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Alumni Stories

Mentorship takes centrestage at Red Hill Primary School

Sophie Hopkins grew up doing musical theatre throughout her schooling years; dancing, singing and performing were her greatest passions. When she drew closer to completing Year 12, it was time to decide what career she would pursue – teaching wasn’t originally on the cards at all.

“I hadn’t planned to go to university, but my mum encouraged me to go along to the UC Open Day, just to see,” Sophie says.

“She’s always said to do something that makes your heart sing and she, as a teacher, would get up every day wanting to go to work – that's all that she wanted for me too.”

“When I saw the Bachelor of Primary Education, with the Creative Arts specialisation, I knew – this was my calling. This is what I’m meant do.”

Fast forward to 2022 and she had reached the last leg of her studies, her final six-week practical placement, where she was set to join Juliette O’Connor’s Year 1 class at Red Hill Primary School.

“At that time, I was very apprehensive, but Juliette completely turned it around for me. She was always there to help me, share her wisdom and foster whatever it was she saw in me,” Sophie says.

Juliette, too, says there was an instant connection between herself, Sophie, and the class.

“The core of teaching is connecting with the kids – not everyone can do it, but Sophie can,” Juliette says.

“One of the great things about Sophie, is that she came in with openness. If you come in too prescribed, you haven't left any room for the kids to have a voice.”

Although Sophie was initially feeling a lack of confidence in the classroom, Juliette was incredibly supportive in helping her to navigate the classroom management.

“Her journey was about realising what your power is, as a teacher in the classroom, and when she tapped into that, I could see her outlook change,” Juliette says.

“She learned what worked and what didn’t work. Like ‘I need to keep those two apart’, or ‘I can talk to these two at the same time’.

“You can instil expectations in the kids, remind them of the expectations and then bring them back up to that standard.”

In working together to create a positive environment for learning, they would naturally bounce off one another, often incorporating the power of music.

“I could sing some sort of cool call to attention, a little ditty like ‘Stop, look and listen’ or ‘now, five more minutes’ then Juliette, and the class would repeat it. It builds this sense of community in the classroom,” Sophie says.

Following her final placement, Sophie was offered a permanent position at Red Hill School as a Specialist Arts teacher. This year, Sophie and Juliette will work together as colleagues to bring the joy of the performing arts to a generation of students, many who have missed landmark activities due to COVID-19 lockdowns, cancellation of events and ongoing restrictions.

“There can be misconceptions around the arts – sometimes people think they don’t require a lot of dedication or seriousness, but they build skills like discipline and resilience,” Juliette says.

“You’ve got to put in a lot of hard work, you’ve got to be disciplined and things do go wrong – it exposes kids to failure, then they have to reflect and think, ‘well, what can we do next time?’. That’s a learning experience. We're giving them an opportunity to have everything fall apart, and that's fine because that's how you build robust, risk-taker confidence.”

With her dream job now secured, Sophie is looking forward to the new year and the adventures it will bring. She’s incredibly grateful for the time spent under Juliette’s wing, and for the encouragement and support that’s allowed her to blossom into the confident, enthusiastic young educator she is today.

“Juliette was so encouraging, so affirming, so highly experienced and willing to share her knowledge. She provided constant feedback and reflection; what worked, what didn’t and what we can do better next time,” Sophie says.

“Before my placement, I felt like I would lose my own sense of self as a teacher, but Juliette taught me to be authentically me.

“We are so excited to jump in this year, give the kids an opportunity to perform and grow their confidence, and share with them, our love for the arts.”

Words and photo by Kelly White.

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