SUNS 63 & 64: ‘VALUING OUR ‘HOME GROWN’ EDUCATORS’ and ‘RETIREES CAN ENRICH EDUCATION.
These columns were published in the Suns during October 2014. Please feel free to quote or use but in so doing please acknowledge the Suns Newspapers as publishers
HOME GROWN SHOULD NOT BE DEVALUED
We need to appreciate and value the contributions of those who have made a long term commitment to NT development, particularly in the field of education. While many teachers and school leaders have come and gone in rapid succession over the years, there are those who have stayed. Many have felt unappreciated and under-valued. That is exacerbated by the apparent working of the promotions system.
Systems need mix
In order to grow and evolve, systems need a leadership mix that includes those from outside and those from within. Getting the balance right is critically important.
While senior departmental positions have often been filled by interstate appointees it seems the percentage of external appointments has escalated in recent years. Opportunities for those within the Territory have become less frequent. More recently, appointments to key leadership positions in our schools have also come from interstate. For the past decade the perception held by locals is that a top heavy emphasis has been placed on external appointments. Some of those appointed as principals to our schools from interstate, take leave without pay from their state departments, this being tenable for two or three years. Whether they stay or go at the end of their leave period becomes the question. The question of intent comes to the minds of those who are local and long term territory educators
When external appointments are made, assistant principals with aspirations to be principals are overlooked. They can become deflated if, time after time, their applications for promotion are denied. A perceptual corollary based on appointment history is that our homegrown personnel may be deemed sufficiently ready for appointment to outlying schools but not necessarily those more central to our city. One can but wonder at the reasons for any such distinction.
If assistant principal positions are not freed up by promotion, the career pathways available to senior teachers who may want to move up the promotional ladder are blocked. Experience at each level within schools is important. However, if career pathways are choked off for those with aspiration, the teaching dream can sour. This is especially the case when advertisements inviting young people to consider teaching, allude to a career with opportunities for advancement.
Promotions panels representing schools and the department must be credited with wanting the best applicants for advertised positions. That fact is accepted but panels would be wise to note whether interstate applicants are considering the NT for the short or long term. Parent and school communities appreciate and value the longer term commitment that local candidates bring positions.
It is of paramount importance that feedback offered to unsuccessful applicants goes into detail on reasons why applications have failed. Few applications are made without serious intention or commitment to the process. Unsuccessful applicants, both those short-listed and otherwise, deserve more than a skeletal response from panels. Apparent dismissiveness of applicants can be quite soul destroying.
Our system and its schools deserve leadership that melds both interstate and home grown leaders. Appointment and selection is a question of balance. That balance must be built into practice.
RETIREES HAVE A LOT TO OFFER
When teachers and school leaders retire from their work in the Northern Territory, a rich vein of educational experience becomes lost to the system. “Retirement day” often becomes their last day of engagement with the system. On that last afternoon, decades of experience walk out the school gate for the final time. There is generally no looking back.
I believe our schools would benefit if there was an opportunity for recently retired educators to share their knowledge and understanding with younger and less experienced peers. The fact that they have been there and done that could benefit those who are developing as classroom teachers and school leaders. While schools set up collaborative programs, another group of people who could be drawn upon to come in and lend assistance would be invaluable.
Many educators belong to professional associations. Upon retirement their memberships usually lapse and they cease to be contributors. If professional associations retain a “retirement level” membership for a substantially reduced subscription, those with an interest in educational outcomes might well stay involved. Association members could go into schools offering support for those still developing their skills repertoire.
The New South Wales Principals Association has a membership category for retirees. There is a strong cohort of ex principals and school leaders in that state. A key part of their role is to support colleagues in schools. They are available as advisors, consultants, conversationists and critical friends.
Support programs of this nature need to be non-threatening. For those needing or wanting collegiate support, thoughts of unease should not be in the background. The model works if teachers and school leaders know that seeking advice and guidance is not a sign of weakness. On far too many occasions people who could benefit, fail to seek help because they fear criticism and ridicule. The concern is they will be regarded as hesitant or unsure educators, held in less regard than those who always act independently. Coaching and mentoring relationships work best if there is two way confidence and trust.
Studies conducted overtime confirm that stress in the workplace is a number one challenge for both teachers and school principals. Educators are keen to do things right. Many are fiercely determined to confront challenges independently. Coaching and mentoring opportunities would add significantly to the support that can be given to those involved in the educational field.
The Department can and does support its educators in the field. However, those in schools can gain further reassurance from being able to pick up the phone and talk with an experienced colleague who has confronted similar situations. Support can be offered without any strings attached, building confidence in those seeking advice.
Programs of this nature can be especially helpful for those who are starting out in new roles. Education in the Northern Territory is somewhat unique because of geographic separation, the special nature of many schools and the fact the system is so small.
The Department is working toward help programs. If professional associations come on board, support for those beginning their educational journey in the NT or undertaking new and different roles within our system will be enhanced.