Chris Vella: Science Education Officer at UWS

Chris Vella has been hosting EduTweetOz for the last 6 days, leading some fascinating conversations around education with a particular focus on sustainablility.

Here’s a little more about Chris, and at the bottom of the page, you’ll find links to some of the conversations he’s been leading. Connect with Chris on Twitter at  @ChrisVella2


Please tell us a little about your background in education. Why did you decide to become involved in education? What are some of the roles you’ve had and what does your current role involve?

My interest in teaching really came from being lucky enough to have a number of fantastic teachers who had a positive impact on me. When it became time to decide what to do in my life I just had to think ‘what job had the biggest impact on my life?’. Teaching just seemed like the obvious choice.

So far my career has been absolutely amazing. I’m currently on contract but a casual teacher at heart. I love the flexibility that casual teaching gives me, as well as the challenge it provides.

I won’t bore you with too many of the details of my last six years teaching, so here are just the highlights. I kicked off my teaching career as an Art teacher and was picked up early in my first year of teaching my Richmond High School. I was given blocks in Science, Geography, Maths, really wherever I was needed. I became known as Richmond HS’s ‘Super-Sub’, I know world’s worst superhero, right?

These two years of casual work were tough but it certainly taught me that it wasn’t just teaching art that I loved but teaching in general. Crafting lessons and stringing together units of work was a far more creative task than anything that was thrown at me in my visual arts degree, I would argue that teaching is one of the most creative jobs out there!

In 2011 I landed a block that would change my career and the direction of my life in general. Two years work at Brewongle EEC, one of the DEC’s twenty five Environmental Education Centres. I really can’t say enough good things about Brewongle and the EEC network as a whole. These are amazing places where teachers are give a great deal of flexibility to create programs that support education for sustainability (EfS) for visiting schools (During the week I will be hosting some rapidfire chat session with some EEC teachers, do join in).

In 2013 I was a Quality Teaching Consultant in Western Sydney and given the chance to take the lead in some great teacher professional development as well as teaching and learning programs in EfS that I’m very proud of.

Starting this year I have picked up the position of Science Education Officer at The University of Western Sydney doing school engagement for their ‘Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security’ course. I get to design and run innovative programs in and out of schools and again I am out of my comfort zone but I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

Who or what keeps you inspired and motivated in your work?     

My last three roles have allowed me to try my hand a few less traditional roles in education. For the most part these roles are closely connected to Outdoor Education and EfS. Creating and running these programs for students is motivating in itself. When you get students working on creative tasks outside in natural environments they engage in a way that can’t help but inspire and motivate you as a teacher.

What do you see as some of the biggest rewards and challenges for people working in education today?

Recently in my new role at UWS I’ve seen the end product of so many teacher’s hard work and dedication. The students that come through to University level with so much confidence and ability, they are amazing.

I’ve recently been working with some of UWS ‘Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security’ students to create content for high school students that they will be running in schools and career days. When we talk about rewards as a teacher, seeing one of your students do something that makes you think, ‘I could have never done something like that at their age’, and knowing that you helped them get there…..that’s rewarding.

As for the challenges, it’s certainly not the biggest challenge but this links with my theme and I think it’s worth highlighting. I feel that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get our students outdoors to engaging in learning beyond the classroom setting. There is a growing body of evidence that shows the benefits of outdoor education but getting our students out of the classroom is becoming increasingly difficult for teachers. Safety and risk assessment is crucial but bubble wrapping students will only limit their potential experiences and hinder their learning.

If you had the ability to make changes to the education system in Australia, what would you do?

I would wave a magic wand and make it easier to do cross-curricular work in in High Schools. That’s a pretty broad answer, I know, but in my recent roles I’ve worked with both High Schools and Primary Schools and see how difficult it is to work across KLA’s in High School. I know it is not ‘easy’ to do in any setting but in High School there are those extra hurdles that make it an even greater challenge. So as long as I’m given one wish (and I can’t wish for more wishes) I would like to clear out those hurdles.

What role do you see EduTweetOz playing on the education scene in Australia and what are your hopes for the account this week?

Virtually, Edutweetoz is creating the staffroom that I’ve always wanted. Inspiring and diverse educators meet here to share their experiences, it’s a great place to come for motivation and often a fresh perspective on all things education.

This week is going to be based around something that has played a big part in my career and personal life, Education for Sustainability. One of the biggest challenges our students will face is the stewardship of our planet and we as teachers have a chance to prepare them to face these challenges head on. I also believe that teaching EfS provides teachers and students with a wealth of rich investigations to pursue and challenges to engage with. In EfS problems are real-world and complex, inspiring innovation and creativity ,and EfS projects often require students to take action and make changes to what is considered to be the norm.

I can’t wait to get stuck into this topic and really explore how to effectively teach EfS with all the teachers that follow @edutweetoz

To catch up on some of the conversations, check out our storify channel:


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