Our own resilience and adaptability can often surprise us. Many students may have found this when beginning their study journey – others may have discovered their adaptability while studying during a pandemic.

Recent UNE graduate Tanika Richards is a great example of this. During 2021 Tanika completed her Master of Education (Research) and throughout her studies she was pleasantly surprised by her ‘ability as a writer and researcher’. Through her Masters study, Tanika not only became a more confident researcher but further honed her teaching style – learning different ways of engaging with her students in the classroom and in her specialty area of musical studies.

In addition to her Masters, Tanika is also a Secondary Classroom Music Teacher, Instrumental Teacher and Piano Accompanist. With a spark of passion and such an excellent set of expertise it is no wonder that Tanika began pursuing post-graduate study as a means of challenging herself.

It was also her background in music and education that what drew her to post-graduate study. As Tanika puts it: “I’m a musician – piano accompanist and a teacher and after 3 years as performing arts director, furthering my understanding of music education, music curriculum and creativity in music education was a topic that I was truly passionate about.”

“I required a challenge,” said Tanika. “I did a lot of research when looking for a course and came across the one at UNE. When I was looking for supervisors I saw Dr Myung-sook Auh on the website and her research interests and found that they were closer to what I was looking for than any of the other universities I had enquired with. She was very quick to respond to me and interested in what I was wanting to do.”

As many have experienced over the past 2 years, the pandemic can change our expectations. Prior to COVID, Tanika had planned for her Masters’ thesis to involve observing students and teachers, and how they engage in the classroom in musical creative tasks and creative learning.  However, as she was living in Victoria it became clear as early as April 2020 a different approach would be needed due to the pandemic. Luckily Tanika is as adaptable as she is passionate.

“I initially thought about postponing my research,” said Tanika. “On reflection if I had done that given the situation in Victoria I would be in the same place now with continuous lockdowns and no real easing of restrictions for visitors on school grounds. Schools were not and currently are still not allowing visitors on site. Remote learning has had many different phases, from an initial complete flip of learning for schools, to a more organised approach of remote learning, schools have generally not had much notice for opening and closing.”

“After numerous discussions with my supervisors, we flipped my idea and looked at the teachers pedagogical approaches via videoconferencing and interviewed students about their experiences. Due to the format of remote learning it was much more difficult to see students ‘working time’ and sometimes also how engaged they were in tasks.”

Quite naturally the process of adapting to new norms while learning new educational skills has provided Tanika with some insights. The first of which is that education is not static, but always evolving, a fact that pre-dates COVID, but is perfectly illustrated by Tanika’s study journey.

“Over the past 2 years, educators have learnt much about teaching, students, learning strategies and technology,” said Tanika regarding the insights of her research. “We have also seen the resilience of our students, learnt much more about them than we may have previously known and been able to review our own ways of educating.”

With passion comes wisdom, and Tanika has some words of advice for those that might be looking to expand their educational horizons and challenge themselves:

“Keep going! Particularly those of you who have found the last 2 years difficult. I had great supervisors Dr Myung-sook Auh and Dr Marg Rogers and a wise and supportive husband that kept encouraging me to find other ways to follow my research interest while dealing with the situation and scenario at hand.”

Now that her Masters is complete Tanika is looking to what comes next. For her this means a return to the workforce after a period of maternity leave – however lately she is simply enjoying time with her 3 year old.