‘We know that by investing in our graduate teachers, we’re improving their effectiveness and the quality of teaching in WA. The graduates we work with have higher rates of teacher retention and greater levels of job satisfaction than those who don’t receive this support. This has positive flow-on effects to the classroom and saves public funds by reducing attrition rates. A small investment in supporting the development of graduates teachers can return big results.’

Liz Healy (Manager, Professional Learning and Teacher Development at  the Institute for  Professional Learning, Department of Education, Western Australia.

The Western Australian Institute for Professional Learning (WA IPL) delivers a Graduate Teacher Induction Program (GTIP) to all government school graduates. The GTIP supports beginning teachers to make the transition from pre-service training to effective classroom teaching.

The GTIP was established in 2006 in response to the high graduate attrition rates in WA schools. Further to these graduate issues, WA faces a teacher shortage1, a growing student population, and an ageing teacher workforce2. Developing the effectiveness of WA early career teachers is essential to meeting these current and future challenges. Therefore, the GTIP aims to increase early career teacher effectiveness and improve retention rates.

To achieve these aims, the two-year GTIP provides support through a tailored professional learning program and through the provision  of access to confidential, non-evaluative coaching. The coaching is delivered by experienced teachers contracted and trained by the WA IPL, with some highly accomplished teachers employed within the Institute to undertake the role. This professional coaching support is independent of the school.

All graduates are required by the Department of Education to undertake the four intensive modules of professional learning. These modules cover professional practices such as: facilitating student learning; assessing student outcomes; and quality teaching strategies. All modules are directly aligned to the AITSL Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

Together, the two aspects of the program have been recognised by the Teacher Registration Board of WA as a pathway to achieve Full Registration as a teacher.  While it is not mandatory to seek the services of a coach, this has become more sought after now that it is viewed as providing support to achieve this professional milestone. This professional learning pathway has resulted in over 2000 WA early career teachers currently receiving support from the GTIP.

Liz Healy, Manager at the WA IPL, was instrumental in constructing this program. Liz describes that the underlying purpose of the GTIP is ‘to enhance early career teacher capacity and ensure that these teachers are getting the most out of their students, despite students’ social circumstance.’



1 WA Teacher Supply and Demand Projections (2010), WA Department of Education & Training, pg. 2.
2 WA Teacher Supply and Demand Projections (2010), WA Department of Education & Training, pg. 6.

APPROACH

The WA GTIP supports the development of WA graduate teachers in government schools. Graduates receive support over a two year program through specialist coaching (or in-school mentoring) and professional learning modules. There are currently over 2000 WA early career teachers involved in the GTIP.

The design of the GTIP reflects the typical phases that a graduate teacher experiences in their first two years of practice. This design is to ensure that the phases of the GTIP are proactively meeting the needs of graduate teachers.

Figure 1 below shows the two year process of the WA GTIP and its alignment to the typical experiences of a graduate teacher. This model has been adapted from the USA New Teacher Center model (a New Teacher Center case study has also been conducted in this research) explaining the usual stages of graduate teacher progression.

 

The GTIP has three main components:

1. Modules: the GTIP coordinates four professional learning modules over the two year program. The modules are workshops held in various WA locations, each running for two days. Specialist teachers and staff members from the WA IPL coordinate the sessions. In these modules, graduates work and network with other graduates from across the state. While the sessions and topics are structured, there are opportunities for informal interaction and networking. The topics of the four modules are:

–  Module 1: Professional standards for effective classroom practice

–  Module 2: Facilitating student learning

–  Module 3: Assessing and Reporting Student Learning Outcomes

–   Module 4: Quality Teaching – Professional Achievements and Aspirations

Graduate teachers are expected to complete one module a semester over the first two years of practice. It is during Module 1 that graduates elect their chosen support transition process.

2. Support Transition Process: The GTIP offers two pathways of support. The graduate teachers must select only one of the following support pathways:

a) Mentored Transition Process: In-school support received from a mentor over at least 180 worked days. Graduate teachers select experienced teachers from within their school as mentors. The mentors provide formal feedback sessions, facilitate professional reflection, and assist the graduates with the teacher registration process.

OR

b) In-Class Coaching Program: Graduates receive 10-20 hours of specialist coaching with an Institute Advocate (i.e. trained coach and experienced teacher). Advocates are independent coaches that provide confidential and non-evaluative support. This support includes classroom observation and appraisal, professional reflection sessions, and assistance in the teacher registration process. The coaching process is tailored to the demands and support requirements of each individual graduate. This coaching is mainly delivered as face-to-face contact. However, as many graduates work in rural and remote locations, online and telephone support is also provided.

The process of specialist coaching has been the most successful aspect of the GTIP. This case study will therefore focus on the In-Class Coaching Program, as elaborated below.

3. Portfolio: In order for a graduate to advance to the status of a Proficient Registered Teacher, graduates must complete a portfolio of work. The portfolios are a collection of evidence that the graduate has met the ‘Proficient’ career stage of teaching. These standards are based upon the nationally recognised AITSL Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.

As displayed in Figure 1 above, the GTIP is delivered according to the typical experiences of a graduate teacher in the first two years of practice. It’s common for graduate teachers to enter the profession with great enthusiasm, and for it to swiftly wane to disillusionment.

In response to this professional norm, the GTIP endeavours to intervene at the stage where disillusionment typically begins. Intervention occurs at this stage to build upon the graduates’ foundational experience. Liz Healy explained that this will allow for a more effective process of professional reflection:

‘Graduates need to have a base level of experience to realise what issues they have, and what it is they professionally need.’

This initial experience allows the GTIP support to become more directed and more effective. As the graduate gains more experience in classroom teaching and receives consistent professional development, their levels of enthusiasm and professional outlook grows.

After completing the GTIP, the teachers are then eligible to apply to the Teacher Registration Board of WA to become a Fully Registered Teacher.

 

IN-CLASS COACHING PROGRAM

The in-class specialist coaching offered to graduates is certainly the standout feature of the Graduate Program. The program provides access of up to 20 hours of individual support for graduate teachers in their first year of teaching, but can be extended over the second year as well. Trained teacher coaches, referred to as Advocates, make regular school and in-class visits aimed at maximising professional growth.

When developing the induction program, Liz understood the need to provide early career teachers with various levels of support:

‘It’s all very well to give graduates input through the modules, but without the mentoring and coaching it’s just an injection of knowledge once a semester. The coaching complements this knowledge and assists graduates to apply it within their classrooms.’

The coaching is delivered by Advocates who have been selected and trained by the IPL. As well as contracted Advocates, there are four full-time Advocates based at the Institute. Marisa Phoebe is one the full-time Advocates and currently works with 36 graduates across the state:

‘The program is there to support the graduates. It’s not performance based; it’s not a deficit program; we’re not there to ‘fix’ things. We’re there to provide support and accelerate their professional growth.’

While the workload is challenging, Marisa takes pride in the clear impact the in-class coachingis having on the professional growth of WA graduates. The confidential nature of the coaching support is seen as a key strength of the service, particularly for graduates in rural and remote schools. Marisa described that providing external support offers both an independent perspective and a source of support, removed from the school setting:

The coaching gives the graduates a feeling that there’s someone external, not attached to the school politics, who can help them through the minefield of the things that they need to juggle in their first couple of years teaching.

The direction of the coaching sessions is determined by the needs of the graduate. The guidance offered by the Advocate, however, is dispensed with reference to the AITSL Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. This ensures that the professional advice from the Advocate is anchored in the proven standards of effective teaching. As a result, the graduate undergoes a process of informed professional reflection.

Individual sessions typically run for 60-90 minutes in metropolitan schools, and are booked upon appointment. For rural and remote schools, sessions will often run slightly longer, as Advocates aren’t able to perform personal consultations as often. Graduates are also able to work through issues and seek advice through online and telephone consultations.

VOICES

Challis Public School – Rebecca Limpus

‘It was so great to have that external source of support, especially in a country town. So, having an Advocate really did stop me from leaving my teaching career.’

Rebecca started her teaching career at a school in an isolated rural community. The school was faced with high rates of staff attrition, and the accompanying challenges that this imposed. Unfortunately, this is a common burden worn by low SES schools. And considering that early career teachers disproportionately staff low SES schools, this story is representative of the broader issue.

As a primary school teacher, Rebecca was designated a K/1 composite class. When discussing her first experiences as a teacher, Rebecca explained the difficulties she experienced as a graduate:

‘That first term, you really are just trying to survive. You’re just trying to get through a term of not really knowing what you’re doing, finding your feet, getting to know your students and their families, becoming familiar with the town.’

After completing Module 1 of the Graduate Program, Rebecca elected to be allocated an Advocate through the In-Class Coaching stream. In the context of a challenging school culture and high staff turnover, Rebecca reasoned that external coaching would hopefully offer a sense of stability.

‘In the first module, I requested to have an Advocate teacher, and I honestly don’t know what I would have done without her.’

Following the first year of teaching, Rebecca transferred to Challis Primary School as a pre-primary teacher. Rebecca was ‘blown away’ by the level of support and professional development she received from the school. From immediate entry into Challis PS, Rebecca received regular support through: peer observation, in-school mentoring, and working collaboratively with teaching support staff. These forms of support, layered with the continued coaching from Rebecca’s Advocate, enabled her to grow professionally and to transition to a new school effectively.

‘It was really valuable having that constant support from the Advocate in making that transition to a new school.’

Finally, having now spent the first two years of her teaching career in low SES schools, Rebecca reflects that the external and confidential nature of the Advocate support is a large determinant for the program’s success:

‘Because of the confidential nature of having an Advocate, you can discuss things that you probably wouldn’t bring up [with other colleagues] in school.’

Rebecca is now feeling positive about her teaching practice, excited about her future as an educator.

 

Wilson Park Primary School – Rhiahn Mumme and Kate Smith

‘It’s been so helpful having contact with my Advocate to work through any issues that I have, and to take me through the graduate process of becoming registered.’ – Rhiahn

Negotiating the litany of demands to become a registered teacher is daunting. Piled with class pressures, lesson planning, reports, and much more, graduates need to juggle these commitments while completing teacher registration requirements. It quickly becomes an added stress, rather than a process of professional growth.

Kate Smith and Rhiahn Mumme are early career teachers from Wilson Park Primary School in Collie, and are well acquainted with this process. The support provided by their assigned Advocate has been critical in not only completing these requirements, but benefiting from them.

‘The discussion of the National Professional Standards and the help I received putting together my portfolio was the best part of having an Advocate.’ – Kate.

Both young teachers grew up in the local community and studied Education at the local Bunbury campus at Edith Cowan University (ECU). After becoming qualified teachers and working temporarily in several schools, Kate and Rhiahn were awarded fixed term contracts at Wilson Park PS.

Considering that Wilson Park PS is classified as a low SES school and with a high Indigenous student population, the school can face challenging student behaviours. Kate described the added complexity of teaching in a low SES school:

‘When our kids are playing up, it’s likely that there’s something going on at home… So as a teacher, it’s important to understand where this behaviour is coming from.’

These extra demands imposed by the constructs of social disadvantage compound with the constant loads a teacher must bear. As a result, it is common for early career teachers to feel overwhelmed and isolated in the initial stages of teaching. The Modules component of the Graduate Teacher Professional Learning Program provides an opportunity for teachers to come together and share experiences. Rhiahn has found this feature of the program particularly valuable:

‘It was so nice to speak to other graduates and hear what others are going through. It literally made you feel like you were normal… It was just nice to know that you weren’t the only one feeling stressed.’

Both Kate and Rhiahn considered the coaching services of the Advocate to be the most valuable aspect of the program. The external and specialist support offered an alternative perspective, which was highly valued by Kate and Rhiahn.

John Tonkin College -Tamy Adamec, Natalie Donkin, and Tricia Miels

‘When I went in [to the GTPLP] I thought that no one here can have it as bad as me, and I was feeling a bit disillusioned, questioning whether I had made the right professional decision; but then I came out of it reinvigorated because I had time to reflect, let it all gel, and to talk to other graduates.’ – Tricia

Sharing ideas and interaction with peers is essential for the development of any profession. For a profession like teaching, which is based on effective engagement, communication, and relationships, this process is particularly necessary.

Yet, once university training is complete, it is not uncommon for teachers to have limited exposure to such forms of professional interaction, resulting in feelings of isolation and a loss of professional identity.

Tamy, Natalie, and Tricia are three early career teachers from John Tonkin College in Mandurah, and have valued the opportunity to interact with other graduates during the Modules. Tamy explained that this interaction ‘normalised’ her initial feelings as a teacher, which reassured her professional practice:

‘I just loved listening to the other graduate teachers about what they’re doing in their classrooms, little activities and ideas, and to know that we’re all feeling the same things.’

All three teachers have come into the profession with previous careers and life experiences. While these respective experiences have strengthened their resilience in the classroom, the support of their Advocate has been instrumental in their professional development. Upon reflection, Natalie appreciates the in-confidence support that the Advocate has imparted upon her professional growth:

‘For me to talk through my work with an Advocate, has given me a really great sounding board… you can actually talk without worrying that it’s going to get back to someone. You can be more personal and open with an Advocate.’

While in-school support (through mentoring, peer observation etc.) to early career teachers is beneficial to professional growth, these brief stories illustrate the importance of independent, external support and professional interaction. The GTIP has given these three teachers a platform to reflect professionally upon their practice, and refine their skills in the classroom. Tamy, Natalie, and Tricia all feel that they have become a better teacher as a result of participating in the program.

Gilmore College and Mandurah Public School – Dr Bill Bennett, Helen Haslam, and Klara Farka

‘There’s a cycle of stuff that goes on in low SES environments… for me, teaching is a way to try to give the kids an option. That’s why I came back to teach.’ – Dr Bill Bennett

The learning curve for beginning teachers is steep. When these initial experiences are coupled with the challenges of teaching in a low SES environment, an extra layer of complexity is applied. The enthusiasm of graduates subsequently plummets and is swiftly replaced with a focus upon survival.

The value of the Advocate, therefore, is particularly realised in low SES schools. Dr Bill Bennett, a PhD in Medical Biology and now High School science teacher at Gilmore College, gives testament to this contention:

‘Certainly, the Advocate system was a lifesaver. When it was very difficult, my Advocate was very understanding and very supportive.’

Helen Haslem and Klara Farka from Mandurah Public School similarly had positive experiences. Both teachers have taken value from undergoing sessions of classroom observation with their Advocate. According to Helen:

‘Having an Advocate observe my lessons allows me to draw upon extra wisdom, outside of the school.’

With stretched resources and restricted time, the GTIP ultimately reduces the load held by the schools. As commented by Klara:

‘It’s a massive workload anyway as a teacher, but when it’s new as an early career teacher, it feels even bigger.’

So while the intention of the GTIP isn’t to ‘fill a gap’ and nor should it replace support practices performed by the schools, it does provide an essential service – one that is especially necessary in low SES schools.

IMPACT

SVA-GGT-WA-GTPLP1

 

Retaining teachers via Specialist Coaching is $15k cheaper than recruiting brand new teachers. In total, this saves WA taxpayers about $9m over five years.

 

SVA-GGT-WA-GTPLP1


1 IN-CLASS COACHING PROGRAM: ECONOMIC BENEFITS AND COST SAVINGS (2012) Workforce Planning Branch, pg. 6.

2 IN-CLASS COACHING PROGRAM: ECONOMIC BENEFITS AND COST SAVINGS (2012) Workforce Planning Branch, pg. 4 & 9-11.

3 IN-CLASS COACHING PROGRAM: ECONOMIC BENEFITS AND COST SAVINGS (2012) Workforce Planning Branch, pg. 6

LESSONS

  1. Observation and Feedback: The WA Graduate Program provides a range of professional learning opportunities that are centred on classroom observation, and mixed methods of feedback. This is delivered through the professional learning modules and specialist coaching sessions..
  2. In-Class Coaching Program: The independent and confidential coaching services that the Graduate Program provides have improved early career teacher retention and standards of professional efficacy. This specialist coaching service shows that a relatively small amount of support to early career teachers can yield large positive results to retention rates and effectiveness.
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