Mrs Leah O’Toole

Life before Girton

I have worked in both public and private schools, including St. Leonard’s College, Sandringham College and Cranbourne Secondary College. I initially completed a Bachelor of Arts and Diploma of Education at Monash University, followed by further post-graduate study in Information and Communication Technologies at the University of Melbourne and English as an Additional Language at Deakin University. I have also worked in small business, mostly in governance and human resource roles.

What I Love about Teaching

I love the fact that I do something that matters: I help to grow young people’s awareness of their potential and how their education can lead to all kinds of opportunities. It is a delight to witness a student come to the realisation that their efforts at school directly impact their life choices. More personally, I enjoy the fact that being a teacher means you are always learning. I also love working with teachers, school leaders and general staff. Their good humour, selflessness and capacity to give are qualities I admire greatly. Collectively, they bring humanity, care and stability to the lives of young people every day of every term. They are significant contributors to the modern ‘village’.

What do you like best about the subject/s you teach? (Senior School Teachers only)

English is such an important subject for life. The study of literature is ultimately an exploration and analysis of universal human experiences, where students learn about themselves, about others, and about the great concerns of the world. Concurrently, they develop the literacy skills needed to navigate school and their post-school lives, thus increasing their capacity to achieve their goals.

And then there’s the power of a book. So many worlds to escape into, new ideas to ponder, experiences to relate to, and beautiful writing to marvel at. Reading is the best mindfulness tool going. It teaches being present, getting into flow, and how NOT to multi-task. It is my life’s ambition to encourage students in my classes to replace their devices, at least sometimes, with a book.

My favourite classroom activity

I enjoy class discussions with students when there is real engagement with the topic. Through these interactions, I aim to develop students’ critical thinking skills so they can think more creatively, become more aware of their cognitive biases, and develop their ability to empathise. Because students like to have their voices heard, the Visible Thinking Routine Circle of Viewpoints is an invaluable resource to frame the parameters of the debate and get the thinking started. It is a powerful experience when everyone in the room is invested and eager to contribute.

What difference can good teaching make?

To inspire a student to believe they can develop as a learner, that they have the potential within themselves to shift another step towards their greater goal, is to make a difference. Fostering this self-belief empowers students to take on challenges, knowing they have the capacity to work through to a desired outcome. In English, this means focusing on a specific reading or writing skill for improvement, actioning teacher feedback, accepting it will take time, practice and effort, but knowing that each incremental improvement will lead to greater overall competency.

Through encouraging students to develop this self-belief, I hope I convey to them that they are seen, valued and known by me and their school. Learning is such an emotional endeavour, so it is vital to build strong relationships with students founded on trust and a sense of security. In doing so, they invariably become better risk-takers in their learning, enabling them to push beyond their comfort zones more readily.

Other Hats

This year I will be supporting senior students participating in the Lion’s Youth of the Year Program. This wonderful forum enables young people to speak about what matters to them, while developing their public speaking, leadership and interview skills.

Beyond school, I am a keen music appreciator and attend many gigs, concerts and festivals across a range of musical styles. I also love theatre, cinema and galleries. I sing in a choir, which I really enjoy. I read a lot and enjoy Sudoku and Wordle.