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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

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