How 26-year-old Rosie Connelly is transforming support for students with complex needs.

Thanks to our brand partner, COMMONWEALTH BANK

For Rosie Connelly, her measure of success was realised in the form of an eight-year-old boy. 

“This student in my year three classroom has autism,” the South Australian teacher told Mamamia, “The year before, he was getting suspensions, he had to spend all of his lunchtime play in the office because he would be quite violent, he was disengaged within his learning, and he didn’t see school as a place he wanted to be.” 

But then he came into the 26-year-old’s class at Playford Primary School in Adelaide, and had a “complete turnaround”. 

“Not one suspension, not one take home, no spending time in the office during play, and his learning absolutely thrived,” she beamed. “He developed practices to be in control of his emotional reactions, and he learned to love school and engage within his learning.” 

That little boy is now in Year four, but still stops to ask how Miss Connelly is. 

“He’s been a huge success story of mine,” she professed. “And as his teacher, I’m very proud of what he's achieved.”

It’s this passion for supporting neurodiverse students, and the measures she’s instilled to help them learn in an inclusive environment, that have led Rosie to be a recipient of the 2023 Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards, presented by Schools Plus

The accolade aims to recognise and reward great teachers from around Australia who are making a transformative impact on students and school communities. 


A calming classroom for students to learn.

Since Rosie started at Playford Primary School five years ago, she’s always worked to make sure her students feel engaged, inspired and have a sense of belonging. It was at the start of 2023 when Rosie stepped into the role of Autism Inclusion Teacher, that she came into her own. The role comes from a new nation-leading initiative aiming to build educator understanding and knowledge around supporting children with autism.

Now less than nine months into the job, the young teacher has introduced a range of measures into her classroom to meet the needs of students who face learning difficulties. 

“At Playford I’ve created a sensory room for all students who may feel overwhelmed during playtime because of the loud noises, bright lights, screaming kids, school bells and unpredictability,” she explained. “So in the sensory room I have no lights or sound, and it’s just a place for students to go into where they can do interoception, which is understanding what their body signals are telling them and having a calming activity to help relieve some anxiety.”

Rosie said the difference it makes back in the classroom is astounding, with a sharp reduction in behavioural problems and children returning to lessons “ready to learn”. 

“I find when students are overwhelmed, they can’t control their emotional reactions and that can cause a lot of issues in the playground,” she said. “So by having a sensory room for them to go to, it’s predictable and routine which is what our neurodiverse students need.”


Rosie has also worked to create a supportive and trauma-informed positive classroom with regulation scales.

Image: Commonwealth Bank.

“When students come in each morning, there’s a chart which has ‘ready to learn’, ‘not ready to learn’, and ‘big emotions’ on it,” she said, explaining that each zone is represented by a sun, cloud or storm, giving students visual representations of “how they may be feeling inside”.


In addition Rosie has a calm down corner for those who need a few minutes to themselves, visual timetables on each desk so students know what to expect, dim lighting, fidget toys, and quiet, calming background music because sometimes “students need two things going at the same time”. Each day, students complete two activities in interoception to help enable them to develop self-regulation and be in control of their emotional reactions.  

The Playford Primary School teacher said the results have been enormous. By proactively rolling out these tools and programs, not only has there been a decrease in disruptive behaviour, but student achievements, especially within mathematics, has increased.

“Just from having that inclusive, creative, problem-solving, open-ended, visual support and growth mindset within learning — where it’s okay to make a mistake and understanding how to learn from that — every single one of my students have made an increase within their learning,” Rosie said. 

‘Words can’t describe how much this award means.’

As one of just 10 people across the country to receive an Early Career Teacher Award, Rosie described the recognition as “surreal”, and said she’s “very overwhelmed”. 

“Words cannot describe how much this award means to me, being able to be recognised for the hard work that early career teachers are doing, not just myself but all 10 of us,” she told Mamamia.  

“Teaching is not a nine to three job. I’m at school everyday at 7am and most days I don’t leave until 4:30 or 5pm. So, a lot of 10-hour days. But I do that because I’m so dedicated to my students and being recognised with this award in Parliament House by the Federal Education Minister is just extraordinary. 


“It’s just so uplifting and I think these awards are really affirming and I think they continue to help drive great teachers to be recognised for the excellent work that they’re doing.”

The Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards also recognises 12 Teaching Fellows, and aims to show how important it is to value teachers and the work they do — making a difference for our children, contributing to the wellbeing of communities, and creating bright futures for generations of young Australians. 

All the Early Career Teaching Award recipients receive a $10,000 scholarship for their further professional development, which is supported by Salesforce. But for Rosie, her focus is making the autism teaching lead role her own. 

“I feel like I’ve really set the ball rolling with that and I’m so excited to see what other avenues I can take,” she said. “Inspired by my own students and their families, I just want to take it in my stride, and be that voice for my students and hopefully all students on the autism spectrum.”

Explore all the 12 Teaching Fellows and 10 Early Career Teachers who are the recipients of the 2023 Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards, presented by Schools Plus.

Feature Image: Commonwealth Bank.

Each year, the Commonwealth Bank, in partnership with national education non-profit Schools Plus, celebrate great teachers for the profound impact they have on children and their communities. 12 outstanding teachers have been chosen for a prestigious Teaching Fellowship valued at $40,000 including funds for a strategic school project and a unique 12-month professional learning program. Plus 10 exceptional early career teachers will receive $10,000 for professional development and an exclusive leadership and mentoring program.