Elated to have claimed our 2016 Unsung Heroes award in the teaching category, the 160cm graduate teacher from WA may only be in her first year of teaching, yet as her nomination praises, she “has achieved what most teachers hope to achieve in their first five years of teaching”.
Speaking with the Atwell College educator in the wake of her success, it’s clear that Williams fits her ‘unsung hero’ title to a tee.
“I had tried to keep it as low on the radar as possible, I didn’t want to make a big ‘hoo-haa’ out of it, I don’t really like the limelight or anything like that,” she says of her initial nomination.
“I’m more of a ‘just get down and get into it and get on with the work’ sort of person.”
Try as she might have to shrug off attention, Williams admits it was touching to be recognised and praised by colleagues and the wider school community.
“Not many of the staff know who I am, so I was meeting a lot of staff in the weeks following that (nomination) email who would say ‘oh, you’re the girl that’s had the literacy classes’.
“So it was actually a good publicity exercise because it did get my name out there in the school,” Williams laughs.
While most teachers new to the role spend their first year consumed with lesson planning, wading through marking and trying to find their feet in the classroom, Williams has wasted no time in initiating real and positive change at Atwell.
Spurred on by her own research into boosting literacy levels, Williams implemented a trial of The Sound Way program – a phonics-based instruction method– across four Year 8 and 9 classes.
The experiment involved an intense 10 weeks of testing, data collection and evaluation to assess students’ progress.
“We did have a lot of success but being a pilot program we had to iron out a lot of creases,” Williams shares.
“It’s actually a workplace program but it can be used really successfully in schools … some schools have seen three to five years of spelling and reading age increase in a ten-week program, whereas our average by the end of it was about 1.4 years in ten weeks.
“Which is still amazing ... but we just wanted to pilot it and see if we [should] roll it out across the school,” she adds.
Sharing the gift of literacy and the joy of reading with children is not just a professional goal, but a plight close to Williams’ heart.
She recalls her own childhood as one shaped by books and stories, with her and her siblings chewing through so many hardcopies each week that her parents were forced to ration them out in a desperate bid to rein in their insatiable young bookworms.
Now in her own English classroom, Williams has made it her prerogative to lift low literacy students up and out of their struggle.
Trialling new reading practices and theories, the educator has “worked tirelessly” to see low literacy students pass OLNA (WA’s online literacy and numeracy assessment).
Tellingly, most of her charges have leapt from CAT 1 to CAT 2- some even to CAT 3.
Finding ways to unlock students from the shackles of dyslexia has also become a brewing area of interest.
“When you really hone in on something and you realise how much of a problem it is and how unfair and unjust it is, and it’s no fault of their own … you just think ‘OK we need to do something about this’,” Williams notes.
As for furthering her own knowledge and practice, Williams says she’ll never be a “full bottle”.
“I really love learning, I spent six years at uni, doing all sorts of degrees and doing all sorts of bits and pieces while I was working.
“I don’t think that [thirst] has ever really left me. I think that if I could be at uni forever I probably would be at uni forever…” she muses.
Now setting her sights on completing a masters in dyslexia and low literacy, having also ticked off a string of online courses related to the reading disorder, Williams concedes it’s the kids that spur her onwards.
“The joy that I have got from reading and that I’ve seen kids experience is not experienced by kids with dyslexia or those who have something similar...
“Reading for them is like 100 times harder than it is for others, and that just seems like such a hard stick.”
So determined to absorb as much information from emerging scientific fields this year, Williams says she’ll be hitting the school ground running.
“There is so much research coming out now that is going to point us in the right direction … but I am still a graduate and I am still feeling my way.”