Our news
14 May 2019

Partner School Maryborough Education Centre: Welcoming Associates into the community

David Sutton and Andrea Ford are the principal and assistant principal at Maryborough Education Centre in Victoria, a Teach For Australia Partner School since 2018. We recently caught up with both David and Andrea and discussed all things community engagement.

What do you believe is key to a successful mentoring relationship?

The selection of the school mentors is key. We select based on disposition and temperament, rather than the teaching areas that they are working in. We look for somebody who is able, and willing, to give the Associates their time and input. Good mentors need strong interpersonal skills and the ability to provide the right mix of support and feedback for the Associate, while also challenging them. For our three Associates to date, we selected experienced teachers that have held various roles within the school.

Our school mentors have taken the role very seriously and there is a strong sense of pride regarding being a school mentor for a TFA Associate. They feel like they hold an important role, and we work to establish this sense of importance when nominating them. Our school mentors have really appreciated and benefited from the training that was provided by TFA, as part of the Mentor Development Program.

Do you have a process for ensuring best-practice mentoring and support for Associates in your school?

Andrea is in charge of induction and mentoring. Without that role, the support and mentoring for Associates and new staff would potentially be more ad-hoc. We put a lot of time into the overall induction process and program for all new staff. We have a new and returning teachers group which is coordinated by a leading teacher and assistant principal. All provisionally registered staff and Associates have a formal mentor, and the returning teachers (new teachers who are now fully registered) are matched with a buddy.

We’ve got a good culture of support across the school. We are lucky that most teachers from Maryborough Education Centre could be nominated as school mentors, and we would be confident that they will work hard to support the Associates.

Timetabling and time-release (for study) is so important, and non-negotiable as part of the support for Associates, however it can be really tricky. We work hard to make sure it supports Associates as much as possible. We work with the Mentor and Associates to identify any issues, and strive to accommodate and be flexible. We have found that aligning the school mentor’s time release with the Associate’s is hugely helpful for both, and we look for this when selecting mentors. When we’ve been able to set up the opportunity for the school mentor to observe the Associate teaching (or visa-versa), it’s had great outcomes.

We would definitely take two Associates per cohort in future, if possible. TFA Associates work extremely hard and they support each other so much.

Do you have a strategy to encourage Associate engagement with the wider community?

Our strategy depends on the skills and preference of the Associate. With Zoe (C2018), who was on her own as an Associate last year, we were fortunate to have lots of young staff and she fitted in with them really well even sharing a house with some of them. Zoe was very willing to live in the community and actively get engaged. Brendan (C2019) was recently on ABC radio, and spoke about the (TFA) program. For many years I (David) have had the role of the MC at our annual fundraising event and family fair, but this year decided to hand it over to another staff member. I had a feeling that Brendan would be good at it…and he was! Rebecca has moved into Maryborough itself and is sharing a house with Zoe. She has a really positive attitude and always looking to meet people from the local community.

– Maryborough Education Centre Associates Zoe Belford (C2018), Rebecca Cheng (C2019) and Brendan McDougall (C2019). 

It’s useful if you live in the community that you are teaching in, as it brings a level of understanding and knowledge with it. Partner Schools should definitely think about how they can support Associates to connect with the community. In Maryborough, because it’s a small town, it is possibly somewhat easier. You can’t force it, but can try and support people to engage in a way that suits their personality and needs. Sport is very helpful with engaging with the community and we’ve found this to be a good suggestion for many new teachers to the area. Additionally, low SES schools are particularly hard for new teachers, and it’s important to call that out from the start.

When Brendan and Rebecca came to meet us and visit the school just after they were placed, we took them out for a coffee after we’d given them a tour of the school. The space to meet away from the school grounds broke down a lot of potential barriers. We also invited Zoe join, so that they could meet her. Rebecca and Zoe hit it off straight away and decided to live together the following year there and then. Given the success of this little exercise, we’ll be doing it again for future Associates.

Have you successfully implemented Pivot* in your school?

In the past we’ve used our own student voice survey. However, due to the hugely successful free trial that we received as part of our partnership with TFA last year, we’ve taken on Pivot this year for all teaching staff. We are about to undergo the first cycle with Pivot in early term two and are looking forward to using it. It significantly reduces the work load at our end, and will provide us with quality data and feedback.

Any final comments?

We just think that our three Associates are really high quality young people who are in the education business for all the right reasons. They come with the understanding that they will be teaching in a low SES school, and are up for the challenge of teaching in low SES communities.

The rest of the school have been really receptive to Associates. Wary of saying it, but (at the moment) every staff member loves every Associate. Additionally, many of our students hold the Associates in high regard.


*Pivot Professional Learning offers an online, evidence-based student survey to Australian teachers and school. The survey is mapped to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, and results are collated into an interactive report to help guide teacher’s professional learning goals and school-wide strategy setting. Teach For Australia encourages and supports Associates to run the Pivot student survey with at least one of their classes each semester of the school year.