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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.