Continuous professional improvement for staff

Research shows that outstanding schools place a priority on attracting, retaining and developing the best possible teachers; and they encourage the development of a culture of continuous professional improvement for all staff.

A Grattan Institute report, co-authored by Dr Peter Goss and Julie Sonnemann in November 2016, found that Australia needs to do more to invest in highly skilled teachers.

‘In Australia, the last day of a teaching career can look a lot like the first: with a regular teaching load and little professional collaboration with colleagues. The most talented teachers tend to have little chance to influence teaching beyond their classroom – their capacity to help others is not utilised,' the report reads.

The research found that the role of expert practitioners in guiding collaboration and team discussions is critical. ‘Teachers are known to teach more effectively when they work together, using observation and feedback to assess and critique each other's work,' the report says.

It also says that teachers collective self-efficacy, or a group of teachers' shared belief in their ability to improve student learning, substantially improves student outcomes.

‘Giving talented teachers an expert role not only helps to improve teacher professional learning, but it can attract young bright people to teaching too,' Sonnemann tells Teacher.

Earlier this month, the Grattan Institute released a new report that focusses on attracting high achievers to teaching. It recommends a reform package that includes scholarships for high achievers taking up teaching degrees, the creation of two new teacher roles in schools, and the launch of an advertising campaign to promote the package.

The new roles are said to form an expert teacher pathway with higher pay and greater responsibility. The two roles include Instructional Specialists and Master Teachers. The Instructional Specialists (limited to 5-8 per cent of teachers) would work within schools to improve teaching practice and would be paid $40 000 more than the highest standard pay rate for teachers.

The Master Teachers (about 0.5 per cent of teachers) would work across schools to support Instructional Specialists and would be paid $80 000 more than the highest standard pay rate for teachers.

Goss and Sonnemann say the new roles would involve a competitive recruitment process, and only applicants who meet the highest national teaching standards would be eligible to apply. 'All teachers can apply, but only a small number with the deepest teaching expertise would be successful in gaining these positions,' Sonnemann tells Teacher.

‘The new roles create a better career path for teachers who are great at what they do but want to stay close to the classroom. And it gives them a much higher level of pay that recognises the value of really excellent teaching.'

New roles and their responsibilities

According to the report, Instructional Specialists would work intensively in their own schools to lead the teaching practice of other teachers.

‘They would carry a half-time teaching load. They would specialise in a given area, for example a subject or skill such as use of assessment data, and help other teachers improve in that domain.

‘Instructional Specialists would engage other teachers in professional learning activities that are relevant, practical, and close to classroom practice. They help teachers improve through coaching, leading teams, observing and providing meaningful feedback on teaching practice,' the report says.

Master Teachers would guide Instructional Specialists and work at a sub-regional or district level across clusters of schools. Master Teachers would be the very top pedagogical leaders for the system in their subject or area of expertise, and would seek to improve teaching practice in their domain. They would offer guidance to Instructional Specialists via mentoring and networking.

‘They would help to communicate teacher needs and best practice back to regions and central office. This mediating “layer” of Master Teachers is a big gap in most Australian school systems,' the report says.

To be eligible for the new roles, teachers would need to first be certified at the highest levels against the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

Teacher professional learning and support

To further strengthen their research in this area, the Grattan Institute has developed a short survey that aims to better understand the extent to which teachers currently in positions of ‘teacher leadership' have the right skills, jobs and support to do their jobs well.

The results from this survey will be analysed for the next Grattan Institute report on teacher professional learning. According to Sonnemann, the report will argue great teachers should have more opportunities to help develop other teachers, and we need better systems and structures to do this.

‘We need to better use the skills of our best teachers to set high standards for effective teaching – so that teacher professionalism is owned by teachers themselves, and not the bureaucracy,' she says.

They survey is now open and will run until October 2019.

Click on the link to take part in the survey.