend adopting it if it doesn’t feel right for you. Tony encourages teachers and students to be unapologetically themselves, and work towards feeling comfortable in their skin. Tony also suggests writing down personal strengths and passions to incorporate them into lesson plans. Recognising that self-doubt can often be overwhelming for new teachers he recommends being yourself with your students and to use them as support, as it all comes back to connection with the students.
Finding a Balance
From our conversation with Tony it is clear he is exceptionally passionate with an impressive work ethic. Along with the full-time teaching load, he also conducts PD Workshops, Podcasts and private consulting work with schools, all with the aim of reaching as many teachers as possible.
Whilst he admits he does take work to the next level he is conscious about finding a good balance and investing in himself, which he suggests all teachers do. A daily meditation and mindfulness practice helps him increase energy levels and calm anxiety.
Tony also thanks his school for helping out with planning days to work on the next years goals. He emphasizes the importance of having one main goal to focus on for the year to ensure teachers feel success and aren’t stuck in endless improvement strategies.
Tony’s goal is to enable all of his students to be proactive change makers in society, helping them follow their passions and make empowered and creative change in the word. Helping them achieve this is one of his favorite aspects of teaching and it is clear that he is making a difference in their lives.
If you would like to contact Tony or find out more about his teaching development work you can find his website here: www.buildingbetterbrains.com.au