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The fundamental aspects of culture that schools must address to attract more teachers

A 40 per cent reduction in graduates going into teaching, coupled with the fact that about one-third of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, means there are far more fundamental cultural and societal issues at play, particularly in regards to teachers in Secondary schools.

Recent financial inducements as part of the Federal election campaign to attract more graduates into school teaching are no doubt welcome. Teachers have never been paid sufficiently and certainly not in relation to the importance and value they have towards a society’s future.

Quality teaching and quality schools add immeasurably not only to economic success, but so importantly to social harmony and a society’s progress.

In Australia, the value of teachers has never been properly valued and respected. Now, more than ever, that needs to be rectified. To advance teaching as a profession, the voice of educators and school leaders needs to be heard and respected loud and clear.

However, the greatest reward and energy quality teachers get from teaching lies in seeing and participating in the learning by their students: seeing them grow and develop in their learning and understanding, and rejoicing in helping guide those students towards exciting futures.

So, apart from the importance of societal recognition of the value of teaching, the culture within schools (like any organisation) is integral to a renewed sense of value and reward within the profession – particularly given the added pressures associated with the past two and a half years of the pandemic.

Here are four fundamental aspects of culture that I believe schools must address in the current candidate short environment:

  1. Wellbeing and support: Is the culture within the school one that provides strong wellbeing and support for teachers? Is it one that recognises the demands of the profession and puts in place wellbeing measures that are customised to the needs of individual teachers?
  2. Student care: Is there a culture within a school where each teacher feels able to support the wellbeing needs of their students, needs that were already considerable pre-pandemic and seem to have grown exponentially in recent times?
  3. Learning and development: Is there a learning culture within the school that listens to the voice of educators and other staff and provides relevant, personalised professional learning that empowers staff in their fundamental purpose – to enhance the learning by their students?
  4. Coaching and mentoring: Is there a culture of coaching and mentoring within a school so that all teachers, from relatively inexperienced to those more experienced, believe their growth and development as professionals is enhanced by collectively and collaborating working with others?

Peter Drucker was famously quoted as saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” He didn’t mean strategy was unimportant, rather that an empowering culture was critical to organisational success. Strong culture in an educational environment needs great strategy, but the latter won’t work without reflection and action on key measures to support teacher wellbeing and growth.

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Posted in Diversity & Inclusion, Education, Slade Executive, The world @work

What’s next for the teachers who took the brunt of lockdowns?

The Covid-19 years have focussed attention in schools on the value of teaching professionals working together collaboratively towards the best possible student learning outcomes. For school leaders, the attention has been on building the social capital needed in schools, beyond mere human capital.

Teachers have been isolated so much during lockdowns, missing the professional dialogue and banter that occurs both formally and informally, despite every attempt to meet that issue through online professional learning.

As schools finalise their planning towards next year, hoping that the year offers a new normal, they will be looking to build the capacity of their staffing teams: attracting and developing the best possible professionals that will align and further the vision and values of the school.  Schools are also working through how to maximise the social capital that comes from staff working collaboratively towards agreed and co-developed goals.

Through it all, our leading schools are looking to ensure teacher wellbeing, as well as student wellbeing, is a focus of attention – one that will enable a strong learning culture, inspired by a collaborative and well-supported teaching team.

The recruitment of school leaders, non-teaching school professionals and teachers (permanent, replacement and casual) is a process where great assistance can be provided by specialist recruitment firms, especially where what’s on offer includes a wealth of specialist experience of the educational needs of schools by past school leaders themselves. The new COVID norms will also necessitate specific requirements of applicants and schools (stipulated in recent regulations) and, once again, such assistance from partner firms could be of great benefit to schools.

At this time, many teachers and leaders are also looking at options open to them, whether that be promotion possibilities or simply finding the best possible school culture that aligns to the values they hold as professionals.

School leaders, in what ways are you building the social capital within your schools for the benefit of your students, enabling a collaborative culture of learning? What assistance are you seeking in this process?

Teachers, how are you equipping yourself, with others, to ensure students’ overall needs in this new climate are being met?

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Posted in Education, The world @work

Take a break… and focus on your own learning and future career

…as the fourth revolution of work builds, teachers are well placed to lead learning.”

All employers, by virtue of offering work opportunities and the potential to build careers, deal in the futures of their employees. For teachers and others working in the education sector, it takes great skill, time and energy to help students navigate their learning and life. It is by its very nature a generous act, to continually focus on others to build their capacity, efficacy and future.

For teachers, the term breaks are ideal to recharge and relax, to practice a little self-preservation and to prioritise personal needs.

Article image: Have fun

If you are a teacher or another professional who constantly ‘gives to others’, putting a plan in place for your own future can be overlooked; a break can be more than relaxing – it can be a time to think about where your career is going, to set goals, speak to others and to think about what else you may need to learn to progress within schools or beyond.

In various articles on the Future of Work, ‘learning’ per se is at the centre of the skills and aptitude required to navigate the fourth revolution, and to enjoy a thriving career. This places teachers at the centre of the revolution. Teachers have highly transferable skills in planning, curating, managing and assessing learning. The industry of learning has always spread well beyond the school gates, but the industry globally is growing at an unprecedented rate. More than just formal institutions for learning, ‘the industry of learning’ increasingly includes significant roles such as learning designers in work settings.

Swinburne’s Centre for the New Workforce recently published a National Survey Report, Peak Human Potential: Preparing Australia’s workforce for the digital future. The report highlighted 38% of workers prefer to learn in the work setting. Heather McGowan, future of work strategist, suggests that we now work to learn.

As the fourth revolution of work builds, teachers are well placed to lead learning, from early learning centres to corporate boardrooms.

Before you lead others in their learning or work, you need to be strategic, and clear about your own learning and career plan. Our world @work represents so much of our time and energy, and yet career progression is often left to happenstance.

So, while you’re relaxing or setting off on an adventure, remember to put aside a little time to think about your own future of work.

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Posted in Education, The world @work

Why critical thinking, is critical.

What do you think is the most watched Ted Talk of all time? It’s Sir Ken Robinson’s Do Schools Kill Creativity? It challenges us to rethink our school systems, to acknowledge there are multiple ways to learn successfully.

In my career as a teacher I made the very deliberate decision to transition from teaching the VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education, formerly the High School Certificate – simply known as the HSC in Australia) to VCAL – the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning.  For those who aren’t au fait with the nuances of VCAL, essentially the curriculum is geared towards a more hands on (applied) approach to learning, and assessment is focused on outcomesrather than traditional grades or results.

What I loved about VCAL assessment was that it was based on life skills and employability. Nowadays those same skills are referred to as 21st century skills, which includes skills such as verbal communication, problem solving, time management, leadership and teamwork. While the traditional ways of learning are still addressed through assessment, more emphasis is placed on creative and critical thinking in order to solve a problem.

Sir Ken’s fundamental message was that children (and adults too) should be encouraged to use their imagination!

In Australia, education is changing. Task-based learning, working in teams, appointing students to leadership roles amongst peer groups… these are all things that we can benefit from later in life, both personally and professionally. Not all lessons are learned in books – a cliché, but true.  As educators we need to encourage all learners to read widely, to search out subject matter that isn’t enforced by a standard curriculum and to be guided by their intrinsic motivators. Put simply, allow students to go away and learn something they want to learn.

While we’re here, let’s update our definition of text to include digital publishing and non-traditional modes of reading and learning. In the electronic age, it’s also timely to remind ourselves that education is not only about how you remember facts, because anyone with a smartphone has a virtual encyclopedia of reliable information at their fingertips. However, the power of information and how we choose to use it continues to be a defining question for our societies in the future. In an environment where fake news has become a real thing, knowing the facts has become less important than being able to deconstruct the message – an important skill broadly taught across many university degrees.

When I look back at that decision I made nearly 10 years ago, it’s interesting to see what the motivators were that have brought me on a journey into the professional services industry. Working in recruitment, our brief often identifies the hard (technical) skills sought in candidates. Recognising those soft 21st century skills that, along with appropriate knowledge and experience, ultimately determine whether a candidate is a good fit for a particular role, is something I’m proud to say I now specialise in.

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Posted in Education, The world @work

Three words that you might just want to hear: The power of positive language.

What three words best describe you?

Summing yourself up succinctly is no easy feat. Trying to identify yourself with your own words can be difficult at first, but being able to master this challenge can also be a really useful tool in life.

Our lives are never stagnant. Our taste in clothes, food and entertainment evolve continually, and so too can our personality.  As someone who has experienced significant changes over recent years, I believe the ability to re-assess myself has been imperative to my development.

With that in mind, try this simple exercise to see what three positive words could do for you.

Word #1A word to describe you as a person

Write down the word that comes into your head first, but don’t be afraid to write a list. This is not a word about how you’re currently feeling, the idea is about coming up with words that best describe you – quirky, energetic, trustworthy, loyal… Which one resonates the most?

Word #2A word to describe you at work

Are you introverted, engaging, hardworking, analytical, technical, creative, authentic, entrepreneurial? Which of these qualities are you most proud of? How would your leaders describe you?

Word #3A word to describe why people like to be around you

If you asked your family and friends to describe you, what would they say? (Disclaimer: it’s not necessary to ask them for the purpose of this exercise; you may need a thick skin if you do!) Think about times when someone has expressed gratitude or offered you a compliment – that’s the word.

Now that you have your three words, you have the ability to sell yourself. They’re the basis of your personal branding, your motto or your mantra. Reflect on them when you’re standing in line, waiting for a train, or even heading to an interview. While the concept of an ‘elevator pitch’ can sound clichéd, it’s great to have a few good words to say about yourself whenever the opportunity presents itself.

As you put this into practice, you will discover the power of positive language. It may evolve into an internal dialogue that leads to coaching yourself with positive self-talk. It may even be a conscious effort to replace any negativity you encounter with the words you have chosen; the more you focus on those positive words, the less you will worry about what other people think.

This simple exercise has more power than you will likely give it credit for. I challenge you to believe in your words and I’d love to hear about the positive impact they make on your attitude to life, to yourself and others.

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Posted in Education, The world @work

How everyone can develop resilience: 3 things you can do right now.

Resilience: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Or in my words: “Being able to take a hit, and get back up and keep fighting.”

Recently relocating from Sydney to Melbourne, let’s just say I appreciate the differences between the two!  Coming from a retail background, not only did I have to adjust to a different work style in the corporate world, but there were the challenges of moving to a new city, making new friends and starting a new job that anyone who has ever been an ‘expat’ will relate to.

Any major life change can be daunting. While I knew there was a chance my move might not be successful, I also knew that if I didn’t step outside my comfort zone to make the move, then I would never know.

In all aspects of life, we need resilience. It builds strength of character, enhances relationships and most importantly, helps us to be at peace with ourselves.

Monique Slade from Springfox and The Resilience Institute shared her personal experience with our team in a training session this week. Speaking about her role model for resilience, Monique told us about her mother, who at the age of 50, unexpectedly lost her husband to illness. With young kids and no financial security, she found herself at a crossroad. Instead of spiralling downwards into distress, she chose to master the stressful situation, engage her emotions and spirit into action. It was a lesson in resilience for herself, and for her children.

Hearing Monique’s story was extremely empowering. It made me realise that we all make choices. While life rarely goes the way we planned it, we choose our mindset, have control of our actions and can model the person we want to be.

As for me, going from being a Sydneysider to a Melburnian wasn’t all smooth sailing.  There are some noticeable cultural differences (Melbourne cafes, pretty hard to beat – Sydney, you got the weather) and comparing a corporate culture to a retail environment – so many processes and procedures to learn, but so little stock!

Here are three take outs from our resilience training that have helped me, which you can use right now:

  1. Give yourself credit – You have the resources within you to be more resilient. Think about the times in your personal or professional life where you may have struggled, survived and bounced back.
  2. Stop ruminating – Focus on the here and now. Don’t let your mind drift into worrying about the past or the future. Learn mindfulness or focusing techniques to train your brain to stop creating its own stress.
  3. Take a deep breath – I volunteered to be hooked up to a heart rate monitor at our training session to see how a few deep breaths could lower my stress level. Breathing is now part of my morning routine.

Taking risks to strive for the things we want in life helps us to recognise our achievements. Don’t get hung up on What if? Just give it a go. I now know that I am capable of great things. Whatever life throws at me, I’m a little bit more prepared to deal with it. I am resilient.

How have you learned to overcome adversity and become more resilient in the world @work? What are some of the strategies you use to maintain your grace and control?

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Posted in Education, The world @work

Learning is so much more than just getting to school.

It’s not pretty, but the latest iteration of the MySchool website, published by ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Reporting and Assessment Authority) has revealed (once again) the growing disparity in school attendance rates across the country and across major cities. At least some of these disproportionate statistics must be associated with cultural competence levels within our schools.

As The Australian reported, education experts generally believe that 90 per cent attendance is the minimum benchmark for a student to progress in their learning. Of course, quality of that learning extends way beyond merely getting to school. But, The Australian also recounted that up to half of the students enrolled in some schools in Tarneit, Flemington, Dandenong and Sunshine fall well below that 90 per cent figure. These schools and suburbs have a large population of African migrants.

Similarly, the attendance rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students across the country fall well below that 90 per cent attendance rate. In some areas, only 45 per cent make it through to Year 12 from Year 7, compared with 77 per cent of non-indigenous students.

It’s hard not to see the correlation between a lack of cultural understanding and these stats.

The issues are similar – attendance and the retention in education.  As a result, there are ever growing divisions in educational outcomes and social inequities. When cultural inequality begins as early as in a child’s secondary education, you can bet that those cultural inequities will continue on later in that child’s life.

The cultural competence of schools, their staff and their communities is so very important. ACARA is currently recruiting, with the support of Slade Education, a Director, Curriculum to guide the next iteration of the Australian Curriculum which must of course be one element towards inclusion of all students in the advance of learning outcomes across Australia. A lack of cultural understanding, shown by any one staff member, can stifle badly the learning of children and adolescents.

Do you look for multicultural experience and training in the recruitment of your staff and/or create opportunities for cultural learning to better engage students in your school?

 

Featured image: Engagement officer Wally Elnour with students Junior, Alady, Anei and Siena at Sacred Heart primary school, Fitzroy VIC. Picture: Aaron Francis. The Australian, 6 March 2018

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Posted in Education, The world @work

Challenging questions about change

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor E. Frankl

Have you ever wondered why the subject of change can provoke strong emotions?

Back in the fixed-line age of last century(!) when timed local calls were first floated by our national carrier, there was a tsunami of public rejection. Just five year later when Motorola and Nokia were offering us the new-new thing, that same ‘public’ jumped on board without questioning the fact that they would be billed on the basis of timed local calls.

I’ve heard individuals describe themselves in interviews as either good or bad at handling change. Typically it’s not as black and white as that, as we all respond to change differently, and how change per se is introduced to us, can impact our emotional and cognitive response.

  1. Do you understand your response to change?

When reflecting on your past responses to change, both in your personal and professional spheres, are you aware of what underpins your behaviour? A move interstate, a teenager pushing back, a new housing development going up next door, a relationship breakup, a new boss, a bad accident? In ‘work speak’, I’m alluding to our motivators, those forces that drive our individual and team responses to change that impact productivity.

This is a great question to ponder separately, not only when you’re interviewing a potential candidate for your organisation. Consider how you personally affect change in your organisation, how change affects your team, or broadly others in your workplace.

I often challenge candidates by asking: “When you do decide to embrace change, are you pretty loyal to that change… particularly when you are convinced it is the right decision?” I might also pose a behavioural question such as, “What is your best example of a time when you have embraced a significant change, only to discover that you might have been better off taking a more measured approach?” This is a great way of helping an individual recognise that of course, whichever way they manage change, it’s likely they handle it differently to others.

When you challenge yourself on this question, you might also find it helpful to consider how your motivations are orientated. For example, are they past, present or future orientated? What impact might that have on how you embrace change and help others embrace it as well?

  1. Talk it over or lose the advantage

When we remember that we each hold different motivators, it helps us to understand how we respond to change differently. Research such as that presented by Abraham Maslow and Deci & Ryan, also tells us that what you expect and believe are critical to your ability to embrace or reject change. Your experience, skills, knowledge and sense of self-esteem are also important factors.

Do you know what truly motivates you when it comes to change? What about your team members? Most of us think we know what motivates our behaviour and therefore, how to motivate others we work with. I wonder if we do really know, or just think we know.

Having insight into your own personality, in turn helps you to understand others, particularly on the subject of adaptability to change. At the senior leadership level it goes much deeper than personality profiling; research by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan suggests personality informs approximately 30% of how we are motivated at any given moment. Context is ‘king’ when we talk about change, which means deeply exploring the situation in our conversations with candidates or colleagues.

How do others rate you and your team when it comes to leading or embracing change? What assumptions might you or others be making, and how do these impact the wider organisation?

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Posted in Education, Slade Executive, The world @work