Queensland ECEC talent recognised in TEACHX Awards
The Sector > Workforce > Queensland ECEC talent recognised in TEACHX Awards

Queensland ECEC talent recognised in TEACHX Awards

by Freya Lucas

October 17, 2022

Sandy Willick and Tanya McMillan have been named as two of the 30 finalists in the Queensland College of Teachers (QCT) TEACHX Awards, which will be announced on 27 October on the eve of World Teachers’ Day


Mrs Willick, a teacher and director at C&K Moorooka Community Kindergarten, is in the running for the Professor Betty Watts OBE Memorial Award for Outstanding Contribution to Teaching, while Ms McMillan, who heads Goodstart Early Learning’s Inclusion Support Team in Goodna is a finalist in the Excellent Leadership in Teaching and Learning category.


Culturally aware pedagogy and practice noted in Moorooka


Mrs Willick has been recognised for inspiring positive change through culturally aware pedagogy and practice, cultural wellbeing and the journey towards reconciliation. Her kindergarten serves a diverse and multicultural community including Russian, South African, Vietnamese, Chinese and Afghan families. 


Some come from trauma-affected backgrounds, speak English as a second or other language, and have limited social networks or community connections on arrival at the centre.


“We make them feel safe and support them in any way we can. Not just in the centre, but in the community to create belonging,” Mrs Willick said.


In the ten years she’s been at the centre, Mrs Willick has co-constructed an “outstanding array of initiatives”, all based on meaningful, comprehensive cultural inclusion as an educational imperative, not an optional extra.


She established a centre Reconciliation Action Plan and Elder in Residence program where children, families, and Yuggera Elder Uncle Desmond, learn about the Yuggera language and culture.


She also co-created a playgroup, now run by volunteers, where refugee and asylum-seeking families from around the community can meet each other.

“The trauma is the biggest challenge, making them feel safe. They come in and play and once they feel comfortable, they open up,” Mrs Willick said.

The kindergarten holds large gatherings for diverse members of the community, has reciprocal relationships with local support groups to help children with complex needs, and uses data to work with the early childhood group at Moorooka State School (MSS) to support successful transitions. 


As a result of her steadfast leadership at the centre, different cultural practices and preparations are highly valued and included. An interpreter is available if people need it, there’s help for filling out forms, veggies and herbs are shared in a community garden, and families have access to puzzles and picture books in their language.


“Building relationships is foundational to our success and has taken time,” she said.


More than 1,500 educators supported – a legacy of inclusive practice


You don’t have to do it alone” is the message that Tanya McMillan hopes to share with the education and care community she works with in Goodna, where she ensures all children can access and engage fully in learning and growth by providing families and children with the developmental support they need to thrive. 


Her impactful work is based on building strategic connections with local organisations and practitioners, as well as with fellow teachers.


“Networking and building relationships with other teachers is critical for support, encouragement, inspiration, advice and guidance.” she said.


Over 1,500 early childhood educators across Goodstart’s entire teaching community are now receiving a wealth of intervention strategies and resources, thanks to Ms McMillan’s efforts in creating video resources that guide and support children’s behaviour.


She also helped create an Early Intervention Community (EIC), where more than 50 children and their families have so far received services from two speech and language organisations, an occupational therapist and a physiotherapist.


In addition, the specialists bring together the centre’s teachers and educators as a team to set and achieve goals.


“By creating this community, we’ve noticed that families are more comfortable accessing these early intervention services, because these new support relationships are based on the ones they’ve already formed,” she said.

“Our early intervention therapists also noticed that children’s progress and development on their goals progressed at a faster rate because teachers and educators participated in the sessions.”

Ms McMillan also personally created one of Goodstart Early Learning Goodna’s most loved and valued spaces – ‘The Koala Hideaway’, a sensory and early intervention therapy room that helped to reduce COVID-19 disruption.


“I looked back on our relationships with our communities and how these could continue to be supported,” she said.


“After restrictions had eased, we were able to open the hideaway to facilitate numerous intervention sessions as well as small group learning experiences across our everyday programs.”


Currently, Ms McMillan is working with Goodstart Early Learning on Universal Inclusion Support and a Behaviour Support Kit by Dr Suzy Tamone to embed resources and strategies to help make sure their teachers and educators meet the needs of all children.


Staff and families have found the Behaviour Guidance and Inclusion Resources to be an invaluable resource. In addition to local contact information, it includes speech and development milestones, communication with medical practitioners and general communication support.


Described by fellow teachers as someone who motivates and empowers teachers, educators, children and families alike, Ms McMillan continues to show how early childhood educators play a vital role in educational leadership.


Learn more about the TEACHX Awards here. 

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