Our News
8 February 2017

The art of student empowerment

Alumna Nicole Toscano has learnt that good teaching requires flexibility, determination and unconditional positive regard for students.

Teach For Australia Alumna Nicole Toscano (Cohort 2012) is empowering students at The Pavilion School in Melbourne.

Nicole first started her journey as a Teach For Australia Associate in 2012 when she was placed at Tennant Creek High School in the Northern Territory. She was deeply inspired and transformed by her time up north:

“I am confident that I wouldn’t be the person (or teacher) that I am today if it wasn’t for the time I spent in the Northern Territory,” she said.

Throughout her two-year Associate experience, Nicole was constantly motivated by the passionate teachers and driven students around her, who continue to influence her teaching practises today:

“I learnt the art of flexibility and student empowerment, which have become significant to my teaching style today.”

“I also learnt that unconditional positive regard is paramount to successful teaching and learning,” said Nicole.


Today, Nicole’s first year of teaching at Tennant Creek High School “feels like a lifetime ago and a whole world away.”

Nicole began a new phase of her teaching career in 2016 when she relocated to The Pavilion School in Preston.

The Pavilion School provides holistic support to students who have been disengaged from education, offering a wide range of pathway options to re-engage student learning.

Late last year Hannah Gandy, a student of Nicole’s, deified the odds and gathered significant media attention after becoming the first student at The Pavilion School to finish VCE.

She did her subjects through distance learning and earned an ATAR of 80.80.

“Hannah is a tremendous young woman and it was a real privilege coming in on the end of her journey,”

“When she started at the Pavilion School she was 13, and was significantly disconnected from education. Her success with the VCE is a testament to her incredible resilience and perseverance,” said Nicole.

Nicole believes The Pavilion School model was highly influential in supporting Hannah to achieve her goals. The model is built from a combination of social work and education which appeals to many students who are disengaged from traditional models of education.

“Hannah has taught me more this year than I taught her. She helped me to understand how the Pavilion model works from a student perspective.”

“She brings out the best in everyone she interacts with and I am so excited to see what the future holds for her,” said Nicole.

When she started at The Pavilion School, Nicole took over from Alumna Melanie Henry (Cohort 2011), who previously taught Hannah. Nicole believes that Melanie’s support throughout Hannah’s time at school has also influenced her academic success.

Hannah was one of the first students at Pavilion to do her VCE by distance learning, which helped set a precedent for other students to develop academic aspirations.

In an article for the Herald Sun, Hannah said she was surprised and deeply proud by what she achieved:

“If someone had told me when I was younger that this would happen, I wouldn’t have believed them, no way,” said Hannah.

Hannah received an early offer to study law and arts at La Trobe University through their Aspire program, which recognises future leaders and rewards volunteering and community service. This was inspired by her involvement with the Human Rights Commission and the time she spent as representative for the Banyule Youth Foundation.

During her time at school, Hannah and other students from Nicole’s class applied for funding from Banyule Youth Foundation and Bendigo Community Bank for two different school projects.

The first was in support of “CleanStart” – an idea generated by students in response to the issue of school attendance.

One of Nicole’s classes believed that access to clean, dry clothes was a barrier for some students to attend The Pavilion School regularly.

“This grant is in support of a laundry being opened at the East Preston campus. The project is ongoing and we will continue our efforts in 2017,” said Nicole, who is excited to see the project increase the number of students who attend school.

The second project funded was an Outdoor Adventure camp.


“My other class identified that an important challenge for them would be to do something extra-curricular as a whole group to push them out of their comfort zones,” said Nicole.

She established a partnership with the Outdoor Education Group and in November took her class on a tremendous three day camping trip to Lake Eildon.

Nicole believes the trip was life changing for students who have never left the city before:

“This was the first time that many of the students had slept in tents, and most hadn’t even been out of the city. It made for one very rewarding and joyful experience,” said Nicole.

Last year Nicole’s class at The Pavilion School also took part in the Garden Collective, a school program that teaches students about planting and maintaining productive food crops to foster an understanding about food insecurity.


The program was highly successful and Nicole’s class donated their harvest to FareShare to use in meals for the homeless.

“It was a fantastic program. As the first group to participate at the school, a focus was establishing an inviting garden space,” said Nicole.

Nicole is looking forward to another year at The Pavilion School and hopes to get her students involved in many more exciting projects in 2017.

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