We need to remind policymakers of the importance of education, and the essential role of teachers in the lives of individuals, and ipso facto in the social, economic and political well-being of our countries. The Australian Government Productivity Commission (2017) report emphasised that point, noting that as the “system designer and primary funder and supplier of formal education, governments have to change what they do” (p. 88). Darling-Hammond and colleagues (2017) suggest that “[a] system framework recognizes that societies can support effective teaching in part by constructing attractive teaching careers, selecting talented individuals, ensuring they are well prepared, and developing career pathways that foster ongoing learning experiences for teachers” (p. 21).
All teachers are crucial advocates for the teaching profession; however, education systems also have an important responsibility. A systems view emphasises that all parts of the education system interact – no one part can effect change on its own. This view was also emphasised in an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 1 May, by David Gonski, the author of the Through Growth to Achievement report on advancing Australian education systems, in his comment that “[s]chools and education authorities should provide high-quality and appropriate professional learning for their teachers”. Gonski further emphasised the need for systems to commit to supporting continuous improvement for teachers, especially in the beginning of their careers, in addition to ensuring clear career professional pathways within the teaching profession.
In taking a systems view, we need to ensure all systems (including initial teacher education providers, employing authorities, and individual schools) involved in developing a productive teaching workforce, identified as part of the national teaching reforms in the April blog, work together to this end. All systems need to empower teachers through demonstrating that they value their professional development at all phases of their career. Talented and passionate individuals must form the basis of recruitment into the profession. These individuals need to undertake high quality initial teacher education programs which are accredited against rigorous guidelines, closely monitored and carefully moderated. Professional experience in schools needs to be undertaken under the supervision of experienced teachers who supervise preservice teachers completing the Graduate Teacher Performance Assessment (GTPA) to demonstrate their classroom readiness. Early career teachers then need intensive induction, mentoring, and collaborative professional development opportunities in order to develop in the profession.
Throughout Australia, our system of employing teachers places these processes in danger. The QCT (2013) report noted that too many early career teachers were employed in short-term contract and casual positions, and therefore do not receive the adequate induction and mentoring so critical in the early years. Too often these are the teachers who leave the profession because of this lack of support. The Senate Inquiry into Teaching and Learning (Commonwealth of Australia, 2013) reported that it is talented teachers who leave the profession more than less talented teachers. In order to retain teachers and reduce attrition, the QCT report identified a number of system strategies, including:
- structured induction
- mentoring by trained mentors who have been given sufficient time to undertake this role
- reduced workloads
- not being placed in difficult locations, and/or allocated challenging classes and
- a collegial supportive school environment.
As noted in previous blogs, the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers demonstrate a professional pathway for teachers and provide a framework for career enhancing professional development.
In closing this discussion, I note that a study reported in the New York Times on March 18 documented the impact on employee well-being and productivity through a demonstration of employee value in terms of providing stable and consistent hours of work. While in an unrelated sector, this study emphasised that treating people (teachers) as valuable members of the company (education system), instead of as interchangeable parts, can improve student outcomes. All employing systems need to take note.
Commonwealth of Australia. (2013). Teaching and learning – maximising our investment in Australian schools. Author.
Darling-Hammond, L., Burns, D., Campbell, C., Goodwin, A. Lin, Hammerness, K., Low, E. L., McIntyre, A., Sato, M., & Zeichner, K. (2017). Empowered educators: How high-performing systems shape teaching quality around the world. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Productivity Commission. (2017). Shifting the Dial: 5 Year Productivity Review, Report No. 84. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Queensland College of Teachers. (2013). Attrition of recent Queensland graduate teachers. Author.