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News 2 > Global Teacher Prize - Finalists > 2023 Finalists Global Teacher Prize > Brendan Kenna

Brendan Kenna

Over a career spanning 24 years Brendan has held leadership positions in primary and secondary schools, within State and Catholic settings, teaching in both privileged and extremely disadvantaged settings. Over the past 14 years as a Principal serving the disadvantaged and marginalised at a disadvantaged rural school, he has been a finalist for Teacher of the Year and the school won the Best First Year School category at the State Resource Smart School Awards, the greatest milestones achieved by the school community in its history dating back to 1877, and in recognition of curriculum transformation and implementation of whole school sustainability. Wilmot Road Primary School is the 4th most disadvantaged school in Victoria and second most populous in Australia. 

Brendan’s optimism taught him valuable leadership lessons now entrenched in his leadership philosophy: to build a psychologically safe environment that creates positive relationships built on the empowerment of staff and students that promotes growth for all. 

His greatest achievement is probably the design and implementation of a Sensory Motor Program at Wilmot Road Primary School, a bespoke program built on neuroscience research and evidence-based theory, scalable across the education system and unique in mainstream education. The relationship between states of arousal and learning is a concept he witnessed during a recent study tour to the Science of Learning in Education Centre in Singapore. Challenges in the evolution of the sensory program were extensive. Brendan analysed academic results, student behaviour and attitudes and staff opinion data. In his personal time he researched states of arousal, the impact of trauma on learning and the relationship between emotions and learning, and completed trials with dysregulated children with poor attendance and low academic results. The outcomes achieved were increased engagement, significantly less dysregulation and academic growth. To ensure the successful introduction of the sensory program Brendan lead cultural transformation founded on the research of Dr Bruce Perry (trauma) and Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang (neuroscience of learning). Staff possessed a limited understanding of trauma informed pedagogy and punitive discipline was part of the culture. Students were regularly sent from class, suspension data was high, dysregulation was frequent and the school was unable to attract and retain staff (Aligned to Sec 504, USA Rehabilitation and Americans with disabilities Acts). 

Over the past five years Brendan has facilitated regular whole school professional development on the impact of trauma on the brain, arousal states and learning, the importance of restorative conversations and relational connections between staff and children. He oversaw professional development to Education Support staff who implemented the Sensory Motor Program, enabling distributive leadership. To support the sensory program, he provided professional learning that resulted in staff having a neurologically informed pedagogical approach and an increased focus on connecting emotion to student learning. Additionally, he implemented three whole school social and emotional curriculum and manage an intervention team who support students and teachers. The impact of the Sensory Motor Program has been excellent. 2022 National Assessment (NAPLAN) results showed students who performed in the top two bands, 43% also participated in the Sensory Motor Program and student dysregulation data has halved. In July 2022, Brendan was awarded a Schools Plus Teaching Fellowship for his innovative teaching approach and is recognised as one of the best educators in Australia, an example that irrespective of background great things can be achieved. 

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