National honour for rural role model

A school learning support officer who builds high expectations with students is the 2020 Australian Teacher Aide of the Year.

07 September 2020
Five students and teacher sitting around a table outside.
Image: Taryn Riles with Boorowa Central School students . . . “Every day is a chance to build on my skillset”.

Award winner Taryn Riles, a school learning support officer from Boorowa Central School, wears many hats in education.

A qualified Stronger Smarter facilitator, Ms Riles delivers the wellbeing program to students from Kindergarten to Year 10, organises the Secondary Breakfast Club and mentors new SLSOs.

Principal Graham Jones said Ms Riles, who is also the staff wellbeing coordinator, has a deep understanding of each student and their unique needs.

“She ensures that each student can access the curriculum and have their wellbeing needs addressed in a calm and caring manner,” he said.

“I also nominated Taryn because she transcends her role of individual support to ensure that all of our students continually build high expectation relationships, resilience and resourcefulness in her weekly Stronger Smarter lessons.”

Stella Liliendal, Director of Australian Teacher Aide which ran the awards, said 142 nominations were received from government and non-government schools around Australia.

“The awards are our way of recognising the valuable contribution teacher aides make to student learning and wellbeing, nationally, and exemplifies the diverse roles of education paraprofessionals, and their integral role to student learning and wellbeing,” she said.

”During COVID-19 Taryn’s intimate knowledge of the community and her excellent interpersonal skills led to a highly successful ‘learning from home’ program.”

Ms Riles, who has lived in Boorowa all her life, said she was “speechless’ when she heard of the award.

“Validation at the highest level comes rarely in our lives, if ever. To know that I have a positive impact on our students’ lives is an amazing feeling,” she said.

“I love the fact that no two days are the same. It may be as simple as a child yelling out your name across the playground just to say hello or seeing them believe in themselves and show resilience when they are stuck on a task.

“Every day is a chance to build on my skill set and establish high expectation relationships with both staff and students.”

Ms Riles said 2020 had been a “rollercoaster ride” for the rural community of Boorowa – in the south-western slopes of NSW – after years of drought, then bushfires and the COVID-19 school shutdown.

“I see the disappointment on our students’ faces when restrictions limit their activities. I feel for them all. But we as educators need to ensure that in the years ahead we create new opportunities to overshadow the ones they have missed,” she said.

Principal Mr Jones said Ms Riles empowered staff and students “to be a better version of themselves”.

“Taryn's achievement recognises and proves that a kid growing up in a small, rural community with a public education can aspire to and achieve greatness in their chosen field if they work hard, believe in themselves and have a strong community to support them,” he said.

More details about the Australian Teacher Aide of the Year Awards are available on the Australian Teacher Aide website.

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