Science and Maths teacher Taylah Savins-Harrison didn’t just start a new job when she began teaching at the remote Tagai State College up on Thursday island, she started a new life – one which she has invested her entire being in.
Over ninty-five per cent of Tagai students are Indigenous, with English as an Additional Language/Dialect (IEAL/D) so it was imperative that Taylah be able to communicate past these language barriers. She built her professional knowledge from established peers in the area and utilised IEAL/D strategies but also learnt about local languages and the creole of the Torres Strait Islanders. She contextualised curriculum to engage students with topics relevant to their experience. Most importantly she has recognised the significance of community and family in the education of her students.
Prepared to open herself up to another culture and to strangers, she has invested in getting to know both wholeheartedly. She is present in the community, joining Island dance teams and sports teams and attending community events. She supports students in their cultural and extra-curricular activities outside of school hours. She regularly communicates with parents face-to-face, over the phone, through email and, where needed, writing letters.
“Understanding the unique Torres Strait and Aboriginal culture is vital in building relationships with the community, parents and students. This facilitates getting the most out of the student that she teaches, as well as addressing cultural differences that arise with living in a small community,” Head of Department Senior Secondary Adrian Jeloudev says.
In a class of students with verified cognitive conditions and IEAL/D capabilities, Taylah made Individual Curriculum Programs for most students. By differentiating she has created a culture of real success that has seen an increase in attendance and engagement from students who were previously ‘at-risk’.
“It is one thing to contextualize learning for students, however, Taylah has been successful in inspiring young people to take notice of issues and opportunities with a wider and more worldly lens,” Adrian says.
Taylah has been instrumental in delivering The Coxswains Marine Course which provides direct links and employment opportunities for students. She has committed to completing the Coxswain Commercial Boat Licensing Course to increase the availability of such vital educational pathways for her students.
In her second year of teaching, Taylah has become the Year 9 Coordinator, during her short time in this role she has led the students into a ‘Big Bala, Big Sissy’ peer mentoring program, as well as preparing and working with students towards achieving their Junior Certificate of Education (JCE). Taylah is also the lead teacher for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Aquatic Science. She is the only Year 11 Biology teacher at the school, giving her full responsibility to implement the new Queensland Certificate of Education/Senior Assessment and Tertiary Entrance (QCE/SATE) syllabus for curriculum and assessment. Being the only new QCE/SATE Biology teacher in the Torres Strait meant she had to collaborate with other Biology teachers across the state via email and phone to ensure assessment and resources were on target.
She has pursued professional learning that is not just online or school-based, which presents challenges when being in such a remote location. Most recent of these being a ‘Level 1 Classroom Profiling’ course. This professional learning providing skills and knowledge that she intends on sharing with colleagues as well as using it to benefit her own teaching practice.
“Taylah has made a fantastic start to a promising and exciting career in teaching. Engaging students in what they are learning, raising the bar for students in her classroom and being a valued member at Tagai State College and the wider Thursday Island community,” Adrian says.
Congratulations Taylah on your nomination.