'The one constant in my life were my teachers. They were the ones who gave me the positives when things seemed gloomy. I just thought, ‘isn’t that amazing’. It’s not just about teaching English or Maths; it’s about relationships. Empowerment has a huge impact for students; and those teachers changed my life.'
From an alumnus to now working at USQ, Tania lectures on teaching in alternative contexts and evidence-based decision-making in education, while also coordinating the University’s professional experience programs.
Guiding the journey
As Director of Professional Experience, Tania oversees all student placements across 26 courses within the Bachelor of Education, Master of Teaching and Learning and Master of Education programs. She also offers work-integrated learning for students seeking to gain experience in their chosen field.
'Students at USQ have a wonderful opportunity to access these frequent touchpoints every six months, where they can engage with different schools and educational settings throughout their program. My role is to combine the teaching and learning into one, streamlined process. We ensure our students have access to quality support, but we also individualise and personalise their placement journey to suit their needs. So, by the end of their degree, they feel confident to step out and teach the next generation of future leaders.'
Tania says through the profession experience program, the success rate for students landing a job is almost always 100%.
'Particularly in rural and remote schools that have limited access to teachers, we support students who engage in an arrangement called, ‘permission to teach’. Our students work full-time as teachers while studying, even before they have completed their degree. We also have great partnerships with the different education systems. They usually start talking to our students in third and fourth year, and most of them are already employed with them by the end of their fourth year.'
Tania says that students engaged in rural and remote school placements quickly learn it is not simply about being able to teach. More so, it’s about establishing community connections and creating meaningful relationships.
'This is how students develop their professional identity and understand their non-negotiables. When students come back from placement, they always say to me, ‘Tania, this is where I want to be employed.’
With an impressive 20-year background in teaching, we asked Tania what motivates her to take on the coaching and mentoring responsibility for students.
'Throughout my career, I’ve had opportunities to step into various leadership roles within schools, regionally or at a state level. The common factor, whether it be supporting students or staff, was confidence. From developing my own leadership style, I’ve found that empowering others is important. The best way to do that is through a coaching and mentoring philosophy. I always think to myself, "If you come in and tell a person what to do, you are taking a learning opportunity away from them.’ We need to start endorsing people to shape their own learning journey."'
Tania says education is all about the gift you give, your legacy and the next steps.
'From my experience, children from affluent schools are no different to those from rural and remote schools. Their needs remain the same – they want a sense of self, confidence, and advocacy. We certainly have former students who come back to Toowoomba and yell out in recognition, “Mrs Leach!”. They show me their children or what they are doing now. And occasionally, I hear these beautiful stories of children who came from many generations of poverty who have changed their lives and who attribute that to the experiences they had when I was at school with them. That makes all of this worthwhile.'
Education is like a family
Above all else, Tania says she appreciates that USQ offers professional learning opportunities and provides clear role expectations.
'As an academic, you have three pillars in your role: research, service and teaching. I love that USQ provides flexibility - they do not dictate how you should perform these duties. There is a very clear strategic direction but we can innovate in how we achieve that. You can think outside the box, you can bring ideas forward, you can brainstorm, you can pilot - there are many opportunities to trial things, with USQ’s support.'
While she continues to excel in her own personal and professional capabilities, Tania is seeking to provide new opportunities for students to have a greater positive influence at USQ.
'With any role that I do, I always try to do myself out of that job - that way, I know I have succeeded. I certainly love the connection between career and learning in higher education. I don’t think that will ever go away but my research profile is developing. I believe in USQ as an organisation; I believe we are leaders in education for rural and remote areas. We have a little way to go to ensure our profile is evidenced in that space, but we’re getting there, step by step.'
As we come to the end of our interview, Tania leaves us with one final, positive thought.
Education is like a family; for me, it is all about supporting students and that will always be my key driver.'
Thank you Tania, for the passion you bring in building the capabilities of others.