First-hand understanding: Grounding education policy with classroom experience

Natalie Garcia De Heer (C2010) was part of Teach For Australia’s first Cohort. Following the Leadership Development Program she joined the Boston Consulting Group where she has worked mostly with the public sector, and also spent two years completing a Masters of Public Administration at NYU. She has recently started a role with the Victorian Department of Education and Training, where she hopes to apply many of the skills she learned from consulting in the field of her passion – education. Natalie envisages a system in which education policy-making is participatory, and deeply grounded in and connected to the experiences of teachers and students.

As graduation approached, Natalie was weighing up her options between various grad programs across Australia in a highly considered fashion. She created an Excel spreadsheet to attempt to logically compare factors, such as commute time to work, salary and how many friends she had in the city she would move to.

“Teach For Australia did worse on a lot of these indicators I had created for myself,” Natalie says, “but I ended up realising through that process what my gut was telling me. I was excited about doing something that would be immediate – making a difference in people’s lives then and there.” In the end, a sense of purpose outweighed all the other factors.

Natalie Garcia de Heer was part of Teach For Australia’s first Cohort, and taught mostly Humanities at a school in Melbourne’s West. Towards the end of the Leadership Development Program she again found herself weighing up various options. “I don’t feel like I made a deliberate decision to necessarily leave the classroom,” she says. “I really enjoyed teaching – I loved the student interactions, preparing for classes and the things that happened inside the classroom.”

Natalie describes pull factors rather than push factors which led her to join the Boston Consulting Group. She saw consulting as a way to enhance her skills and capacity to make a difference in education in the future. She also became interested in learning how effective organisations worked.

Her school environment had been challenging, with low expectations and significant organisational change. “I had first-hand exposure in how not to run an organisation, and I really wanted learn what good practice looked like,” she says.

At BCG, Natalie has focused largely on social policy, with a sprinkling of education projects, such as with a Melbourne-based think tank and a global charitable foundation in the Middle East. After her first two years at BCG, Natalie had the opportunity to move to New York for two years to earn a Masters in Public Administration at NYU. There, she specialised in education policy and worked on a variety of projects in the field, including with a new progressive charter school and the New York Department of Education.

Natalie has recently started working with the Victorian Department of Education and Training in strategic policy, on a temporary leave of absence from BCG. Her time in the classroom regularly informs this work, though Natalie admits she feels two years may not have been enough in the policy context: “I believe that people who make choices in education policy should be grounded in a deep understanding of teaching, learning and the school context.”

Natalie is still exploring how she can best contribute to the mission of educational equity and what role she should play, questioning, “Am I most effective outside the classroom in organisational strategy and policy settings, taking a macro perspective, or does the rubber really hit the road in the classroom?”

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