Fellowship reward for special needs efforts

Otago Girls' High School teacher Vicki Millar has won the 2019 Highgate Fellowship which will allow her to research special needs education overseas next year. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Otago Girls' High School teacher Vicki Millar has won the 2019 Highgate Fellowship which will allow her to research special needs education overseas next year. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Vicki Millar's ''unstinting support'' of pupils with special learning needs has earned her a $20,000 fellowship.

Not surprisingly, the Otago Girls' High School teacher plans to use it to develop her skills in special needs education.

Since 2008, she has been the special needs co-ordinator, working on learning support for pupils with needs ranging from mild dyslexia to major intellectual and physical disabilities.

She said much of her time at school was spent working with parents to build a full picture of a pupil's learning needs, and then working with their teachers to improve their learning.

In particular, she was interested in strength-based learning and some of the new brain-based behaviour.

''In layman's terms, it means that if a student comes across with an issue or a problem in their learning, rather than looking at what the problem is, we look to see what their strengths are first and build from that.

''An example would be a girl who has a specific learning difficulty. Often, they excel in other areas, like the arts or on the sports field.

''So it's using that confidence that they've built on the sports field and what skills they use there, and [working with] how they can transfer them into the classroom.

''That's my real passion.''

Mrs Millar plans to research the topic overseas next year and improve special education at Otago Girls' High School by then sharing her new-found knowledge with her teaching colleagues.

Principal Linda Miller said Mrs Millar played a key role in numerous areas of the school's operation, curriculum, sport, pastoral care and professional development.

Through these roles, and as a result of her expertise in teaching and learning, the school had been ''very much the richer for her contribution''.

Ms Miller said some pupils came to the school with major issues and low expectations from outside agencies and previous schools, but Mrs Millar had helped them to make some outstanding achievements.

''She is a particularly gifted teacher, ensuring the curriculum is accessible to all students, from the most challenged to the brightest.

''She is caring, organised, empathetic and a great support to the students, parents and colleagues with whom she teaches.''

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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