A three-way approach to development

As a follow-up to last week’s article ‘It’s all about teacher quality’, we look at the fundamentals of the coaching and mentoring program at a Melbourne primary school.

The development program at Dandenong North Primary School (DNPS) ‘is all about up skilling teachers as quickly as possible to try and get the best learning outcomes,’ Assistant Principal Paul Hilton says.

Consultant Tony Ross has been employed to work with staff to help them so they are at the capacity to perform at their peak. When Ross started his role, he began coaching the leadership team.

‘We started ... looking at technical aspects of their leadership,’ he says. ‘I [sat] in on their meetings and watched them worked with staff and so forth. Then, I individually got them to do a training needs analysis about what they thought their strengths were and also possible areas of growth.’

The second strand of the program focuses on developing early career teachers. In 2014, Ross is working with five teachers who are all in their first year at the school.

‘Yesterday I did a series of observations for them, but rather than big picture pedagogy it was the basics: “Have you thought about doing this?”, “Maybe this is not appropriate”, “Is this working?”’

The school’s principal, Kevin Mackay, says mentoring is the main focus for the development of early career teachers into effective educators.

'... We've got an intensive induction program, maybe more so than most schools. [We allocate the] equivalent of about two full days of induction for every new person ... and then the mentoring starts for the graduates. That runs sometimes for two years,' he says.

The school has its own instructional model which was developed through actively testing what works for its students and multiple staff discussions related to effective pedagogical practice over a period of many months. To support new teachers in implementing the model, mentors sit with them and work through at least one lesson per week, covering everything from planning to effective timing. So mentors can give detailed feedback, the school has developed an evaluation checklist which relates the instructional model and uses specific pedagogical language.

‘We’re moving now into Tony working more with the mentors because it is the quality of the feedback and the support [that is important],’ Assistant Principal Jenny Mackay adds.

Feedback is formally administered to early career teachers weekly, although this can change depending on the progress they're making. It can also come from a variety of areas, including unscheduled 'pop-in' observations.

The third part of program is focused on ensuring coaches and mentors are effective.

'We’ve got a high number of our staff who are actually trained as coaches – I think it’s about 38 at the moment (out of 82),’ says the principal. ‘We had some coaches and that worked, so we got more coaches and that works. We want everyone to be coaches, because I can coach you just in an incidental conversation. If that produces gains, well that’s worth doing.’

As Mackay is keen to get every single staff member trained as a coach, Ross works closely with teachers, coaching them on what exactly their role is, what the commonalities are and what you should look for in a classroom.

‘The gains, we figured, were to be had by building the capacity and expectations of the great staff we already had,’ Mackay explains.

DNPS is located in Melbourne’s south-east. Students consistently achieve outstanding results, performing well in literacy and numeracy tests when compared with national average levels and other statistically similar schools. Hilton attributes this success to the school’s commitment to investing in people.

‘Employing the right people gets the children to actually learn. ... Putting money into those people ... and really identifying what the children need to know ... has really made the results improve over the last 15 years.’

Has your school got an effective program that has produced gains?

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