Elspeth Stephenson is a Lecturer in Teacher Professional Learning at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and Program Director of the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) degree. Elspeth has more than 30 years’ experience in education working with children from six weeks of age through to adult and has experience teaching in several countries around the world including England, Singapore, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Her teaching career began in England working in primary education with children aged from 3-8 years of age where she achieved a leadership position as Deputy Principal. After emigrating to Australia in the early nineties, she taught in the early childhood education and care sector where she had several roles, including Team Leader and Director of a Childcare Centre. Returning to the primary years of schooling some years later, she was introduced to the International Baccalaureate curriculum. This led to her being trained as a Primary Years Program (PYP) curriculum leader, facilitating training throughout Asia Pacific and contributing to the development of the Early Years Primary Years Program (EYPYP).
In her desire to support a more inclusive approach to education, Elspeth returned to study and in 1998 was awarded a Master’s degree in Special Education. This qualification enabled her to further extend her educational experiences, as she took on the role of Adaptive Education teacher in a secondary school setting.
Regardless of context, Elspeth’s practice has been underpinned by the rights of the child. She believes that even very young children have the capacity to share their views and have a right to have their voice heard. She is also committed to supporting children’s safety and therefore emotional security and well being. To explore how these beliefs could be more broadly understood, and building on research undertaken in her Master’s degree, Elspeth undertook a PhD. The focus of this study was to examine children’s perspectives of their well being during transition from preschool to school. The successful completion of this study offered Elspeth new opportunities in tertiary education, firstly at The Flinders University, South Australia, and then at The University of South Australia. These positions gave Elspeth an opportunity to contribute to the development of future early childhood professionals both in Australia and in the Asia pacific region.
In 2011, Elspeth secured a tenured position at UTAS where she currently teaches in both undergraduate and postgraduate programs. Her expertise lie in reflective practice and professional learning. She has also held the position of Program Director for the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) degree for almost five years. During this time, she has made significant changes to the course which include elevating the early childhood teaching staff profile, augmenting content and increasing opportunities for student voice. Student experience survey data gathered post-graduation, confirms course satisfaction in the early childhood degree has steadily increased over the last five years and further, figures reported that student engagement has doubled.
Elspeth’s passion remains with the early years where she continues to advocate for the rights of children and their well being. More recently, her work has responded to how children who have experienced complex trauma can be supported to heal and grow. In 2017, Elspeth was awarded a UTAS Career Development Scholarship to study at the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development, Texas Christian University (TCU), where she qualified as a Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) Practitioner.
To meet individual needs, Elspeth’s work is flexible in nature. Irrespective of whether she is working as an individual coach, leading small group professional learning or working with large organisations, her goal is the same; to facilitate personal professional growth that equips individuals with skills to support all children to be successful. Alongside her teaching, Elspeth has disseminated her work at: academic conferences; to parents, self-interest and community groups; and across all sectors of education. Ensuring her knowledge is current, she attends international conferences and continues to study the work of leading experts in this area, as well as maintaining an ongoing connection with TCU.
In early 2020, Elspeth was invited to return to TCU where she undertook further study. This international partnership whilst reciprocal in nature, continues to support the development of her thinking and application of her work with children, families, professionals, community groups, and at UTAS. Due to significant Tasmanian interest in TBRI, Elspeth invited the co-founder of the TBRI approach to visit Tasmania and present his work on organisational change.
Her research contributes to the understanding of work undertaken in the area of trauma. She is currently collaborating with colleagues to build a Tasmanian database showing the impact of trauma informed practice across the State. This work was integral to her securing one of only thirty places University wide on a Future Leaders’ Research Program.
Elspeth is currently leading work with colleagues at UTAS to embed understanding, skills and strategies relating to trauma across all pre-service teacher education courses. This will ensure that all graduates from the School of Education will enter the workforce equipped and prepared to support all learners. Elspeth is also developing a framework to support colleagues in the School of Education to be trauma informed in their practice with students and with one another. Here she is committed to modelling best practice, whilst recognising that we can’t support others to be well if we are not well ourselves.
As Elspeth’s work diversifies, she acknowledges that fundamental to effective teaching and learning is the provision of a safe environment where every child is given the right to learn, but learning environments are becoming increasingly complex settings and the expectations on teachers are high. Whilst educators have an essential role to play in all children’s learning and development, positive outcomes for children are the responsibility of everyone. The need to foster partnerships and collaborate with all those who touch the life of a child is a shared imperative, a future endeavour that Elspeth continues to work towards.