Cultivating a Culture of Teacher Excellence
By Cathleen Jin, Director of Professional Learning
Delivering an excellent holistic student experience is predicated on having an actively engaged staff, supporting one another and working to extend and develop careers. Shaping a culture where teachers feel supported and challenged to do their best work is vital to Cranbrook’s ongoing success. Professional learning is about cultivating a culture of excellence. I want to set the right environment that allows teachers to work effectively, learn from each other to improve their practice and curate their learning through teacher agency. At its core, ongoing teacher development is about sustaining and maintaining motivation. Cranbrook professional learning suites help ensure our teachers continue to strengthen their practice throughout their careers grounded in self-reflection, self-directed learning and the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.
Giving back and sustaining the profession
I am a Cranbrook classroom teacher at heart, but I am also heavily invested in initial teacher education. For the past seven years, I have been working as a lecturer teaching pre-service teachers in the School of Education at the University of NSW ( UNSW). It has been my mission to maintain and sustain the current and future of the teaching profession. My students at UNSW are both undergraduate and postgraduate students who come from different walks of life and are all passionate about making a difference in young people’s lives. In the past five years I have observed a large increase in the volume of traffic into the teaching profession. Some make a career change to bring their incredible industry knowledge to the classroom level after many years in the corporate world, and some return to the classroom after accomplishing the highest academic standing, such as a PhD or a doctorate degree. We are incredibly lucky to welcome such a high calibre of diverse expertise joining teaching. However along with this influx to the teaching profession, I have also witnessed many teachers leaving the profession, and with this, schools need to work harder than ever to continue to foster a teacher’s love of learning by providing well-balanced opportunities for staff development (support-on-the-job) and professional development (career advancement).
Sadly, it is predicted that demand for teachers will outstrip initial teacher graduates by 4100 over the next three years. This is incredibly problematic for both teachers and students. The paradox at the heart of this debate about teacher shortage is that many teachers are struggling with ongoing job security. The 2021 AITSL report observed a rise in temporary teaching contracts. The report found one-third of teachers were not in permanent employment and half of the graduates from initial teacher education can’t secure full-time jobs. These findings indicate what was once the teaching profession’s main draw card, security and stability, are no longer valid. Teachers on contracts generally have less agency, resources and support from the schools from term to term. Insecure employment is a career stopper, and many end up leaving teaching. With this in mind, we support all teachers regardless of their employment status at Cranbrook. This means equity in accessing professional learning, resources, mentoring program, and Teacher Accreditation support so that all teaching staff can craft a flourishing career in teaching at and beyond Cranbrook.
I am proud of the fact that Cranbrook is a place of learning and growing, not just for our students but also for the teachers in training. We are a teaching school in partnership with UNSW, and our experienced teachers’ mentor pre-service teachers through quality workplace-based learning throughout the year.
Building a culture of evidence-informed teaching
Cranbrook Teacher Inquiry Group (TIG) works closely with the AISNSW Evidence Institute to build a culture of evidence-informed practice. This opt-in professional learning attracts ten teacher researchers each year and is a powerful way to develop educators’ deep engagement with their practice. With the support of the external AIS research consultant and an internal mentor, myself, teachers become more reflective practitioners in effecting changes in the classroom and improving student outcomes. Our teacher-researchers seek solutions to their unique teaching conundrums by examining a range of pedagogical topics. These might include cognitive loading theory, the un-grading movement, AI as a feedback tool, mini-writing cycles, and problem-based learning. One recent example of TIG results is through our amazing English teacher, Kate Kovalik, who examined the efficacy of Insta-poetry. This research was showcased in the 2022 AISNSW Research Symposium along with Cranbrook teachers James Adams, Anna Hitchcock, and Dee Cooper’s work. When research illuminates practice, and practice informs research, we are building a culture of evidence-informed teaching.
Cranbrook Teachers Talking Teaching (CTTT)
Educational and teaching expertise is a powerful gift, especially when shared. CTTT is a teacher-led forum all about sharing best practices and knowledge that meets three times a term. Sharing expertise means having conversations that open new perspectives, helping everyone to grow in knowledge. Teachers elevate each other by sharing, leading within and beyond the classroom. Cranbrook teachers are committed to continuous learning to enhance their own practice and, ultimately, that of their colleagues to improve the educational practice of the entire organisation. I am uplifted by our in-house experts, who contribute to our professional learning community by leading, facilitating, and sharing their expertise through CTTT. Recently, we have been focusing on “differentiated to meet the needs of all learners”, one of the IB Approaches to Teaching, by participating in a forum facilitated by the learning support department on our neuro-diverse students. Cranbrook’s teaching is inclusive and values diversity. We affirm students’ identities and aim to create learning opportunities that enable every student to develop and pursue appropriate personal goals.
Celebrating teaching success
The Mark McAndrew Innovative Teacher Award is awarded each year to recognise and celebrate a Cranbrook teacher who impacts student outcomes and their colleagues’ practice through innovation and collaboration. The teacher is recompensed with a professional learning experience of their interest. Just recently, Psychology teacher Victoria Hounslow, a 2021 recipient, travelled to the UK to undertake an IB Diploma training and visited IB co-ed schools to further enhance and strengthen her capabilities.
Change is a recurrent theme in the life of education. In fact, we must embrace it by being open-minded, flexible and adaptable. How teaching and learning evolved through Covid in 2019 and artificial intelligence in 2023 are excellent recent examples of this. More on an organisational level, when Cranbrook became an IB continuum school in 2021, it changed my capacity as an educator in a way that I would never have imagined. Initially, as a member of the teaching staff, I undertook training to deliver the Middle Year Program and the Diploma Program and worked collaboratively to design programs and assessments by networking with other IB schools in Sydney. Attending the annual IB global conferences and visiting other international schools with the academic leadership team expanded my world of education and accepted that it is a collective global mission to encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right. And this, too, applied to me as an IB educator.
In July, I was accredited as a member of the IB Educators Network (IBEN) after completing a rigorous six-week training. I can now lead IB workshops to grow and support IB teachers around the world. Again, this goes back to my mission, my why, to give back to the profession and share expertise to elevate each other. Just as IB programs develop the whole student, IB professional development cultivates the lifelong learning and development of IB educators as compassionate and internationally minded adults working together to deliver holistic education for our young people that build intercultural understanding and respect.
Education is a lifetime journey not affected by age or gender. It is a pivotal driver of change, advancement, and equality in society. Nurtured through education, we become the best version of ourselves, not only fulfilling our vocational needs in the rapidly changing world but translating our knowledge, skills, and values into benefit for everyone and the greater good of our society. As responsible global citizens, we owe it to our humanity.