Verney Road’s Donna Allen wins top teacher award

By Tara Whitsed

For Verney Road School Foundation teacher Donna Allen simply being nominated for the Most Outstanding Primary Teacher award was an honour.

But while attending the Victorian Principals’ Association of Specialist Schools Awards with 12 school representatives, she took out the category and is still coming to terms with the incredible title.

‘‘I was really shocked,’’ she said.

‘‘I felt like a winner just to be nominated, so to win was just the icing on the cake.’’

Ms Allen said she began teaching at Verney Road School about eight years ago after spending time teaching at specialist schools in Melbourne before moving to the district and teaching at Murchison Primary School for 10 years.

‘‘When my kids were older I decided to get back into specialist teaching,’’ she said.

Ms Allen was unanimously selected by the panel of judges as the recipient of the award, which largely recognised her work in developing a writing moderation tool for predominantly non-verbal students.

‘‘In my role as literacy co-ordinator I have students who are non-verbal and students who are quite verbal,’’ she said.

Ms Allen said she used the school’s existing augmentative and alternative communication system PODD to develop the tool which allowed students to not only communicate using PODD but also to write using the system. AAC is a type of communication that combines gestures, eye pointing, vocalisations and pointing to symbols as communication for people with limited speech abilities.

Verney Road School students use a PODD folder which has many pictures and symbols that children can point at to convey their message.

‘‘We also use flip-charts and other communication devices,’’ Ms Allen said.

Ms Allen not only implemented the moderation tool at Verney Road School but also shared it among other specialist schools.

The school also hopes to push the communication method out into the community so students can communicate after they have graduated from Verney Road School and continue to have a voice.

While Ms Allen was recognised, she said staff at Verney Road worked together as a team to achieve great outcomes for their students.

‘‘Our families do such a fantastic job and we’re privileged to be able to look after their children,’’ she said.

More than 200 specialist schools from across Victoria attended the PASS Awards held at Marvel Stadium on Friday, November 9.