Dr Victoria Whitington

Dr Victoria Whitington is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of South Australia. Most recently she was Dean of Programs in Education Futures and previously Associate Dean of School of Education. She is currently the Presiding Member of the Child Development Council SA.

Dr Whitington’s teaching and research is principally located in early childhood education. From 2004 she undertook leading role in that field of research and teaching at the university, and in other fora nationally.

Her research and higher degree supervision include:

  • critical perspectives on children's learning and development
  • children’s wellbeing in education settings
  • early brain development
  • contextually based, dialogic, democratic and rights-based approaches to early childhood education.

Major funded research projects include:

  • ‘Universal Access to Preschool’
  • 'The Wellbeing Classroom’
  • ‘An Investigation into the Reimagining of Early Childhood Education in SA’
  • ‘Time to ponder’: professional learning in early childhood education’
  • ‘Transitions between TAFE and UniSA: teaching and learning issues’.

Current projects focus on culturally and linguistically responsive early childhood pedagogies, and emotional literacy in diverse early childhood services.

Dr Whitington developed and taught courses at undergraduate and masters level in child development (cognitive, socially and emotionally), brain development in the early years, development through a cultural lens, leadership in early years settings, and the practicum.

Victoria continues as Chair of the Gowrie SA Board, a position she held since 2000. She formerly worked for thirteen years as a classroom teacher with children from 5-12 years. Victoria is a member of the Centre for Research in Educational and Social Inclusion, within Education Futures at the University of South Australia.

Dr Rhiannon Pilkington

Dr Rhiannon Pilkington is a senior research fellow in the School of Public Health, University of Adelaide, South Australia, as a part of the BetterStart Health and Development research group led by Professor John Lynch. She is an epidemiologist with expertise in translational research, data analytics, and linked administrative data.

Her research focuses on improving the evidence that informs how we can ensure every child, young person and family receives the support they need.

Dr Pilkington works with government and non-government organisations across Australia, using their data to bring a public health perspective to service design and delivery for populations experiencing different forms of disadvantage.

Professor Sharon Goldfeld

Professor Sharon Goldfeld is a paediatrician and Director, Centre for Community Child Health (CCCH) the Royal Children’s Hospital, Co-Group leader of Policy and Equity, and Theme Director, Population Health at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

She has a decade of experience in state government as a senior policymaker in health and education including Principal Medical Advisor in the Victorian Department of Education and Training.

Her research program is made up of complementary, synergistic and cross-disciplinary streams of work focused on investigating, testing and translating sustainable policy relevant solutions that eliminate inequities for Australia’s children. As an experienced policymaker, public health and paediatric researcher she aims to ensure ongoing effective, rapid translation of research into the policy and service arena.

Professor Goldfeld’s career pathway has strategically straddled research, policy and practice. With over 120 peer reviewed publications and editorials to her name, Sharon has also authored 46 reports for state and national governments and several book chapters. Since 2002 Sharon has been awarded nearly $87 million in competitive research funding both in Australia and internationally.

Sharon was recently awarded the inaugural Marles Medal in STEM (science, technology, engineering and medicine) for excellent and original research that led to outstanding achievement in research impact.

She has received the medal for her leadership of the right@home study, a trial designed to build parenting capacity among disadvantaged parents. Her expertise as a child health policy and research translation leader have been recognised nationally and internationally through invitations to policy round tables and high level committees and invited presentations.

Associate Professor Brigid Jordan AM

Associate Professor Brigid Jordan is a social worker and infant mental health clinician, academic and researcher. She worked at the Royal Children’s Hospital for 35 years, most recently as the Associate Professor of Social Work. She is an Honorary Principal Fellow in the Department of Paediatrics, at The University of Melbourne and honorary Team Leader of Infant Mental Health research at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

Her research focuses on the impact of early life stress – either because of serious illness and hospital experience, or significant family stress and social disadvantage – on the health and mental health of infants and toddlers and their families.

This research has a strong focus on clinical and translational outcomes and developing novel clinical approaches in infant mental health that are based on the latest evidence about infant memory, emotional development and behavioural responses to stress and traumatic experiences. Her team has expertise in the observation and measurement of infant and toddler behaviour and the dynamics of infant–parent relationships.

Brigid has extensive experience extending infant mental health knowledge and skills into the fields of child welfare, paediatric health care and early years education.

She is one of the Chief Investigators in the multi-disciplinary University of Melbourne team that evaluated the outcomes of an intensive early childhood education and care program for children living with significant family stress and social disadvantage. The program was evaluated using a randomised controlled trial methodology with experienced evaluation experts drawn from The University of Melbourne’s Departments of Economics, Paediatrics and Education and the Melbourne Institute. Brigid is a co-author of the evaluation reports and the description of the model of intervention.

Brigid has had a key role in the development of the field of infant mental health in Australia. Together with colleagues she established post-graduate Infant Mental Health courses in Victoria. She is a past President of the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health and was a Director on the Board of the World Association for Infant Mental Health from 2000-2006. In 2008 she received the WAIMH in recognition of her significant contributions to the World Association for Infant Mental Health.

In 2019 Brigid was appointed a Member of the Order of the Australia in recognition of significant service to medicine in the field of paediatrics and infant mental health.

Professor Sally Brinkman

Sally is a Professor at Education Futures at the University of South Australia.

Sally’s research aims to improve the healthy development and early learning of young children, with a focus on those living in diverse and disadvantaged communities. Sally undertakes research across Australia, as well as countries in Asia, Pacific regions, Latin America and the Emirates.

Her expertise includes population monitoring to determine the prevalence, distribution and magnitude of inequality in child outcomes and pragmatic randomised control trials to evaluate the impact and cost effectiveness of early childhood development and education interventions. Her research has had significant global and local impact and is highly relevant for the disciplines of early education, community development, and development economics.

She works in close partnership with international governments and donor organisations, such as the World Bank, UNICEF, and UNESCO.

Sally currently sits on the South Australian Child Development Council and the Federal Education Minister’s Preschool Outcomes Measure Expert Advisory Group.

Sally has more than 200 publications, including high impact journals such as The Lancet, and has earned more than $10 million in academic funding and $30 million through a combination of international, philanthropic and government funds.

Sally is well recognised nationally and internationally in academic and policy environments, reflecting her track record in achieving highly translatable research.

Jane Lemon

Jane Lemon has been involved in early childhood education in South Australia for more than 40 years. She has a been a preschool teacher and Director, and worked in leadership positions in regional and state offices.

She has been instrumental in the successful development, expansion and evaluation of state wide programs for families and young children and in supporting program development in Victoria and the ACT. Jane has extensive experience in resource development, creating publications for teachers, educators and families. She has written extensively for state and Commonwealth websites and taught at two universities.

Jane Lemon is currently a consultant offering a range of services to build educator capacity to provide high quality programs for children in preschool and care settings.

She was awarded the Children’s Week Play Award recognising a significant contribution to the development of children’s play in 2009 and the Public Service Medal in 2015 for services for South Australian children and families.

Gordon Combes

Gordon Combes is currently the Director of The Briars Specialised Early Education Centre, a purpose-built special options preschool for children with additional needs including complex communication impairment and trauma.

As part of his current role at The Briars, he leads the state-wide outreach Advisory Service that supports sites and support services in working with children with additional needs. This ranges from behaviour and communication strategies, AAC support, restrictive practices, sensory strategies, Interoception, etc.

Gordon has held many leadership positions ranging from Early Childhood Leader, Early Childhood Consultant, Inclusion Leader, Principal and Preschool Director. In addition he has helped develop a variety of resources for the Department for Education ranging from practical guides for children with a disability and Literacy and Numeracy resources.

Gordon has presented state-wide, nationally and internationally on various topics such as Leadership and Change Management, STEM, Inclusion, Supporting children with Special Rights, Marte Meo, High Impact Strategies for Leaders, Professional Learning Communities, Pedagogical Documentation, Quality Improvement Plan Documentation.

He has also won various national and state-wide awards such as Innovation Leader and National Excellence in Teaching Awards.

Professor Sandie Wong

Professor Sandie Wong is a Professor in Early Childhood at the Macquarie School of Education, Macquarie University, and currently holds a three-year Research Fellowship with Goodstart Early Learning (2021-2023).

Sandie has worked as an academic, manager, researcher, evaluator, educator, consultant and nurse, within a range of early childhood, academic and health organisations.

Her research is driven by a concern with the role early childhood education has in ameliorating disadvantage and reducing marginalisation both contemporaneously and historically. She is committed to working in collaborative, strengths-based ways, with academics from a range of disciplines, early childhood organisations and practitioners, and governments, to lead and support high quality research, evaluation and practitioner enquiry, that contributes to best practice in early childhood.

Since 2010, Sandie has been awarded over $4.4 million in competitive research income grants, to conduct extensive research and evaluations related to early childhood workforce issues (including educator wellbeing and educator time-use), practices (including inter-professional practice), and the history of early childhood internationally.

Her work has been published widely in 69 scholarly publications (51 journal articles; 3 books; 15 book chapters), 55 research reports and knowledge translation documents, and 18 professional publications; and she has presented her work at 24 keynotes / invited presentations, and over 80 peer-reviewed conferences.

Sandie is President of OMEP Australia (Organisation Mondiale pour l’Education Prescolaire [OMEP] or the World Organisation for Early Childhood Education), and Board Member of Northside Community Services, ACT and SPLAT Maths, ACT. She is on the Editorial Committee of the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood and Member of the New South Wales Department of Education Early Childhood Advisory Group.

Sandie has been an international expert reviewer for research proposals for the Croatian Science Foundation (2019), the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICYT), Chile (2018), and the Millennium Science Initiative of the National Agency for Research and Development, Chile (2021 & 2022).

Sandie has supervised four PhD and three masters’ students to completion and is currently supervising three PhD students - she has examined six PhD and eight Masters’ theses.

She has taught extensively at post-graduate and undergraduate levels at Macquarie University and Charles Sturt University, across multiple early childhood subjects.

Professor Iram Siraj

Professor Iram Siraj (OBE) has held positions at the Universities of Warwick, UCL and Oxford. Iram has an international reputation and expertise for longitudinal research and policy and she has co-directed a number of world-first influential studies, including the:

She has also co-investigated Effective Early Educational Experiences in Australia (E4Kids, Australian Research Council and Victoria and Queensland Governments. 2009-2015).

Her recent studies focus on professional development interventions looking at the impact of evidence-based PD:

Recent on-going studies include:

  • leadership in early education in LMICs (https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/37371 World Bank, 2022)
  • an RCT using MOVERS (40 centres, Victorian Govt)
  • Adult-child Interactions using IT apps (ARC)
  • a British Academy Grant to study the development of refugee pre-schoolers in Malaysia (2019-2021)
  • an EEF maths intervention in 106 primary schools to improve maths for 4-6 year olds in the UK.

She was Technical Advisor to the OECD IELS international pilot study (and the NFER England study) advising on child measures.

She has over 250 publications including three widely-used quality rating scales in the cognitive (ECERS-E 4th Ed. 2010), social-emotional (SSTEW, 2015) and physical (MOVERS, 2017) domains. They’re currently being used in many countries to enhance PD of staff.

Her most recent book (Siraj et al 2019) is Teaching in Effective Primary Schools: Research into Pedagogy and Children's Learning by UCL-IOE Press.

Dr Hayley Guiney

Dr Hayley Guiney (MSc and PhD in Psychology) is a Research Fellow at the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, which is a longitudinal research project that has followed the lives of a representative group of people since they were born in the early 1970s.

She uses Dunedin Study data to conduct multidisciplinary research aimed at understanding the early life factors and experiences that influence health and development across the life course.

Dr Guiney has 10 years of experience conducting cross-topic health and social science research in academic and government policy environments. Across her research career she has combined knowledge from the fields of public health and psychology to better understand the factors that support long-term health and wellbeing, and that are important for the design of interventions and policies aimed at improving people’s lives.

She has shared findings about the impact of early childhood experiences on later life outcomes through presentations to diverse stakeholders including schools, community groups, non-government organisations, clinicians, and policy advisors and has published widely in peer-reviewed academic journals and other forums on risk and protective factors for brain health, physical health, mental health, and wellbeing across the life course.

Catherine Cavouras

When Catherine was in grade one at primary school in Port Augusta, the teacher was asking children to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up – Catherine drew a picture of a very tall, ABBA inspired woman with deadly red heels. The teacher very positively remarked that she would be a wonderful performer, Catherine quietly responded that it was a drawing of herself as a kindy teacher!

Fast forward 40 plus years and she has been working for the last 20 years in southern Adelaide as an early years teacher and leader currently in her 10th year as Director of Taikurrendi Children and Family centre, Christies Beach, a DfE integrated education and care site which provides preschool, occasional care and family support programs for the community. Taikurrendi comes from the Kaurna language meaning, ‘to be mixed together.’ And it is this that inspires her work – the mixing of education, culture and community.

Purkarna, Purkinangku, Yalaka (Past, Present, Future- Kaurna lang)

When we reflect impact on children’s learning in our site it is always in the context of the work the Taikurrendi team undertake together. We draw on the collective experiences of our own cultures, the mentoring and nurturing of trusted educators and the array of research and new learnings that we collectively seek, share and action. The relational and rights based approach to learning underpins what we do and our deep understanding that our approach to successful teaching and learning is underpinned by connectedness and in relationship. The team embrace high expectations and are committed and driven to achieve the very best for our children, families and community.

At Taikurrendi, we have a commitment and focus on honouring Aboriginal culture. We are committed to lifting language, leading Reconciliation in our community and embedding practices that heal Country. We do this by including colleagues and families in this learning, engaging with Aboriginal knowledge holders, seeking clarity and exploring opportunities to improve, as individuals, teaching teams, as a site and create opportunities to impact our system.

As a team we are a community of learners, who draw on our collective strengths to support positive outcomes for all. We share our site, practices, delights and wonders with all our community. We have a commitment to learn on Country, share understandings with families, challenge colleagues and be the voice of our children experiencing vulnerability. This comes about through the collective commitment that we have prioritised to nurture over time at Taikurrendi.

Best practice

Yaki wingku (Deep breath- Kaurna lang)

Taikurrendi is a calm, kind and grounded place of learning. We have developed over time a range of teaching and learning approaches which support inclusion and diversity, embedded with cultural responsiveness and humility. This is informed by our desire delve deeper with our understanding about brain development, trauma informed practice, ethics and rights based education and educator responsiveness and reflection. We draw on the expertise within our team and across disciplines, always guided by the provocation of ensuring we bring to our context what our own Aboriginal

knowledge holders can inform. We recognise the strengths of our community and are also tuned into the very real challenges which exist. We make a commitment every day for every child aiming to provide an environment for them to be ready to learn, to experience wonder, and have connection and a sense of agency in their learning. Our practice includes all the good stuff- that makes us Exceeding- but our strength is how we work as a team across our site.

The Taikurrendi team has a strong culture of collaboration, learning and reflective practice embedded across the whole site – educators, allied health and DHS family support teams. It extends to our DFE support services team, DCP + NGO colleagues, our government and council reps and our family and community champions that also hold, guide and support us.

Community engagement

Taikurrendi (To be mixed, together- Kaurna lang)

In 2012 the Elders gifted us the name of our site, Taikurrendi. Taikurrendi comes from the Kaurna language meaning ‘to be mixed together.’ It places the connection of education, culture and community at the heart of aspirant outcomes for Aboriginal people. It is this which drives the way we work in our community ensuring we work collaboratively and purposefully together with children, families, colleagues, partnership agencies and our wider community. In 2022 and moving into 2023 it is evident that the dreaming of our Elders is alive.

Whether it is leading professional learning with our early years colleagues, sharing practice with support service colleagues, connecting with DFE sites and leaders, facilitating community events, opening our space and exploring best practice with government and NGO’s, to ensure that we support our system and share our understandings and to be a safe place for our Aboriginal colleagues to connect and network. We collaborate, maintain high expectations and value meaningful reciprocal relationships, in teaching, learning and community engagement. We know that for our children it is paramount to connect and be grounded on Country, have reciprocal and warm relationships with educators and peers, have strategies to support their learning and to have a curiosity and wonder of the world that positions themselves as powerful learners.

So inspiration… I’ll leave you with words gifted to us by Gus, 4 years old…

If I could be a tree
I’d be a Taikurrendi tree
A place for all my friends and me.

When referencing persons/community as Aboriginal, it includes Torres Strait Islander peoples/community. I use acronyms and descriptors in this document for brevity with the understanding that I recognise and respect all peoples individually and lived experience with a strength based lens.