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By Fiona West | September 29, 2022
Chen Zhao, Academic Team Leader, Fairfield College, Navitas Skilled Futures.

Chen Zhao is the popular Academic Team Leader at Fairfield College, where he has earned a reputation among staff for being friendly but fair, approachable, hard-working and innovative.
Here he tells us about his career at Navitas Skilled Futures.

I started working as a trainer for Navitas Cabramatta in 2011, fresh out of university with my Bachelor in Translation and Interpreting, and Masters in TESOL. Those early years were the best times, seeing learners respond to the activities I’d planned, and adapting them sometimes during the lesson, based on their feedback, to get the best results. More than 10 years later, I’ve moved out of the classroom and am working as Academic Team Leader at Fairfield College, but my philosophy is still the same – I am still looking for the best ways to deliver the best experience and results for the students, and now I am now leading a great team to achieve this.

I have been in my current position since 2015 and Fairfield is the best! In terms of students, Fairfield has the largest number, it is busy, and the workload is high, but the staff and students say it is “like a family”.

We’ve got a nice balance, where people understand we work together, we are friendly to each other, and we support each other. But also, they know that if there are things I need to address as a leader, I will address them.

One year into my role we had an influx of Syrian refugees in the Fairfield area, who were enrolled in our Federal Government-funded Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP). It was huge. We grew from two to 11 sites and made history for the AMEP. It was a very stressful, but also very rewarding, time – and I think that was the time that we really built our team. Everyone had to pitch in and work together. Even now everyone in the team is always prepared to step up; ready to get up and go when needed.

Fairfield College has a history of Middle Eastern students, but over the past couple of years we’ve seen a significant increase of people from Afghanistan, and we also have a very successful teacher on our youth program, so our numbers of young clients is growing as well – this means our current cohort has become more multicultural than ever before. Personally, I have learned a lot about all of these cultures, and that is something I really appreciate.

One of the projects I am most proud of at Fairfield is our English for Arts module. We found out, almost by accident, that many of our Arabic speakers really enjoyed doing art. Although they were enrolled in the English classes, we introduced some art modules, and they were very popular. Not only does art help them with their confidence in trying to learn English, because predominantly, they are very low-level learners, but the feedback we got from students was, “It makes me calmer; it makes me feel relaxed.” It was something they actually enjoyed, and it helped them manage their trauma.

Group of young adults standing on the sidewalk next to art
Chen (top right) with Fairfield Youth Class students and their public art installation for Refugee Week 2021.

We had round after round of the module, for about two or three years. And then last year it evolved into a community art project for Refugee Week, with their works displayed publicly in Fairfield. It was a team effort, but it was something I was quite proud of, and I know everyone involved, especially the students, were proud too.

We now have more projects like this planned for the future, such as a community garden project, working with other organisations to deliver the best results. At Fairfield there are always new courses, new faces and never an opportunity to get bored. Our work goes well beyond the classroom, and it is a privilege to be part of people’s journeys.

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