Get to know Nicky Dulfer; amateur ceramicist, inclusive education advocate, and Senior Lecturer in Education Policy and Academic Co-ordinator, Master of International Education.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background
I laugh because I wasn’t a good student at school; I got into a lot of trouble and I was lucky to finish. I didn’t want to go to university but quickly realised that, if I didn't, my options would be limited. So I went to the Melbourne Institute of Education to train as a teacher librarian, and discovered my love of teaching. I haven’t looked back since.
I’ve taught English, History and Library in England and Australia and I absolutely loved my time in the classroom. When I started out, I taught in hard-to-staff schools in England with children who were often from difficult environments. I worked with children from refugee backgrounds, with disabilities and various other wellbeing issues.
That environment taught me we don’t all have access to the same education opportunities. Participating in education was much harder for the children I was teaching than for my own children at home. I felt very strongly I wanted to do something about it, so when we returned to Melbourne I did my masters and took a role as a research assistant investigating inequalities in education (which we call ‘education equity’ research).
That was over fifteen years ago; I’ve since completed my PhD and I’m still working on educational equity research.
Q: Why education equity?
I focus on access and inclusion because there is so much to do.
We have a huge disparity between the kids who have all the resources they need and the kids who have not. We owe it to ourselves to do better; to make sure society does its best for everyone.
Q: What is your research focus now?
A lot of my work is about supporting teachers to deal with the wide range of student needs within the classroom (both their learning needs and their social / emotional needs). We take a collaborative action approach, where the teachers discuss what they’d like to work on, identify support and work together on making it happen. It’s driven by the teachers because they know what they need better than anyone.
For the last two and a half years I have also been part of a cross-disciplinary team working with other researchers from geography and political sciences on digital inclusion with the Carlton Community Network. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to work on another important area of social inclusion.
Q: You’re also the Course Coordinator for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme. Can you tell us about that?
The IB has a ‘heart on its sleeve’ mission to try and make the world a better place, which I really admire. It is holistic, progressive and focuses on the whole student; their social and emotional development is considered just as important as their academic growth. We offer an online course with students from around the world, and I am proud of our international community. It’s a fantastic program to work on.
Q: What advice would you offer an early career teacher?
I always advise new teachers to put away their assumptions about who students are and what they can do. That means talking to your students and taking the time to get to know them. Figuring out what they know and what they can already do is very important.
Investing in your relationship with your students is pivotal. None of us learn from people we don’t respect or like. Kids will learn more and try harder if you have a good, supportive relationship with them. Good education experiences lead to more good education experiences for your students; it’s self-fulfilling.
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
I have reached a wonderful stage of life where my kids are independent grown-ups and I get to enjoy some hobbies again. I crochet, read books and love movies.
I’m also really enjoying a local pottery class I discovered on my walks in lockdown; my family are all rather sick of receiving homemade ceramic bowls!