Pictured above: Rachael Davidson, Karl Weaich & Michael Smith, Deputy Principal & Beginning Teacher Mentoring Coordinator
It’s one of the biggest challenges facing the teaching profession – how do you keep beginning teachers in the classroom?
A state high school in the Logan area has found an answer.
An outstanding professional development (PD) program, which includes an overnight retreat in Brisbane’s CBD for first-year teachers, in-house fortnightly PD for all staff, extensive mentoring and recognition of teachers, and international and national learning opportunities, is ensuring early career teachers stay on at Marsden State High School (MSHS).
Next week, first-year teachers will take part in a two-day, overnight retreat in Brisbane’s CBD, fully paid for by the school and one of its sponsors.
The annual event, which takes place in the last two days of Term 1 every year, enables the school’s newest teachers to receive targeted PD and share their experiences with colleagues and mentors.
MSHS deputy principal Rebecca Evans says the retreat is part of “a very purposeful investment in the profession”.
“Knowing that so many teachers leave within the first five years and all the research around that, we made very deliberate choices around staff development and performance, and making sure we invest in that group of staff,” she says.
“Our retention of our first-year teachers is very, very high – the only time we ever lose a teacher in that one-to-five-year juncture is if they get promoted or they are moving interstate.”
Rebecca says teaching can be an isolating career, especially in the first few years when students go from a highly social scene at university, to standing alone in front of a classroom of students.
“The fact that they (first-years teachers) are all together on the retreat and take part in purposeful collaboration and purposeful trust building, it then allows them to have those professional conversations – it’s really important,” Rebecca says.
“It allows them to have the opportunity to talk about challenges that they are facing, which they may not feel comfortable talking about in their staffrooms,” she says.
“The feedback from them is that they feel very supported … They know that we as a school are investing in them and that it’s authentic and about their learning and their needs rather than – ‘Oh, you have got a mentor – off you go’.
“We know the first year of teaching is always going to be the hardest year of teaching that you are ever going to do, so we do really bolster them with a fair bit of support.”
The school’s staff investment approach starts pre-employment, with MSHS taking on more than 100 preservice teachers annually. Last year they supervised about 200 teacher education students.
“We are a very large school of nearly 2500 students … so we know we are always going to need great teachers. There is not going to be a year we don’t need to make sure that we have got the best staff coming into the school for our kids,” Rebecca says.
“We also know – seeing about 200 preservice teachers throughout the year – that we can essentially see the cream of the crop as well, so we are able to be really purposeful around our staffing and hiring decisions.”
Once at the school, first-year teachers have 12 observation sessions, in which they can observe more experienced colleagues, and be observed and provided with supportive feedback. They are also encouraged to use video for self-analysis of their practice.
“We have got that open door policy across the school around collaborating and helping each other,” Rebecca says.
Each first-year, second-year and third-year teacher is buddied with a mentor, to ensure the support doesn’t stop when they enter their second year of teaching.
Fortnightly in-school professional development is open to all staff, who celebrate and thank each other by writing notes on postcards, which are then passed out at staff meetings.
“When you get a chance to read those postcards, and see what your peers are saying about you, it’s actually really powerful,” Rebecca says.
Once a month a teacher “Mako” – the world’s fastest shark and the MSHS mascot – is named, based on the postcard comments and their alignment with the school’s core values of persistence, passion and pride.
Last year the school held its first Excellence Dinner to celebrate their 2018 Makos and those who had reached career milestones.
Opportunities to take part in interstate and international PD, including encouragement to apply for scholarships offered by internationally renowned institutions like Harvard University, are also available to staff members who take on leadership roles, including early career teachers.
Rebecca, who is one of the staff members who studied under a Harvard University scholarship, says the MSHS approach not only ensures they have the best teachers, it also ensures they are giving back to the profession.
“We are very purposefully working on attracting the right staff to our school to get the best outcome for our students,” she says.
“I believe that teaching is one of the most important and rewarding professions.”
“We know, though, that we need to support and grow our profession to improve outcomes for all students, and at Marsden we have a commitment to ensuring this takes place.”
“We are about growing our own profession.”