An exceptional induction program in Cairns, which includes graduate teachers at one school being driven to real estate agents, teachers flown in from as far as Thursday Island for networking, and support systems set up with families, is raising the bar when it comes to support for early career teachers.
The three-pronged induction approach at Catholic Education Services (CES) in the Cairns Diocese starts with scholarships and extensive graduate support, school programs as a second tier, and then a structured approach to mentoring and professional development.
CES Leadership and Professional Learning Director Vicki Bell says the approach is designed to grow our early career teachers so they are the best that they can be” and to attract and retain teachers in the far north.
“We really want them to love teaching, we want them to love the students in their classes and we want them to love the Cairns Diocese,” Vicki says.
“We want to wrap around them whatever support we can so that they develop their confidence in their classroom, their efficacy as teachers, and their sense that they are really making a difference.”
The program starts with CES partnering with universities to provide scholarships and practicum placement opportunities for students. When newly appointed CES teachers, who were part of the scholarship program, graduate in Brisbane, Vicki flies down to support them.
“The purpose of that is really to meet their family,” Vicki says. “I have given all of the families of the scholarship students that we employed this year my business card and said if they have any worries about their son or daughter just to give me a ring and we will deal with it up here,” she says.
Each new teacher in the Cairns Diocese undergoes an orientation program, which introduces them to the culture of their school and what it means to work in the Catholic system and with CES.
“So we have a series of meets – some of them are face-to-face, some of them are Zoom meetings and we try to run those fairly regularly, so they are probably around once every four weeks. If it is a face-to-face meeting we include a networking opportunity, just so that they can get to know each other, because that’s where their greatest support will probably be, with each other rather than with us,” Vicki says.
“We really want to focus, in the first instance, on their professional practice and their professionalism, but it’s also about their wellbeing. We want to be forming individual personal relationships with each and every one of them so that when something goes wrong, or when something goes wrong in their school, they have got someone they actually have a developed relationship with that they can ring up,” she says.
“So what we want to stop is people leaving the profession because they don’t feel supported.”
The second tier involves individual school programs and St Therese’s School in Cairns is seen as a leader in this area. St Therese’s School’s newly graduated teachers are flown up the year before they start for a one-week orientation.
Assistant Principal Jacquie Jackson said “the intensive support orientation and onboarding program” included: observation sessions in the year levels the graduates will teach in; the usual workplace, health and safety and professional development sessions; meet-and-greets with school and CES staff; and a dinner with current first-year teachers to share the ups and downs of that first year.
“On top of that, we took them for an orientation around Cairns, because they were moving to Cairns – we took them to real estate agents to find them somewhere to live and we were supported very, very heavily by Catholic Education Services , because they put them up for us – they found accommodation and they (the graduate teachers) even had a little car,” Jacquie says.
The comprehensive program ensured the teachers felt settled before their first week on the job, which can be overwhelming.
“Orientation week, which all schools have, is usually a massive culture and shellshock to teachers coming in, particularly in Cairns for those who are new to the Diocese and to teaching – but these teachers already had friends, they didn’t need to be shown where the toilets and staffroom were for instance; they had a really good idea of the way things worked in our particular school and our context and I believe that has made a really, really big difference to their wellbeing and their stress levels,” Jacquie says.
“They have made friendships with teachers ahead of time, made networks and connections ahead of time, so they are basically ahead of the game before they start,” she says.
Jacquie said teachers’ wellbeing was a centrepiece of their induction and onboarding program.
“It is so important – we always want to nurture them to fulfil their own potential and we know how important it is to have happy and good quality teachers in the classroom and at the end of the day, it is the students who are going to have the benefit,” she says.
First-year teachers at the school are also released from classroom duties for two days a term, including a half-day to spend with their mentor to look at their practice against the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST). The teachers are also profiled twice a term and provided with practical feedback around their classroom management skills.
Mentoring is an integral part of the third platform of the CES approach. Vicki said as part of the CES co-created program, every school was expected to have at least one year of mentoring in place – St Therese’s is increasing theirs to the first three years this year – and that mentoring had to be “targeted”.
“Sometimes in the past schools would always assign someone to a first-year teacher, but they might have acted more as a buddy – “Where do I find this book in the library?”, “How do I photocopy this?” – rather than actually focusing on their professional practice,” Vicki says.
“As well as running the training for mentors, we run a mentor support group because we want to keep them on track – we want to make sure they are continuing to focus on professional practice and wellbeing, rather than just wellbeing,” she says.
The Queensland College of Teachers (QCT) works with CES in training mentors and first-year teacher coordinators to support their inclusion of the APST in their work with early career teachers. The QCT also provides workshops in Cairns for CES teachers on how to move easily from provisional to full registration, and for supervising teachers of preservice teachers.
Jacquie said while the program at St Therese’s did cost money and time, it was invaluable.
“It will pay dividends in the end I believe, I really believe, because these teachers are going to feel supported, their wellbeing is going to improve and therefore they will be operating at an enhanced level and be able to stay, stay with us and improve their teaching and to continue to learn,” Jacquie says.
She says the partnership between the CES and schools around early career teachers was also invaluable.
“The whole system is supporting them to retain them, but retain them because they want to be retained and they can focus on the teaching and learning ,” Jacquie says.