Teachers up-skill for specialisation and mastery

In 2015, The Sydney Morning Herald published an article called, ‘Your future job: 2020 trends for uni graduates’, 2015”, reporting that “well-qualified education professionals are currently in high demand, with employment rates predicting a 5.6 percent boost by 2020”.

That’s good news for well-qualified professionals, and equally good news for those with first stage qualifications and a plan to up-skill. Pathways towards senior teaching positions, school leadership and specialisations can all be paved with the bricks of extra qualifications and new skills.

While the tertiary sector conducts research; develops new techniques to enhance student wellbeing; designs accurate and meaningful assessment tools; and makes breakthroughs in special education programs, teachers are on the frontline, often without the benefit of these advances. New teachers emerge from the latest university courses, with a different approach to student learning, and departments can lack a common language.

Teachers unions are negotiating better rates of pay, and with current attention on our education system, some are speculating that the industry seems on the brink of a transformation into outcomes-based financial rewards. Even if you aren’t particularly ambitious, access to relevant professional learning can ensure that your teaching has an impact on the learning lives of your students.

In 2012, all state education ministers endorsed the Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework. The performance and development cycle has been embraced by education professionals in all sectors, and comes at a time when the Australian education system is producing some worrying statistics.

Also in 2012, All education ministers endorsed The Australian Charter for the Professional Learning of Teachers and School Leaders (PL Charter), which states that, “professional learning will be most effective when it takes place within a culture where teachers and school leaders expect, and are expected to be, active learners, to reflect on, receive feedback on and improve their pedagogical practice, and by doing so, improve student outcomes.”

In 2013, The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) commissioned a research project. The aims of the so-called ‘scan’ were to “deepen our understandings about what contributes to effective teacher performance and improvement, and find out what fresh approaches to professional growth were being trialled within the education sector and other industries, both here and internationally”. AITSL “wanted to identify and interrogate what the innovators were doing in this space, and explore new ways of driving positive changes in practice”.

The report found that successful professional learning, and performance and development had some elements in common. Two such features were that they were integrated within the culture and practice of the organisation, and also immersive, intensive experiences that challenged beliefs. Professional development courses in education are doing just that. The ambient mood in education is one of integrated practical experience, and new approaches that are challenging old beliefs.

The writing is on the wall, so to speak. Student outcomes are concerning sector stakeholders. Our backwards slide in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test shows our fifteen-year-olds are becoming less competent, and in the context of record levels of federal funding, many call for change. With these issues centre-stage, professional associations, tertiary providers, and schools themselves, are embracing the phase that may one day be seen as a watershed in Australia’s educational past. Something has shifted. The coverage is not all doom and gloom. Triumphs like those in Revolution School have created a sense of hope, and indeed empowerment among teachers.

‘Clinical teaching’, developed at Melbourne Graduate School of Education, by such names as Professor John Hattie and Dean Field Rickards, is an excellent example of flexibility of thought, and logical appropriation. In a deft manoeuvre of lateral thinking, the approach borrows from a medical practitioner model of clinical practice, and with fascinating simplicity, refocusses teaching on the learner. There have been fresh approaches developed, new methods are gaining traction, and in the case of the surging notoriety of clinical teaching, it’s because the new ways are working for teachers. It’s an exciting time to learn.Up-skilling in education

Studying and working has never been easier. Faculties across Australia have designed courses to complement your working life as a teacher, and far from your employment being a distraction from your studies, it’s the perfect setting to explore your new skills, as you learn and grow as an educator.

Your choice of institution will depend on several factors, such as geography, research areas, and preferred learning modes. Increasingly, institutions are recognising the changing face of education and offering teaching and learning in multiple modes, such as distance, blended, flexible or fully online. This has resulted in ever-increasing numbers of students interacting, and accessing course materials online.

Deciding to embark on further study is the first step, and the next stage involves a rousing time of research and imagination. The current climate is characterized by a commitment to an advanced body of knowledge, scholarship and professional development, with a focus on teaching that has an impact. In response to the specifications of the Australian Quality Framework (AQF), most Master of Education (Coursework) qualifications have expanded from 24 credit points to 36 credit points.

Dr Margaret Anne Carter, senior lecturer and coordinator of the Master of Education course at James Cook University (JCU) has welcomed the change, and the Education Academic Group made it the catalyst for redesigning the course. James Cook University has campuses located in three tropical locations, Townsville, Cairns and Singapore, giving the university a global bent combined with the tenor of Northern Australia. Drawing from global, national and regional trends in education, JCU’s Master of Education now includes three distinct majors in leadership and management; global contexts or sustainability. “Our challenge with our postgraduate education program is ensuring our learning and teaching and assessment is learner centred, contemporary, culturally inclusive and future focused”, explained Dr Carter.

Professional development is not always about up-skilling; there are a myriad of opportunities available for obtaining qualifications in an allied profession, or a specialisation within the teaching profession.

If student wellbeing is of particular interest, then qualifying as a school guidance counsellor, through a Master of Guidance and Counselling at JCU, might offer scope for role diversification, or a sideways step. Special education is another specialisation offered by various institutions, with qualifications ranging from certificate level to a masters, and further study in the education of gifted students is also gaining popularity.

As British philosopher and writer Alan Watts reminded his students in vocational counselling sessions, “the only way to become a master of something, is to be really with it.” With so many options, he might suggest you discern the area within the field that motivates you, identify the aspect of the job you spend your evenings researching, and become a master of that.

Suzy Barry

Suzy Barry is a freelance education writer and the former editor of School News, Australia.

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