‘Education is transformational and can transform not only a student’s life, but the life of their community as well. Every child deserves an equitable and just education.’

In our latest academic profile we meet Dr. Michelle Ronksley-Pavia, a lecturer and researcher within the School of Education and Professional Studies.  We delve into her research in inclusive education, learn about what she thinks makes for a good teacher in both university and school settings and also hear about a book she recently co-edited exploring the experiences of women in academia. 

Could you share the pivotal factors that led you to pursue a career in academia in the field of education? 

Becoming a university lecturer and researcher in the field of inclusive education, gifted education, and twice-exceptionality (gifted learners with disability), has enabled me to leverage my expertise, teaching experience and lived experience to influence education on a broader scale, conduct meaningful research and shape the next generation of educators and scholars in this specialised area. I have a genuine interest in advancing knowledge and understanding in the field of gifted education and twice-exceptionality, and contributing to academic discourse, developing innovative teaching strategies and conducting research that, hopefully, can benefit students and educators.  

What sparked your interest in the topic of your recent book, Academic women: Voicing narratives of gendered experiences, and what was the process of collaborating with academics from around the world for this project? 

One of the key reasons I wanted to pursue an edited book on academic women’s experiences was a desire to shed light on the unique challenges, experiences and perspectives of academic women who have historically been underrepresented and faced gender-based inequities in academia. My personal experiences and connections, along with those of my co-editors, Michelle Neumann, Jane Manakil and Kelly Pickard-Smith, motivated me to address the gendered experiences of academic women. Empowering women in academia and amplifying their voices was a central goal of the book, providing a platform for academic women from around the world to share their stories, challenges and successes, thereby advocating for gender equity and inclusivity in academia.  

The process of collaborating with academics from around the world was focused on communicating our clear vision for the book, outlining its purpose, scope and objectives. We put out a call for chapter proposals and ended up being oversubscribed with many high-quality proposals, meaning that unfortunately, we were not able to include all the chapter proposals in the final book. This did suggest, however, that there was extensive interest in the topic of women’s gendered experiences in academia. Submitted contributions underwent extensive peer review at different stages of the book’s conception, through and prior to publication.  We were able to include narratives from a wide range of cultural, geographical and disciplinary backgrounds to provide comprehensive and inclusive perspectives from, and about, women in academia. 

Winning Teaching Excellence Awards for your work in teacher education programs is an impressive achievement. What attributes do you believe contribute to being an exceptional educator in a university setting? 

The attributes that can contribute to being a good educator involve a combination of various skills and qualities. While different educators may have their own unique strengths, there are some key attributes that often contribute to being a good educator in a university setting. The first of which I think is subject matter expertise, that includes having a deep and comprehensive understanding of the subjects they teach. This expertise allows university educators to convey complex concepts, engage in meaningful discussions and provide valuable insights to their students. Connecting this to industry experience and real-life settings, through case studies and industry placements, is extremely important to ensure that our students will be job ready graduates. It is also important to be really passionate and enthusiastic about what you are teaching; this kind of excitement can be contagious and encourages student engagement. 

I believe that exceptional educators foster an interactive and engaging learning environment for their students. They encourage class discussions, group activities and hands-on experiences that promote critical thinking and active learning. Being empathetic and approachable helps you to connect with your students on a personal level. Understanding the challenges students might face is important, as is knowing when to connect them to support and guidance. 

‘Connecting […] to industry experience and real-life settings […] is extremely important to ensure that our students will be job ready graduates.’

Your research revolves around inclusive and gifted educational practices. Could you shed light on some of the challenges faced by these students, and how do you believe educational institutions can better address their unique needs? 

Both diverse students and gifted students face unique challenges in educational systems. Addressing their needs requires a combination of understanding, ongoing teacher professional development, targeted support for students, inclusive practices and a commitment to creating an environment where all students can thrive. Some of the challenges faced by diverse learners relate to stereotyping, bias and microaggressions, which can create an unwelcoming and hostile environment, impacting students’ sense of belonging and academic performance.  

There needs to be increased recognition and understanding that learners can have multiple intersecting diversities, which requires thoughtful and responsive teaching. Educational institutions can be better positioned to support diverse learners when everyone is on the same page and moving forward to develop each student’s potential through a strengths-based approach that both addresses students’ challenges while also supporting their strengths. Adopting a holistic approach that includes curriculum modifications, teacher training, support services, and a commitment to fostering an inclusive and supportive learning environment will support diverse students.

For students contemplating a career as teachers in school settings, what advice or insights would you offer to help them navigate their path successfully?

They need to have a passion for education and a sincere desire to make a positive impact on students’ lives. Teaching can be challenging; however, a teacher’s enthusiasm can inspire and motivate students. Being flexible and adaptable in your teaching approach is essential. Every student is unique, and being able to adjust pedagogical practices to accommodate diverse students is crucial. For anyone interested in becoming a schoolteacher I would suggest they connect with current practicing teachers to gain industry insights on the day-to-day planning and teaching in schools. Collaborative discussions and sharing best practices can provide valuable insights and support on the teaching career journey. Teaching can be a rewarding and impactful profession, and an individual’s dedication can have a lasting influence on the lives of their students. Education is transformational and can transform not only a student’s life, but the life of their community as well. Every child deserves an equitable and just education.  

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