Tonia Gray

Professor Tonia Gray is a Senior Researcher in the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University. With a Masters in Community Health and a PhD in Education, Tonia’s transdisciplinary research explores the intersection of experiential education, human-nature relationships, and health/wellbeing. Her twinned passions for teaching and research have earned Tonia several major awards such as the 2019 International Association of Experiential Education Distinguished Researcher of the Year and the prestigious 2014 Australian Award for University Teaching.

Promoting Outdoor Play Post-Pandemic: a shared responsibility for educational leaders

Educational leadership is straightforward when things are going well, but true leaders emerge when the going gets tough. Whilst 2020 was pretty much a disaster—especially students from low socio-economic status—it also gave us time to push the rest button and reflect on what matters most. Personally, it became abundantly clear that: COVID-19 didn’t break us, it revealed some educational systems were already broken. We observed firsthand in Australia, the asymmetrical effect of home schooling on children, parents and the teaching profession.  One of the invisible casualties of the recent pandemic was our young. Disadvantaged and underprivileged students were adversely impacted, whilst those at the other end of the continuum, experienced less hardship. However, there was one positive aspect to emerge as Prof Sharon Goldfeld remarked, ‘COVID taught us we can do slow system change, fast’.  This begs the question: what is our educational profession doing to ensure a student’s wellbeing remains at the epicentre of our work? And more importantly, how can educators mobilise and become change incubators to ensure their voice is heard? My life’s work has been devoted to the connection with the natural world for a child’s growth and development. Throughout this presentation I’ll showcase the importance of outdoor play in the educational sector to optimise a child’s health and wellbeing. Together, let’s do this change, ‘fast’.