Spotlight: Leonie Abbott, Senior Trainer of the Berry Street Education Model

What was your path to Berry Street Education Model?

I always wanted to be a teacher. My career has a jagged journey. I worked for my parents in their business from an early age and was given exposure to many elements of running a small business. I know this foundation informs much of my thinking and entrepreneurial spirit. I am always looking for new challenges, ways to improve processes and practice my strength of curiosity. I taught in a number of secondary schools in Melbourne’s west and also in London, where I lived for three years. It was here I had the opportunity to try my hand at recruitment, a fast paced client driven environment which I loved. Events in my life turned me back onto my path of teaching when I returned to Australia.

My second phase of teaching, saw me explore the role of wellbeing in the lives of students. After a few zigs and zags, this eventually led me to working at Independent Schools Victoria in a wellbeing role working directly with eleven schools on a school improvement government initiative called the National Partnerships. The Berry Street School was one of my schools. A year into my work Tom Brunzell arrived in Australia and took up his role at the school. I now had an ally on the inside and on the outside, a great friend and mentor! I was steered toward my Masters of Applied Positive Psychology and once I graduated I joined Tom developing the BSEM training days, the curriculum and delivering the pilot. There were many long car drives iterating the work, developing better ways of sharing the information and challenging each other so that we could best challenge teachers. What fun! To this day we are still making alterations, growing our work as the research and evidence base also grows. It is certainly never boring!

What are the best parts of your job?

Influencing transformation is something that really inspires me. During my four years delivering the Berry Street Education Model I have been most excited seeing the attitude changes in staff that indicates a shift in their practice. Our work seems to unify school culture which is a hard element to quantify, however, time and time again I have walked back into schools for a consult or a training day and can feel the changes. Observing teachers owning strategies like they’ve been doing them forever (and some have) along with hearing stories about the challenges staff have overcome makes every day motivating.

One of my favourite moments was with a mid-profession teacher who had a particularly difficult student in the year her school was adopting the Berry Street Education Model. She reflected on that year and said “It was the hardest year of my teaching career. I was constantly challenged by this student. It was tough. It was also the best year of my career! I learned and could apply so many strategies. I can’t tell you how reinvigorated I feel as a teacher!” This teacher also went on to be the BSEM team lead at her school, a role she had previously never considered herself to be capable of. For me that story captures the essence of our work and is why I love getting up in the morning!

What brings you life satisfaction?  

My satisfaction with life is derived from connections to others. I look for opportunities to build positivity resonance and use another of my signature strengths, love, with people. I know love makes me tick.

One of my favourite pastimes is horse racing. I get a thrill watching magnificent animals stretch themselves athletically but more importantly it’s the friendships, community and joy of sharing the experience with others. On New Year’s Day this year a horse I own won at Flemington! Wow, it was a moment of pure elation. The real joy though, was sharing the experience with the other 30 people gathered together who all have a small percentage interest. Communities come in many forms and I’ve come to realise we can create them without realising we are doing it. I am beginning to savour those special moments. Don’t think it’s all about winning though, the horse came fifth in his next start. Disappointing, a little. But, I looked around and our entire syndicate had gathered around the TV to watch him! That was the real win of the day.


The Berry Street Education Model (BSEM) is designed to improve a school’s capacity to address the engagement of vulnerable or disadvantaged young people in learning so these students can achieve their personal and social potential through educational achievement.
The Model incorporates classroom strategies informed by Berry Street’s approaches to trauma-informed learning and the science of wellbeing.

To find out more about BSEM training, please contact BSEM’s Business Manager on (03) 9429 9266.

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