Above and beyond
Michelle Barrett, Byford Secondary College
WA Education Assistant of the Year 2021
Michelle Barrett is known and beloved for her ability to gain trust and build confidence in shy, unfocused or “struggling” students.
While instilling the value of education, she helps students at Byford Secondary College to work out how to “shine”.
As a result, she has been described as the “at school mum” every parent wants their child to have.
Byford Secondary College staff say Michelle, an education assistant with 20 years of experience, has the “uncanny ability” to go into a classroom and provide highly effective “behind the scenes” support to any student who needs extra guidance.
Targeting classroom behavioural challenges at the root, she seeks to understand the background of the child – including learning difficulties and home/life issues - then sets personal goals for improvement.
“I show them they can do anything,” Michelle says. “That they are worthy and encourage them just to give anything a go.”
Often the first to arrive at school and the last to leave, Michelle’s dedication to the academic, social and emotional wellbeing of every student, including the Aboriginal students in her Follow the Dream after school Academic Extension Program, goes “far beyond any expectation”.
She supports those students who will be the first in their family to finish Year 12, applies for grants so she can provide extra-curricular activities and works collaboratively with Aboriginal Elders and organisations.
Described as positive, kind-hearted and non-judgmental, Michelle has an “outstanding knowledge” of the curriculum, across all subjects and year groups, and she scaffolds students’ learning to help them achieve. She also works closely with teachers and assists them to understand a student’s individual needs and ways of learning.
In the words of one of her students - “I had difficulty in learning. What the teachers told me never made sense in my head, but Mrs Barrett would explain it in a way that I could understand. She explained things in different ways to different people, so they could all understand.”
During COVID lockdowns, Michelle started an online support group for her students, holding zoom classroom sessions, and organising worksheets and activities.
“I am also extremely proud of the Follow The Dream room that I have created with the students,” Michelle says.
“It provides a safe place for the Indigenous students of the school to go to. They can either come in before school, at lunch times or after school. It is decked out with their artwork, photos of them and Aboriginal language and colours.
“They can choose to just come in to chill, complete homework or get help with their work. If I am working in the classroom with students that are finding it hard to engage, I can take them into the room where they can complete their work.”
Byford Secondary College’s Aboriginal student attendance figures are considered to be “exceptional” – with an average of 84% attendance.
Michelle and her Aboriginal students often journey to local primary schools as part of a program to create a familiarity with the college, its values, and to encourage the sharing of Indigenous stories with younger generations.
This experience creates a chain of knowledge and a network of shared history and pride, giving the students a chance to be an educator and role model whilst also improving literacy and comprehension.
Michelle’s knowledge and skills in supporting Aboriginal families was shaped by her early career choices, working in Leonora as a nurse’s assistant on the Indigenous Elders’ ward and in a supermarket running a program that hired Aboriginal youths and taught accounting and budgeting.
Despite a strong curiosity and interest in education for many years, Michelle didn’t start her career in the area until her second daughter started pre-primary.
“I volunteered my time to help with the special needs students in the kindy room,” Michelle says.
“One of the parents said she had never seen her daughter respond to anyone the way she did to me and that I should become an Education Assistant.”
Her work in recent years with WA secondary school students has been described as “life changing, and possibly even lifesaving”.
This award is proudly sponsored by oOh!media.
- Michelle Barrett, Byford Secondary College
- Donelle Wilson, East Hamersley Primary School
- Fiona Hopkins, Waggrakine Primary School
- Karen Crummer, Willandra Primary School