Brendan Kenna wins National Teaching Award

Moral imperative: Assistant principal Brendan Kenna has been recognised with a national award for his contributions.


When Brendan Kenna began working as an assistant principal at one of the state’s most disadvantaged primary schools, he knew something needed to change.

Fast-forward five years at Wilmot Rd Primary School and the establishment of a groundbreaking education practice targeting trauma, it’s official — Mr Kenna has done just that.

Out of more than 400 applicants, Mr Kenna is one of 12 to have been recognised as Australia’s most inspiring teachers in the 2022 Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards, for his work addressing the needs of students and their families. And while "honoured and humbled“ by the award, Mr Kenna said it all came down to helping the kids and their families.

“You don’t need to go to Melbourne or anywhere else to see the level of disadvantage — 78 per cent of our student cohort comes from languages other than English,” he said.

“In addition to the complex trauma that families and children have experienced, you’ve also got the layer of those families that have come from overseas, for example, Afghanistan and what's happened over there, so multi levels of trauma. “The things you read about or you see on the news, about the border and boats sinking, we’ve got kids at our school that can tell you first hand of bad experiences of coming out on a boat.

“But I love my role here, I’ve made a conscious and ethical decision to want to work and lead, and make a difference in challenging environments.”

In doing so, Mr Kenna began conducting research and sought guidance from THRIVE occupation- al therapists and paediatrician Dr Peter Eastaugh.

Soon enough, he found him- self quite deep into neuroplasticity and how trauma can affect people — children especially — but also the ability of the brain to be able to rewire and recover from trauma given the right support.

“What we’re doing is we’re acknowledging the behaviours that the kids have is their way of express- ing to us that they're not okay,” he said.

“It’s our job to read that and not see it as a naughty kid but as a kid that needs some additional supports.

“That sort of lit up a fire in my belly, based on my moral imperative to do something, I needed to create something because there just wasn't anything out there.”

With support from the school’s principal and staff, the indoor-out- door program developed has been centred around each individual student.

A “sensory profile” is created to determine the student’s specific need and then a “sensory diet” ensues, which implements specific sensory activities to give the student space to re-engage, often outside the classroom.

“We’ve found that has enabled not only the children that are doing the sensory breaks to learn how to regulate and be able to cope in the classroom, it's also enabled the other kids to be able to improve their learning,” he said.

“It’s having a positive impact on such a larger cohort, our teachers are also now more acutely aware of real trauma-informed pedagogical approaches.”

Mr Kenna also co-ordinates the school’s scholarship program, manages 30 multidisciplinary clinics each year and presents at other schools and conferences.

As part of the award, a $45,000 prize from Commonwealth Bank and Schools Plus will go towards funding a strategic program at the school, as well as professional development opportunities and an international study tour.

Mr Kenna said the funding would go towards an additional program, or research to supplement what the school already has.

“It’s about supporting kids and how we can best support kids to reach their future,” he said.

“I want the next Australian Prime Minister to come out of Wilmot Rd Primary School, I want someone who’s able to cure cancer to come out of one of our classrooms.”

Article written by Caitlyn Grant and published in the Shepparton News on 22nd July 2022


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