Friday, 30 September 2022

"Let Them Leave Well"

Years ago, a friend shared that as a teenager, others would talk about moving out of home and living together. She thought that was something that individuals did after they reached a certain age. However, this was not the view of her parents. She was advised if you leave home, you were not welcomed back. Simple as that. At the time, she accepted it because no one had ever moved out, only for marriage. It was a family expectation, and she didn't feel secure enough to push the boundary or take the risk. As a parent, I am reminded of that story more today. I view my child moving out as a symbol of independence. They broaden their perspectives by living with others, acquire new skills such as bill paying and budgeting, and gain new experiences by living with peers. Yes, I would miss them but it's about them, not me. Although living in Sydney does not provide affordable housing for young single adults, and the likelihood of my children moving out is low, I would not view it negatively. My colleague's parents may have perceived that a child leaving home reflects unhappiness or discontentment in the family. However, in my situation, I would view it as a strength of my child and not as something lacking in the home. I suppose it’s about perspective. 
        I recently attended an ACEL presentation, “A synthesized model of teacher turnover” by Dr Hugh Gundlach. He and Gavin Slemp spent four years working on a meta-analysis on teacher turnover. This was of particular interest given our current situation in New South Wales and my research regarding supporting early career teachers. I'd like to highlight one of Hugh's points from his presentation: "Let them leave well." This was unpacked and explained. Do school leaders provide teachers with a positive experience when departing a school? The data presented indicated that teachers join the profession because of their passion for learning, working with young people, contributing to society and salary but given our current situation, I am curious to learn if the contribution to society and salary have changed as motivational factors. In my experience, individuals quit teaching or a particular school for several reasons such as the lack of stable employment, a partner's job transfer, or the need to care for ageing parents. One may also leave to learn, grow, and gain experience in other contexts or fields. It was suggested to me that there are instances when you need to move to improve or go to grow. 
        I recognise that an effective teacher leaving a school is detrimental to the students and the school community, while also increasing the principal's recruiting responsibility. This is especially true given the current teacher shortage. I am drawn back to the number one reason teachers leave or stay in the profession, which is job satisfaction. From the data findings, Hugh’s shared some of the questions principals could ask. 
  1. Was the teacher’s departure voluntary?
  2. Is the teacher’s departure a loss for the school?
  3. Could the school have done anything to prevent the departure? 

        Now, before anyone questions why the school or principal is responsible, it is crucial to accept what is within one’s control. Responses are pivotal but what struck me most was the statement, “Let them leave well”. Stories were shared about supporting colleagues to gain a unique experience and to learn in another environment. We heard from a participant how one school could not provide the opportunity but said that the teacher was always welcome to return, which eventually happened. Teacher retention is of the utmost importance, and while some think that new government initiatives assist, I fear that they will backfire. Teachers need an increase in salary and a decrease in workload, but most of all they need to be respected as professionals.
        Regarding the absence of support, I believe that schools and leaders will be forced to develop long-term strategies. For example, there may not be a current opportunity but by ensuring a “leave well” situation, they may just return with new knowledge and experiences to share. As the findings suggest, there is less research on moving schools than leaving the profession and less research on social approval, career structure and wellbeing. The persistent lack of professional respect may result because of government actions or inactions, society's lack of understanding, negative media coverage, and unfavourable working conditions, all of which must be addressed. Unfortunately, principals and leaders have limited options, but one thing they can do is guarantee that the classroom door remains ajar by ensuring effective teachers "leave well." Leaving is not necessarily a reflection of the family or school environment; sometimes it is a result of certain circumstances or the need for independence, wellbeing, or personal growth. If they leave on a positive note, they may be enticed to return to the classroom or the school in the future. 

Always curious,

A few Reforms & Initiatives- 

Thursday, 12 May 2022

More Time, More Support, More Respect...More than Thanks!

The transition from kindergarten to Grade 1 was traumatic. I was a popular child in kindergarten with both teachers and students but that all changed. Unlike my sister, whom the teacher had previously taught, I was an inquisitive extrovert, and we did not connect. I recall her using a metre-long ruler to assist my exit from the family car. I remember I often cried so hard that I threw up. I think back to the doctor's visit for my hair loss, which resulted in an 'unloved' short haircut. I recollect hearing my parents talk about how the school nurse recommended glasses. I thought, short hair and glasses and remember, this was long before Harry Potter made glasses cool. I'd hoped the need for glasses would explain why I was a ‘poor’ reader. And yet, I was the clever child who worked out where to position myself in the circle to read the least number of words aloud. Speaking and reading in front of a large group of people had always been a source of anxiety for me. At times, the memories of my five-year-old self-return, along with the strongly associated emotions. So, when asked who influenced me to become a teacher, I responded that it was my Grade 1 teacher but not for the typical reason.

Journeying forward to my final supervised practicum in Seattle, Washington, it was 2005. One of the first external students from the University of New England (Australia), I completed three practicums at various schools. The final supervisor had taught my son, but I didn’t know him well. What made this supervisor different was the time he spent getting to know me. When asked to read to the students, he noticed I was anxious. He made the effort and took the time to learn about me. His curiosity was reflected in his questions and from our conversations, he understood me better. With his support, in those four weeks, I transitioned from being an awkward anxious student teacher to a teacher who relished reading aloud to the students. 

These two stories demonstrate the significance of taking the time to get to know the learner. Journeying forward to today; time is the greatest barrier to learning, and schools currently struggle to find sufficient time for learning. Administrative tasks, compliance demands, and unnecessary red tape consume time. If Australia wants to encourage more teachers into the field, then more support is vital. Provide coaching to those transitioning from university to the classroom. Extend this to provide coaching for at least the first two years. Expand this to provide the ‘option’ of coaching to all teachers. Coaching provides the time, place, and structure for learning and reflection. Learning starts by getting to know the learner, whether it be students, teachers, or undergraduates. Learning about the curriculum, teaching strategies and context is important, but we’ve forgotten that teaching and learning are humanistic in nature. 

Both feelings and knowledge are important to the learning process, and if we want to encourage self-determination in teachers, we need to take the time to get to know them personally. We need to provide choices and time to reflect on their practice. If we want to attract, retain, and develop our teachers, support through coaching conversations provides the space to talk about themselves as learners and teachers of their students. This week I shared an article from Education Week that stated, “Altruism and vocation is not enough anymore to attract teachers into the profession”. It is time for politicians and society to return the profession back to the teachers. Teachers need more than thanks! 

My friend, Matt Esterman shared this article about the Zone of Proximal Development, and it resonated with me. We want to stretch all teachers, yet teachers can fall into the panic zone without support and time to be learners. All learners must feel appreciated, supported, cared for, and empowered but I do not see any of this for our teachers today.

Always curious,

p.s. I chat with my Seattle practicum supervisor to this day.