Meet your alumni

Impact: Emerging Leaders 

Liam Offer
Acting Leading Teacher for Alternate Programs
Horsham College

Head shot of Liam Offer

  When news of the child abuse in Northern Territory juvenile detention centres broke in 2016, Liam
  Offer was saddened to learn that one of his former students had been involved at Don Dale Youth
  Detention Centre.

  A few years earlier, Liam had been working closely with the boy in the Territory:

  'He was out of his community because of some dangers: he was quite violent, abusive, fighting all
  the time. I worked with him using open conversations, genuine conversations. On the last day, when
  he knew I was leaving [to go overseas] … to see a 15-year-old Indigenous boy, six foot two,
  110 kilograms,   not be able to look me in the eye because he was about to lose a massive part of his
  life – that was huge for me.’

  When Liam returned to Australia, he got in touch with his former student, who had been a part of the Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children in the Northern Territory and turned his life around:

‘He is now back in his community as an Elder. …[When I was teaching him, he saw that  he could be successful]. Then he got a bit lost. He is now connected back with Country and hopefully going to continue to do really good things.’

Liam didn’t always know that he was going to be a teacher and when he first got into the classroom, he also had no inkling that he would go on to specialise in working with children with complex needs:

‘In my first two years teaching PE, I was finding myself gravitating to disengaged students; those with behavioural issues, the ‘naughty kids’. I also wanted to know more about different cultures, particularly indigenous lifestyle and culture.’

That interest took Liam to Darwin and then overseas to the UK. He is now back in his hometown in the role of Acting Leading Teacher for Alternate Programs at Horsham College, and is a recent graduate of Bastow's Impact: Emerging Leaders program. Liam talks about the important role leaders play in building and nurturing teams, and fostering staff wellbeing. This is reinforced through the opportunities to reflect on his moral purpose and develop his leadership skills throughout the course.

Liam attributes a lot of his teaching success to setting and maintaining high expectations of his students, irrespective of their level of engagement or achievement to-date:

‘If you have high (but realistic) expectations, the kids will always rise to them. And then surpass them. It’s often two steps forward, one step back but if you are trying to change their mindset, you need to increase expectations.’

This often means looking out for students and making sure their basic needs are met. Horsham College, for example, offers free breakfast and lunch to students who need it, as well as transport to and from school.

Close interaction can make maintaining personal and professional boundaries a challenge. In his leadership role, Liam models positive work/life behaviours and supports staff to do the same, including leaving the computer and work phone at school and setting strong boundaries with students:

‘What we do can be all-consuming if you allow it. It’s an ongoing battle but I can be pretty black and white… sometimes you just have to say “No!”’

A lesson for all of us, perhaps?
 

Create: Middle Leaders

Natarsha Nicholson
Key Learning Team Leader - Literacy and Prep Teacher
Newport Lakes Primary School

Head shot of Natarsha Nicholson

  Tarsh Nicholson’s hero is Jim Henson.

  ‘As well as being an amazing puppeteer, he was an amazing teacher of people. He was kind and
  creative. His goals were sincere … he showed us that teaching wasn’t just the classroom teacher’s
  domain.’

  One way or another, Tarsh has been a teacher for much of her life. As a teenager, she taught dance
  and music to children. Today, she is Key Learning Team Leader for Literacy and a Prep Teacher at
  Newport Lakes Primary School.

  For much of her youth, Tarsh rebelled against the idea of becoming a teacher.

  ‘School always came easy to me and people said, “You’ll be a teacher”, but I rebelled against that ... I worked in TV [as a prop maker and buyer] and travelled for a few years. Eventually, I realised it was what I wanted to be, so I went back to school to become a teacher.’

Soon after entering the classroom, Tarsh became interested in developing a whole-class approach to teaching literacy that also supports the learning needs of students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties.

‘It took quite a few years [and several professional learning courses] for me to really work it out … and I can categorically say that there are children in my class who would not have learnt to read as well as they do if I did not teach this way.’

Through her participation in Create: Middle Leaders in 2018, Tarsh was able to take the knowledge she had acquired and share it with her peers.

‘I’m not [usually] someone who puts myself forward for leadership stuff … but I felt that I had developed some expertise and I had a responsibility to the kids to share what I had learnt.’

While one of the core benefits of completing a Bastow course is developing new professional networks across Victoria, Tarsh believes that the most positive and immediate impacts have been experienced within her own school.

‘I know the Create program is about creating those [broader] networks of teachers, but I think what it has done for us is build greater knowledge within our school. There are two other people who have signed up to do the program this year and we are all bringing [what] we have learnt back into our school.’ This work has included using data to identify gaps in student literacy and developing strategies and tools to fill those gaps.

In this way, Tarsh and her colleagues have become the best kind of role models for learning. In the words of Jim Henson: ‘Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.’