Emmaus Awards Spotlight: Nicole Burns

Members of the Catholic Schools of Maitland-Newcastle community gathered at Sacred Heart Cathedral last month for the annual Called to Serve Mass.

Before the mass, the annual Emmaus Awards were presented, which recognise and celebrate the significant contributions of staff in schools across the diocese.

Nicole Burns, from St Paul’s College, Booragul won the Emmaus Award for Excellence in Secondary Teaching

Nicole’s personable approach to learning is fundamental to the strong and meaningful relationships she builds with her students. Her genuine passion for sociocultural issues excites and inspires her students, creating an open dialogue learning environment that encourages students to explore their ability to make a lasting contribution to their local and broader communities. 

The Period Positivity project is a testament to Nicole’s skill as an educator, as this enabled students to bridge the gap between syllabus and reality, bringing learning to life. The work undertaken by Nicole and her students is an example of what it means to engage in authentic learning, as students develop practical and lasting solutions to real-world problems.

She is always willing to go the extra mile for her students and is a committed and authentic educator, continually motivated by the ‘ah-ha’ moments of her students, making her deserving of the accolade of Excellence in Teaching.


Find out more about Nicole below.


How long have you been a teacher at St Paul’s for? Have you taught elsewhere previously?

I have been at St Paul’s for about eleven years. Previous to that I did blocks at Maitland Grossmann High and San Clemente, however, I am a late career teacher. Before teaching I was a copywriter, worked in retail, lending, and was a stay at home mum.


What subjects do you teach?

English and Community & Family Studies (CAFS)


What inspired you to want to become a teacher?

I really loved my high school English teacher. He encouraged us to ‘read, read, read’ and I still have a copy of a list he gave our Year 12 class of his ‘Great Book Recommendations.’

I have a Bachelor of Arts in Literature and Composition, but I didn’t really do much with it. I have always loved reading and appreciated good writing, and I like kids, so I decided in my thirties to give teaching a go and did a Diploma of Education. My husband is a teacher, and he has always seemed to take great satisfaction from teaching, so I was also influenced by him.


What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Working with wonderful and generous colleagues, and the relationships you establish with students. I love teaching in a 7 to 12 school because you get to know the students early, and you get to watch them grow up. It is also very satisfying when a student masters a skill or has that ‘ah-ha’ moment of understanding. I really like spending time with young people – they are funny and smart.


You are known for connecting the syllabus to the real world. Why is this important to you?

It just makes sense to make learning as authentic as possible. I think this is particularly easy to do in CAFS as the subject has such strong ties to social justice and so many young people are socially aware and keen to make a difference. There are also some great opportunities in the English syllabus – learning about other people’s stories certainly fosters empathy and can incite action in kids.


How does it feel to have received the award?

Of course, I feel very honoured. I am fortunate and flattered that a colleague made the effort and took the time to nominate me. There are so many great teachers at my school and in the diocese, so to be honest, I feel like a bit of an imposter!

The Period Positivity Project that was rolled out at St Paul’s with the Catholic Schools Office and Dr Michelle O’Shea has been quite a journey – and a learning experience for me as well as the students. The award was a nice recognition of that journey.



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