Zeina ‘the disruptor’ wins $25,000 research fellowship

Teacher and leader in innovation Zeina Chalich was awarded the 2016 Br John Taylor Fellowship.
Teacher and leader in innovation Zeina Chalich was awarded the 2016 Br John Taylor Fellowship.

A Sydney Catholic school teacher with a passion for teaching and learning through technology will join industry leaders at education conferences in the United States after winning the $25,000 Br John Taylor Fellowship.

Zeina Chalich, leader of learning and innovation at St Finbar’s primary school in Sans Souci, began to pursue her research after identifying a lack of problem-solving skills in her students.

“Our students didn’t know how to think creatively,” she said. “Can we teach creative thinking?”

She applied for the fellowship at the encouragement of her professional mentor, Dr Kate O’Brien, director of teaching and learning for CEO Sydney.

“We’re trailblazing Makerspsace in Australia, so we really have to go overseas to see those who are one and two years ahead of us,” Zeina said.

Zeina described Makerspace as a non-structured environment where students of all ages can connect with experts, create, collaborate, share, invent, tinker, build and explore the elements of science, technology, engineering, art and maths through experiential play.

As a student, she admitted, she was “often pulled aside for asking ‘why’ and ‘how’”.

Later, as a teacher, she “was often told ‘This is how we do things here’ and no to question things that were perceived to work”.

Zeina has learnt to “confidently defend what is right for my students, even if it means disrupting the status quo and making others uncomfortable”.

She writes for Educational Technology Solutions magazine and is a tutor at the Australian Catholic University.

She won the 2015 New Voice in Leadership scholarship from the Australian Council for Educational Leaders.

Zeina also co-founded #aussieED – Australia’s largest educational professional learning network on Twitter.

The Br John Taylor Fellowship is an annual research prize given by Catholic Education Commission NSW.

She welcomed the news that nine of 12 applicants for the 2016 fellowship were women.

“I am so proud of us,” she said.

“It’s very hard to be a woman in leadership or a woman in research without that stigma.

“As a role model for our students, it’s important to show our girls that women are just as capable and just as willing.”

The inaugural Br John Taylor Fellowship was awarded to Mark Gronow for ongoing research into how mathematics is taught in Australia.