Marsden State High School’s impressive win, taking home the gong for “Best Professional Learning Program Suite” at this year’s Australian Education Awards, is the result of eight years of hard work and sustained outcomes.
The school’s current Deputy Principal, Michael Smith started developing its beginning teacher program in 2014 to attract and retain staff, and the program’s impact has snowballed since, with the school’s retention rate for beginning and early career teachers blossoming.
As Principal Kylie Steinhardt recalls: “Previous to implementing this program, we lost 50 percent of our early career teachers due to leaving the teaching profession or transferring to another school. Since 2014, we now hold a 95 percent retention rate of our beginning and early careers teachers within the profession.”
The incredible success rate of the South Brisbane school’s professional learning suite comes at a time schools around Australia are struggling under the pressure of a teacher shortage, exacerbated by COVID. So, how does the country’s best professional learning program stack up against these challenges, and what sets Marsden’s approach to professional learning development apart from the rest?
Principal Steinhardt explains that the focus of the program is targeted development and training for staff in all career phases across the school, from preservice teachers to senior teachers as well as the leadership team. However, one aspect that makes the program suite different from those offered at other schools is that it not only focuses on individual skills and learning, but also on nurturing new staff with mentors and supporting these mentors with ongoing, specialised development.
We are committed to investing time and resources into supporting our staff,” she explains.
“Each staff member participates in regular professional development opportunities throughout the term. Each beginning and early career teacher has a staff member mentor them through their first three years of teaching. We also provide mentors with professional development and support to ensure they have strategies and are confident in their ability to mentor new and beginning teachers.”
The school has developed a lead mentor team: “These staff are responsible for representing the wider team at Marsden to ensure the mentor voice is heard to improve and deliver quality outcomes.”
Furthermore, the principal says that all teaching and learning heads of department “work collaboratively with the entire leadership team to ensure that the school priorities are also met in the programs”.
“We currently have 85 staff at Marsden that mentor our beginning and early career teachers. Of those 85, five are lead mentors.”
So, it is this careful balance between individual professional learning and school-wide priorities that gives the Marsden State High School program its award-winning edge.
“The creation of the program to be delivered each year takes into account not only education policy, but school-wide priorities,” says Principal Steinhardt.
“One of our main priorities is staff development and performance, including our professional learning programs, and our Whole School Strategies Plan explicitly focuses on four areas of staff development.” The principal outlines these four areas as follows:
- Attraction and retention of high-performing staff.
- Support and recognition of all staff in all career phases.
- Inquiry-based and collaborative professional learning.
- Leadership at all levels, with access to the highest quality professional learning.
Crucially, staff are offered dedicated time away from the demands of students to focus on their professional learning, and staff retreats are a key aspect of this.
“Staff retreats involve staff being off campus without interruption to focus on program outcomes, sharing good practice, and promoting the improvement of teaching practices in the classroom. These retreats allow staff to feel supported and share successes and challenges in a safe and supportive environment.”
The programs Marsden offers are also collaborative in nature, allowing elements of the suite to be informed and guided from a grassroots level and encouraging staff at all levels to contribute to a bank of professional resources.
“The program is very collaborative,” confirms Principal Steinhardt: “Sara Curtis and Jenna Cullen, our teaching and learning Heads of Department, currently lead these programs, and seek feedback from participants each year for areas of improvement, as well as the needs of the staff that are potentially missing in the programs.
“This also takes into account new staff each year and different elements required for staff development and performance. We also work collaboratively with universities to ensure quality professional development and rigour.
“Our school also values the expertise of our teaching staff. We have developed an extensive online bank of professional development resources available to all staff through its Marsden Institute of Teacher Development. This bank of resources is developed and led by our school staff and is available for all teaching and non-teaching staff 24-7.
During the pandemic, this also assisted in enabling our staff to be able to continue their professional learning progress even when staffing has been short or limited face-to-face opportunities were available.