Upgrading your skills and supporting others

Taking a postgraduate qualification is an opportunity to not only upgrade your personal skill-set, but also add to the collective staff expertise in your school community.

Marilyn Faithfull was leader of the Mathematics Domain at Melbourne's Koonung Secondary College, teaching across all year levels, when she enrolled in a Graduate Certificate of Education – Assessment of Student Learning. The online course, delivered by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), explores new ways of thinking about assessment and how different techniques can be best used in your own context to monitor and improve student learning progress.

Faithfull says she'd been teaching for a while and recognised that she needed to update her knowledge and understanding of developments in education. ‘Assessment is an area of particular interest and I could see that building skills in analysing the performance of students was something that teachers needed to improve on.'

Reflecting on her return to study, the educator says the coursework on peer assessment was a particular highlight as it took her into a new sphere that she hadn't explored. ‘The Grad Cert has invigorated my work and given a great foundation for the next stage in my career in education.

‘I've been able to support others in building their assessment practice. I added a data role to my Maths Domain leadership role and also had the opportunity to act as Assistant Principal for a number of weeks. I really grew in knowledge, understanding and skills in both assessment and communication through the coursework.'

Since graduating at the end of 2016 (winning the Academic Medal for her cohort), Faithfull has been appointed Director of Learning – Data and Performance at Koonung. This new leading teacher role means she's now working with data across all subject areas, supporting staff in assessment practices and measuring student progress.

Holly Rose is a Year 7-12 science teacher and Assistant Director of Studies at Christ Church Grammar School, an independent K-12 boys school in Perth. ‘As the Assistant Director of Studies, a large part of my role is to oversee the use of assessment and data within the senior school – both to make sure we comply with our regulatory body and also to make sure we are delivering the most effective programs for enhancing and enriching our students' learning journeys.'

She started ACER's Graduate Certificate of Education – Assessment of Student Learning in January 2017 and completed the course in December. ‘I had always been interested in the use of data and assessment in my own classroom but had not been actively considering current research. When I took on my new role in the school, which involved using and analysing data and assisting other staff members to do the same, I knew that it would be important to ensure I upgraded my skills and develop a good understanding of the current research to be able to put it into practice.'

Like Faithfull, the driver was also a desire to learn practical techniques that she could apply in the classroom and in her role supporting colleagues. ‘The coursework required you to analyse assessments you already did and consider how you could do things differently. We also needed to collect and analyse our own data, which made it very applicable to my current situation. I worked with two early career teachers to develop assessments that allowed us to collect data and then used this to develop and modify learning progressions for Year 7 Science. The data collected really helped to consolidate this practice and also identified some areas where we were not meeting the learning needs of the students and we needed to improve our practice.'

For Rose, studying with teachers from a range of school contexts and with different experiences was a real bonus. ‘Those conversations became really important and effective as a learning tool. Knowing that we were all on the same journey of wanting to improve our skills for the benefit of our students and schools, but with each being able to bring such different things to the conversations, made it really worthwhile.'

The next intake for ACER’s Graduate Certificate of Education – Assessment of Student Learning is July 2018. Applications close on 6 July for the course starting 18 July. Visit www.acer.org/professional-learning/postgraduate for more information.

Think about your own school context and skill-set: what are your strengths? How does this help you in your own classroom practice and in supporting colleagues? What are your areas for development?