Dr Ingrid Harrington, senior lecturer in UNE Inclusive Education, has always had a heart for social justice. She once dreamed of putting this into practice in law, but instead found her niche in a teaching career focused on empowering troubled youths.

“My older brother and I were going to have our own law firm; he would be the solicitor and I would be the barrister,” Ingrid says. “But after missing out on a law course at Monash University by only two marks, I followed my other career preference for secondary teaching – and soon found out just how useful and transferable teaching skills are.”

After spending some years teaching, Ingrid moved into the juvenile justice youth crisis care sector.

“I found my teacher training invaluable in recognising, understanding and responding to differences of ability, individuality and culture, by finding creative and engaging ways in which to work with these young people in crisis.”

From there, she continued to move out of the classroom and into community settings and institutionally-based organisations, where she encountered youths who were dysfunctional, behaviourally challenged, drug and alcohol affected, violent and antisocial.

Ingrid says their backgrounds were often the “antithesis” of her own – “I was raised in a privileged European home as part of a close family” – but it helped build her understanding and sensitivity for the diversity of human experience.

“I learned a lot about myself, others, and the power and resilience of children and young people to continue to seek success in their lives.

“Working with children excluded from the traditional education system due to violent behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse or a lack of respect for authority has been highly challenging but highly rewarding. It’s confirmed for me that every student can achieve and experience success through inclusive practices,” she says.

Now, Ingrid is able to draw on her knowledge and varied experience to help prepare the next generation of teachers who’ll teach students from diverse backgrounds.

“I LOVE teaching,” she says of her role at UNE. “I thoroughly enjoy finding out about my students, learning about and from them, and sharing my experiences, skills and knowledge. I have learned so much from my students about myself and about students in today’s classrooms.

“I am able to be myself when teaching others: having fun, sparking debates, and working with scenarios exploring the whole range of possible responses.”

She’s also been able to influence a number of aspects of the school system through her research. Her PhD research, co-funded by Education Queensland, influenced education policy on engaging boys in learning and assisting them to take an early and active interest in their future, and another active research interest has helped school communities understand and better support students on the autism spectrum.