While other boys and girls were fighting imaginary fires, policing the streets or caring for convalescents, Salazar says she spent her younger days in the rumpus room schooling her family members on how to lift their grades.  

“I used to do parent-teacher interviews with my dad on how my brother could improve in handwriting,” she laughs.

Years on from her first unofficial position at the imaginary school, the educator is living out her childhood dream, and by anyone’s account, she’s made the right call.

The now assistant principal at John Purchase Public School in Sydney is the proud winner of the Australian College of Educators Young Professional Award for 2018 (NSW), for outstanding educators who have worked in the profession for less than seven years.

Landing her first job as classroom teacher at John Purchase in 2014, Salazar eventually decided to put up her hand for the role of assistant principal.

It’s been a whirlwind ride, but the educator says the transition into leadership has been equal parts “rewarding” and “fun”.

“I’d say it’s been a journey, and I still face challenges every day, but I enjoy the challenges. And I know that those challenges make me a stronger leader for my team and my students.”

Salazar says her approach to leadership in the classroom – and across the school more broadly – can be traced back to her positive experience as a student.

“Primary school was my happy place. It was my sanctuary where I felt free from things going on at home,” she says.

“And so I try to make sure that the teachers in my team are also creating supportive learning environments, where students feel cared for and seen. Because if they don’t, then they won’t be engaged in learning – no matter how much time you’ve put into planning a quality lesson.”

Salazar is equally passionate about making sure that teachers feel cared for, particularly those who are just starting out.

She is the founder and driving force behind #newteachertribe, an online community for pre-service teachers, and #PSTchat, a guest-hosted Twitter account where early career educators can share ideas, resources, and tips.

Approaching her final year at university, Salazar says she saw a clear need to provide more support to new teachers navigating the transition into the classroom.

“I felt like we needed a space and a network. Because we were all going through the same stuff, we just didn’t have the support.”

“There were so many chats for other teachers – geography teachers, science teachers – but there were none for pre-service teachers. So I decided I’d try and get a few people together. That was six years ago and it’s still going strong today.”

Social media has been an effective way to reach those who might otherwise feel like they had to go it alone, Salazar says.

“Twitter, especially, has been so powerful in bringing new teachers together. It made me feel supported as a new teacher. Ever since I was doing my prac and, even now, it was a space where I was able to connect with these inspiring educators and leaders in education – who I still haven’t met face-to-face, but they still support me and follow my journey and celebrate my successes. People all around the world and around Australia, they’re always checking in with me, and I never feel like I’m alone in whatever I’m going through.”

But that’s not to say that the physical sense of community isn’t important; Salazar is taking steps to broaden the reach of her burgeoning tribe through a number of face-to-face events.

“I set up an initiative at the Education Changemakers conference last year ... and this year I held the first New Teacher Tribe conference at Macquarie University,” she says.

“I think they all enjoyed it, and I did too. It really felt like I was making a difference in the world, helping these new teachers realise that they’re not alone – that they’re capable and that there’s help out there.”