Director, Educa Learning Story Academy Julia Koumbassa

Julia Koumbassa joins Educa after eight years as Center Director at University of Michigan. All told, Julia has been working in the field of Early Childhood Education for almost 25 years - as a leader, teacher, trainer and parent educator.

Julia has a passion for bringing new understandings and perspectives to the work and finds joy in helping educators grow and thrive.

More recently, Julia has developed a keen interest in Learning Stories. She has visited Aotearoa New Zealand twice.

Wendy Lee

Wendy Lee is a co-founder of the Learning Story approach, author, keynote speaker and thought leader in early childhood education. She speaks frequently all over the world. Wendy is also the Director of the Educational Leadership Project (Ltd), a professional learning provider for the early childhood sector in New Zealand. Wendy has been involved in early childhood education (ECE) field over the last 45 years as a teacher, tutor, lecturer, manager, professional development facilitator and researcher. She has authored several papers and has been involved in the publication of three books – including the seminal work on learning stories, co-authored with Margaret Carr: "Learning Stories: Constructing Learner Identities in Early Education.” In 2019, she co-authored another text o Learning Stories titled “Learning Stories in Practice” with Margaret Carr.

ECE Consultant Nicole Talarico

Melbourne, Australia
As the Principal Facilitator at Talarico Consulting, Nicole has been active in the early childhood sector for over 20 years.

Best known as an advocate for professionalism and children’s rights. Nicole has worked in tertiary supervision, managing local government children’s services teams, and as an ECE consultant and trainer at Gowrie Victoria. Nicole is currently a mentor for Semann & Slattery, and she specialises in helping teams create and maintain a positive workplace culture and community engagement.

Nicole’s coaching strategies have been outlined in a range of early childhood publications, with particular reference to educational leadership, managing teams to value ethical decision-making in curricula, environmental education, and sustainability.

Nicole is a mother of four, and also the founding Director of Medical Action Bag, supporting first aid and environmental practices in Australia and New Zealand.

Learn more at her website here.

Associate Professor Annie White, PhD

California, United States
Dr. Annie White is an Associate Professor with the Early Childhood Studies program at California State University, Channel Islands where she teaches early childhood courses.

Dr. White has conducted research in the USA on Learning Stories with Head Start programs, homeless shelter child care centers, infant and toddler programs, and diverse family child care homes.

Senior Instructor Ali Porteous

Wellington, New Zealand
With 18 years of Early Childhood teaching experience, Ali is now a teacher and trainer at Ngaio Childspace, where she has lots of fun with getting to know the interests and passions of her tamariki. She also does research, trains teachers, and facilitates courses in Peaceful Curriculum design. Among her many educational interests are the importance of nature, curriculum planning, and writing Learning Stories.

When she is not teaching or looking after her two small children, she loves travelling the country and helping other teachers learn about what can make assessments great.

Senior Instructor Dr. Isauro Escamilla

Dr. Isauro M. Escamilla, born and raised in Veracruz, Mexico, is an experienced Spanish/English dual language public school teacher in San Francisco. He is co-author of Learning Stories and Teacher Inquiry Groups: Reimagining Teaching and Assessment in Early Childhood Education (NAEYC, 2021) and a Lecturer at San Francisco State University. He is also a SALSA board member.

Consultant Kelly Goodsir

Melbourne, Australia
Kelly is an early childhood education consultant, study tour guide and thought leader.

She started her own early childhood service at the age of 21 and was an early mover in New Zealand in the 2000's, an exciting period in New Zealand early childhood education. She moved to Australia, with a number of program management and leadership roles and eventually started KG Consulting. She hosts Study Tours to New Zealand, and runs a consulting practice in Australia.

Senior Instructor Zachary Bernstein

My name is Zachary J. Bernstein, and I love to make unheard voices heard. This statement is my life’s purpose.

The bulk of my teaching experience over the last 21 years has been in Early Childhood Education and at a community college. I love writing stories because stories ask questions and these questions make connections.

My adventures in ECE show me that the more we bring Learning Stories to life, the more we make our children’s voices, our families’ voices, our communities voices, and our (educators’) voices heard.

Head Start Coach Lindsey Shafer

Lindsey Shafer is an early childhood educator in northern California, working for 12+ years as a teacher, specialist and coach.

Lindsey was a board member for Supporting the Advancement of Learning Stories in America (SALSA) and continues to support teachers and directors in writing Learning Stories. She facilitates inquiry groups, and presents online webinars and at conferences.

Lindsey is passionate about using Learning Stories to strengthen relationships, foster reflective teaching practices, inspire discovery, and encourage play. She writes Learning Stories to educators that she works with and has been writing Learning Stories as a mom.

ECE Consultant Jayne Mallin

I am an early years teacher with over 20 years’ experience in early primary and ECE, including new entrant teacher and childcare centre manager. My passion has always been for home-based education where tamariki can thrive in small group education environments. I have been a regional manager for several home-based companies over the past 12 years and am currently working with Education Angels In-home Childcare. Education Angels are part of the Genius Group and my role includes mentoring and supporting educators, creating professional development modules and building our community connections across Educa and Genius U. Alongside this part-time role, I run Insight ECE consulting, providing mentoring and professional development to kaiako and leaders in ECE. I also dabble in social media under the guise of Wholehearted ECE. When I’m not working with educators and tamariki I hang out with my partner and cat and love spending time on bush walks and at the beach with my two grandchildren who are now 6 and 9.

Consultant Dr. Sarah Aiono

Based in New Zealand, Sarah is passionate about play, and specifically helping teachers implement evidence-based play pedagogy with fidelity in their everyday practice.

She has extensive experience as a teacher at all age levels, and those particularly with challenging behaviour and learning needs. Now she mentors and facilitates teacher professional learning as an accredited PD facilitator and Massey University post-graduate course advisor.

In addition, she hosts the popular podcast series Play Conversations on Spotify. She has delivered a number of keynote presentations at education events nationally and internationally. As co-director and CEO of Longworth Education, I support schools to implement evidence-based play pedagogy, and specifically focus on ensuring effective teaching practice within primary school play-based learning environments.

Tom Drummond

Tom Drummond is a former professor at North Seattle Community College. My professional goal has been to transform young children’s lives by developing competent, reflective, and authentic early childhood teachers/care-givers/parents who become increasingly committed to the possibility of continuous personal development and the creation of democratic learning communities.

Director, Koori Curriculum Jessica Staines

The Koori Curriculum is an Aboriginal early childhood consultancy based on the Central Coast, NSW. The Koori Curriculum facilitate a range of professional development programs and workshops for educators that help guide the inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives in early childhood curriculums. The Koori Curriculum is operated by Jessica Staines a Wiradjuri woman, early childhood teacher and passionate educational community member, with ties to many advocacy groups on both national and international platforms. Jessica and the team at Koori Curriculum continue to innovate and create new and diverse ways to reach educators across Australia and the world, adding to the ever-expanding suite of products and services including podcasts, educational resources, exclusive publications, webinars, online summits, conferences, in-services and planning days.

Instructor Toni Christie

Toni Christie is the Director of the Childspace Early Childhood Institute in Wellington, New Zealand. She is passionate about early childhood education, leadership, environments, infants, teamwork, communication and advocacy for children, families and early childhood educators. Toni holds a Master of Education degree from Victoria University in Wellington. Toni enjoys her many roles in life: wife, mother, author, keynote speaker, marriage celebrant, Justice of the Peace, editor, musician, artist and mentor. She loves to sing, dance and play with her family, friends and colleagues every day.

Instructor Monica Maddison

I am a Director of Specialized Education and Inclusion, former college instructor, and a professional speaker. I have twelve years of experience within special education, and an extensive education background that I bring with me to educate educators on best practices for supporting and caring for neurodiverse learners. I spend my days advocating for my students in the classroom, providing one-to-one therapy for private therapy home based clients, public speaking across Canada, and as a mother to three children! Visit Monica's site at

Instructor Samuel Broaden

Samuel began his career in Child Development in 2005. He always knew that his life’s work was with children. Throughout his career, Samuel has worked in varying positions and aspects of the Child Development field. These include being a teacher in classrooms with Infants to School-Age children, directing various child care centers, being a Quality Coach for Family Child Care programs and Child Care Centers, a forest kindergarten teacher, and now as owner and founder of Honoring Childhood. Through his work, Samuel has cultivated his own philosophy for how children grow and learn, which is deeply rooted in the importance of nature and the joy of allowing children to discover who they truly are. Through Honoring Childhood, Samuel hopes to inspire teachers, administrators, parents, guardians, friends and the world to think differently about childhood and what it means and to work together to create a more kind and beautiful world.

Instructor Deborah McNelis

With the passion Deborah has for connection, time spent with family and friends is her preference. Before founding, Brain Insights, she started her career as a kindergarten teacher. In an effort to have a broader impact, she went on to create a community based organization called, Family Network and was the president of, The Partners organization. Additionally, she coordinated an Even Start Family Literacy program and was an instructor for the early childhood associate degree at a technical college. When research on early brain development started becoming available, she then worked for a statewide advocacy agency to create needed awareness and support for children and families. Deborah enjoys traveling, meeting new people and is always learning. She loves time in nature and can never pass up the opportunity to take a sunset photo. She currently lives on a lake in Wisconsin but in listening to her, you will easily determine that she originally was a Minnesota girl.

Jamie Solomon

Jamie Solomon has over 16 years of experience in the early childhood field. She has spent the majority of those years working as a lead teacher in the preschool classroom. However, she has also taught undergraduate and graduate courses in the field, at both San Francisco State University and the University of Michigan, Flint. Jamie has long taken an interest in young children's gender development, publishing research on the topic for organizations NAEYC, NAECTE and NAREA and presenting at national and local conferences. Jamie loves working with young children and their families and considers herself an advocate for children's rights and childhood in general. She currently works as the director of Scuola Creativa, a small Reggio-inspired school in Royal Oak, Michigan. When she’s not at Scuola, Jamie is busy with her 6 year old twins, eating, telling stories and being outside as much as possible.

Instructor Miriam Dressler

Miriam Dressler has worked in the education field for over twenty years as a teacher, center director, adult educator, and ECE consultant and trainer. She has worked in multiple states as a coach and facilitator to early childhood programs, supporting them in their pursuit of accreditation and other quality rating systems and programs. Miriam is the co-author of Prove It! Achieving Quality Recognition for Your Early Childhood Program and is a lead validator for the National Accreditation Commission. Miriam is the owner at Bloom Training & Consulting, an early childhood support services company located in Seattle, WA.

Senior Instructor Jacqueline Ryan

Jacqueline is an Early Childhood Educator from Lompoc, California.

She has a background in behavior management and the Outdoor Classroom, and she has a passion for Learning Stories, which she sees as a way to connect to children, to families, and to her peers. She helps educators use Learning Stories to provide a way to celebrate learning and develop individual identities.

Jacqueline is working on a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education with an Emphasis on Educational Leadership and Administration.

Professor Barbara Burns

Barbara M. Burns, Ph.D. is a developmental psychologist and a professor of Child Studies at Santa Clara University. Her research is focused on strengthening child and family resilience and preventing child abuse and neglect in families with young children.

She has collaborated with Sacred Heart Community Service (SHCS), a large community agency to expand a child abuse prevention intervention, called Safe, Secure and Loved: Resilient Families (SSL:RF), into community-led parent education programming that is now offered at many sites.

Founder Madeline Taylor

Madeleine Taylor is an experienced people skills consultant, having worked in social work and organisational development since 1982.

Madeleine contracts to both public and private organisations. Her work involves conflict facilitation, training, supervision, facilitation, coaching, and management development.

Instructor Paul Caggianese

Paul is currently the Program Supervisor overseeing the day-to-day operations of community college, lab school, and child care centers. His main responsibilities include scheduling, hiring, compliance, family relationships, staff support, and overseeing staff development and training. Paul has over 20 years of experience as a teacher in a mixed age group preschool environment. Now, he has transitioned into the program supervisor role for the past 3 years, guiding teachers in curriculum, observation, and documentation.

Senior Instructor Allyson Montana

New York, United States
Allyson has a Masters in Education and is currently working on her PhD. She has spent many years in the classroom and the last two years as the PD Director at Educa.

Allyson has presented on Learning Stories and other ECE PD at a number of conferences, including the McCormick Institute's Leadership Conference, the SALSA Learning Story Conference, and Head Start and Hilltop.

Allyson has two children, and is a fierce advocate for quality early childhood education.