Consultation brings teachers' voices to the fore
Diverse views from a month-long series of roundtables will help inform the Rewarding Excellence policy. Kristi Pritchard-Owens and Kerrie O’Connor report.
05 December 2022
As consultations go, they don’t come much bigger than this – 1200 passionate educators coming together in all 116 NSW school networks to discuss a ground-breaking plan to keep great teachers in the classroom.
From Coonabarabran to Coogee, from Moree to the Monaro, from the North Coast to Sydney’s North Shore, principals and teachers over the past month have had their say on the Rewarding Excellence in Teaching Policy Options Paper.
They asked questions and shared their valuable insights at a series of roundtable meetings while those unable to attend gave their feedback online, with more than 2,750 survey responses received from school staff and the community.
The Rewarding Excellence policy options paper outlines new career pathways for teachers with the aim of keeping them where ‘the magic happens’ - in the classroom.
Under the initiative, teachers assessed as “expert” could earn up to $147,000 a year in recognition of their skills in the classroom and their ability to share them with others.
Other options up for discussion included:
- Possible models for the new roles, including pay and conditions;
- how much release time could be dedicated to collaboration activities;
- how it would work for both schools and teachers; and
- implementation options based on extensive feedback received to date
With so much on the table, discussion was always going to be robust.
Participants such as Cooma North Public School principal Jo Tozer appreciated the opportunity.
“There was a certain integrity built into the facilitation,” Mrs Tozer said.
“There were voices from all levels, from early teachers to experienced principals. This felt authentic.
“The Minister joined us, asking pertinent questions and encouraging pathways for further investigation.”
Beaumont Road Public School principal Malcolm McDonald attended a session on Sydney’s North Shore.
“People gained a greater understanding of the department’s proposed model and how utilising expertise could be a way of meeting a school’s needs,” Mr McDonald said.
“As a primary school, teachers with strong skills in literacy and numeracy could be better utilised to ensure school improvement.”
When change is under way, it is so lovely to be asked to contribute to what might work.
North-west of Bathurst, Nashdale Public School’s Kylie Toberty encouraged others to contribute after taking part in a roundtable at Calare Public School.
The passionate teaching principal was pleased to be able to clarify issues in person with Professor John Hattie, who led development of the options paper and attended some of the roundtables.
“There was robust discussion, and every opinion was sought, not just from principals but from teachers and non-school-based staff,” Mrs Toberty said.
She said she never wanted to “lose sight of the impact in the classroom of our decisions”.
“I am so fortunate to work with children and teachers, shoulder-to-shoulder, but the current executive pathway takes you further away from the very work you love,” she said.
“All teachers should be recognised and remunerated for excelling in their craft, without the need to leave the classroom.”
In the Riverina, Murrumbidgee Regional High School teacher Mary Casey valued hearing divergent views.
“I feel blessed I was there,” the accredited Highly Accomplished Teacher (HAT) said.
“I went in with a set of ideas, but could then take into account the way other people thought.
“I approached the whole thing more positively.”
Ms Casey has taught since 1989 and believes in leading from the classroom.
“The most important thing about teaching is teaching,” she said.
“We need good managers, but the most important thing I can do is be in the classroom.”
Ms Casey still loves making a difference.
“It is such a cool job,” she said. “There might be a 30- or 40-year-old who comes back to tell you about the career you inspired them towards.
“I just received a beautiful letter from a Year 12 saying, ‘I always felt heard in your class’; that is a powerful thing for a 17-year-old girl to feel heard.”
North of Armidale, Guyra Central School’s Head of Science and Mathematics (relieving), David Moffitt said identifying and rewarding excellence in classroom teaching was “a thorny but important issue”.
“The roundtable discussion was a valuable opportunity to reflect on the important issues impacting our work as teachers, to air concerns and hear the perspectives of colleagues,” Mr Moffitt said.
“A sense of reward is at the heart of teachers joining and remaining in the profession.”
In southern Sydney, Bexley North Public School Learning Support Coordinator Lauren Davis joined a roundtable at McCallums Hill Public School.
“It is important we have our say on the future of education as a profession and ensure we have the best teachers for generations to come,” Mrs Davis said.
“I love that I make a difference every day, small or large, to the most important people in the world: our kids.
“We are setting up systems so people can become experts in the classroom if they do not want a traditional leadership pathway.”
In Western Sydney, Ironbark Ridge Public School assistant principal David Brent made a mid-career shift to the classroom and loves it
“I love teaching and know, if I go higher, I have to leave the classroom,” he said.
“I can’t imagine that.”
He said the discussion was “a worthwhile initiative”.
“It is important to have this discussion because it is the best way to achieve a change in culture,” he said.
“You improve student outcomes by having the best teachers in the classroom and sharing their expertise with other teachers.
“We need teachers to comment because it is about them.”
Kurrajong North Public School teacher Deborah Robinson was glad to have her say at a roundtable at Richmond Public School.
“When change is under way, it is so lovely to be asked to contribute to what might work,” Mrs Robinson said.
After 35 years in the classroom, the highly skilled and passionate teacher knows it is vital to hear from experienced educators.
“Every school has its strengths. For instance, we are four years into the journey of the cognitive science of reading and learning and we have a lot to pass on to schools just starting out,” she said.
Ms Robinson said it was important to map a path to reward excellent classroom teaching.
“Some of us do not want to sit in an office in front of the computer, we just want to do a really good job of teaching,” she said.
“I love the buzz of learning and realising that I have changed a student’s long-term memory, I have taught them something.
“How can you measure what an amazing teacher is? We need as many people as possible to put in their thoughts.”
Out west, Coonabarabran High School deputy principal Duncan Graham attended a roundtable at Baradine Central School because “career advancement beyond the traditional processes in education” was an important discussion.
“I agree there should be opportunities to reward excellence, but it has to be meaningful and within the capacity of schools, in terms of time and staffing,” he said.
“The roundtable process was a valuable experience which gave us all an opportunity to air our concerns and build a more in-depth understanding of the proposed Rewarding Excellence process and make a meaningful contribution.”
On the Far South Coast, Moruya Public School principal Sarah Davis appreciated hearing more about the background and options.
“It was good to discuss what I believe excellence is and what is important in teacher collaboration and building capacity in a school,” Ms Davis said.
“Often policy makers do not have the classroom and school-based experience, but if we can have honest, open discussions, a partnership and input into what matters most in schools, that is a good thing.”
Ms Davis said rewarding excellence in classroom teaching was “a complex concept”.
“We have a lot of teachers doing fantastic jobs, who are focussed on their careers, and it’s important to get it right and build capacity of teachers and get great outcomes for kids.”
North-west of Albury, Burrumbuttock Public School teaching principal Lynne Johnston had her say at a roundtable at Culcairn Public School.
Her 30-year career has taken her from remote country schools to Canada and, no matter the setting, she loves the “core business” of the classroom.
The Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher (HALT) said it was essential to acknowledge and reward classroom excellence.
“We should acknowledge success in our core business,” she said.
“Teachers should be encouraged and supported to seek higher accreditation. It will lift morale and grow the profession.”
Ms Johnston loves seeing students reflect on their own improvement and believes teachers do the same.
“Not all teachers want to take on management leadership roles, because they want to keep having an impact in the classroom. As a HALT, it is my responsibility to stay in the classroom to mentor other people and build capacity,” she said.
“Teachers are often too modest to acknowledge or recognise their own success and expertise. They think they are just doing their job, but there are a lot of expert teachers who should be acknowledged. I have expert teachers in my school who should be rewarded.”
It is the most collaborative process I have been part of.
All opinions matter
In the Illawarra, Balarang Public School teacher Carrie Fishburn joined a roundtable at Albion Park Public School and said the conversation was needed.
Appointed as a targeted graduate 32 years ago, Mrs Fishburn now teaches the grandchildren of some of her original students and has a wealth of expertise to share.
“My passion is in the classroom, with extending teachers’ and children’s ability and I gain pleasure from passing that on to others,” Mrs Fishburn said.
“There are questions as to how we are going to get there, but it is important that the silent people have their say and are recognised.
“It is an opportunity to express their positions and tell their stories.”
Mallawa Public School teaching principal Lisa Kelly attended a roundtable in Moree and was particularly concerned to discuss proposed salaries.
“I feel it's important to voice our opinion as we have not in the past had an opportunity to share our thoughts in a forum where you can be so honest,” she said.
“I feel that it is important to get clarification and recognition for the hard work our teachers already do.”
She said proposed salaries to reward excellence in classroom teaching should be balanced against the hard work teaching principals already undertake in often challenging locations.
Finigan School of Distance Education science teacher Trish Thompson joined a roundtable at Karabar High School and said everyone’s opinion mattered.
“It is the most collaborative process I have been part of,” Ms Thompson said.
“People care what you think.
“It allows you to highlight what excellence in your setting looks like.”
Ms Thompson “loves every second” of teaching and said it was important to celebrate and reward excellence.
“We are the feet on the ground,” she said.
“If we can’t celebrate what we do that is great, who can?
“If we can’t point out excellence and great teaching practice, who can?”