An Emmaus is the highest honour the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) of the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese bestows on teaching staff. The CSO established the awards to recognise, affirm and celebrate the significant contribution made by the recipients to aspects of excellence in Catholic schooling in the Diocese.
Ms Buchanan Willis received her Emmaus Award for Excellence in Teaching. Her citation noted that during her time at St Columba’s she has implemented a number of whole-school initiatives including co-ordinating morning fitness groups from K-6, organising students in Grades 3-6 to enter the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Competition, facilitating a range of multicultural games for Harmony Day, coaching and managing netball and soccer teams during lunchtimes and perhaps most significantly, implementing the Children’s University program at the school.
“To receive this award for excellence in teaching is a great honour,” she said. “It was particularly special to be awarded in front of so many of my own primary and high school teachers who made an imprint on my life and inspired me to become a teacher.
“It was a very humbling experience to be recognised for my efforts and I feel so grateful to all of those who I have worked with who have taught me so much about the teaching profession and have supported me in my work.
“Teaching is a profession with many rewarding aspects, most of all our ability to make a positive impact on the future generations and future leaders in our communities."
St Columba’s acting principal Jenny Howard said Ms Buchanan Willis has worked in a variety of roles over the last few years.
“During this time, we have seen her work hard to develop her skills and her confidence as a teacher to the point where she has willingly taken on informal and formal leadership roles within the school,” Ms Howard said.
“She builds wonderful relationships with her students and has been a particularly capable Year 6 teacher because of the combination of her teaching ability and the trust her students place in her. Kate has also taken on additional programs with one of the more significant being the Children’s University. In this, and other programs she has run, Kate has gone well beyond the classroom to provide learning opportunities and a love of learning for students across the grades.
“More recently, Kate has successfully taken on the role of gifted education mentor, which requires her to liaise with staff and parents in the support of our gifted students throughout the school. She has helped in planning for these children and has also worked with a team of three other Central Region Year 6 teachers to build a mathematics program that meets the needs of students across a range of abilities.
“St Columba’s is proud of the work Kate has done in our community and of the teacher she is and will be for the future. We are very grateful for her selection as a winner of the Emmaus award as we know that she is well and truly a deserving recipient.”
Ms Buchanan Willis said the proudest moments in her teaching role so far have been to see her students serving their community through visiting the local nursing home, raising money to send to a special needs school in Africa and organising donations for the Mission to the Seafarers.
"To see the increase in confidence in my students as they realise their potential to succeed in any given field and also their ability to make a difference to our world is empowering and why I continue to teach," she said.
Recognition from the school community and making a positive impact on the lives of students is empowering for teachers. Ms Buchanan Willis independently organises all Children’s University activities. She frequently communicates with parents and other community members to find out any unusual or unique gifts or talents they might have, then stays after school to provide a learning afternoon for the children.
Her strong identity as a catholic educator is also highlighted by the fact as a Year 11 student, she spent free periods teaching scripture to the children at the local public school. As an adult she dedicates many weekends to being part of the Children’s Liturgy program at St Joseph’s, East Maitland, and supports all school Masses and celebrations after hours at St Columba’s, Adamstown. In her citation for the award, St Columba’s said her commitment and insightfulness has had a significant impact on the educational environment at Adamstown.
“There is no greater acknowledgement than the positive words of your students and their parents, and that has been the most special part of this award, knowing my work has made a difference just as my teachers did for me,” said Ms Buchanan Willis.