This week, Teach For Australia’s Cohort 2019 and 2020 Associates around Australia gathered as part of the first entirely virtual Mid-Year Intensive (MYI).
As part of their Master’s degree, Associates complete four intensive programs over two years. First and second year Associates attend Mid-Year Intensive during the winter school holidays, and usually gather in the capital city of their placement state to undertake face-to-face professional development, reconnect with their cohort and the broader Teach For Australia community and reflect on their personal and collective growth to date.
The objective of MYI is to empower Associates with the knowledge, skills and mindsets that will ensure positive contributions to our students, schools and communities. Of course, the global pandemic put a spanner in this year’s face-to-face plans – and we quickly moved to re-think and re-organise how to deliver this intensive remotely to 285 teaching Associates living in metro, regional, rural, and remote communities across the country. It could (and would) be done virtually – with dozens upon dozens of sessions occurring online, on topics ranging from cultural responsive learning and trauma-informed practice to ‘rebooting’ your classroom and using student voice and feedback.
Due to the differences in dates of school holidays across the country, cohorts in each state have been asynchronously completing a portion (approximately 12 to 14 hours) of the intensive online. But a virtual intensive also opens up an exciting opportunity to bring all Associates together for Mid-Year in a way they never have before through three days of nationally synchronous sessions, which started on Tuesday this week.
“When we said goodbye either eighteen months ago [for Cohort 2019] or six months ago [for Cohort 2020] at a national intensive, we thought that it would be the last time we would see each other as a national group,” said Teach For Australia’s Founder and CEO Melodie Potts Rosevear at MYI’s National Launch on Tuesday, July 7th. “It’s a great opportunity to see so many faces. I encourage you to scroll through the seventeen or more pages of faces, and just remind yourself how many people are there alongside you committed to this same work, and imagine all the additional faces of those teachers and colleagues that you know care so deeply about the students in your school as well.”
Nearly 300 people joined the launch of MYI, which began with an Acknowledgement of Country by Drew Paten from AIME. This was a moment to acknowledge the respective lands on which the Teach For Australia community lives, learns and works and recognise the young people who commit us to action towards a better tomorrow. “As educators, you hold a level of power that can help flip the script to be a little rebellious, to teach alongside the youth in solidarity, and to support our voices when things seem unjust or when things seem like they need to be changed,” he told the cohorts.
Although the national portion of the virtual MYI concluded on Thursday, Associates are continuing their work and studies in online in more regionally-focused sessions before school terms begin again in the constantly shifting Covid-19 reality.
Covid-19 has not only brought on challenges and changes for Associates to complete their Master’s studies. Fundamentally, the pandemic has also disrupted the work of teaching itself. As a Cohort 2019 Associate recently told us, “The new school year is absolutely always a challenge. We spend a lot of time setting up our expectations and routines for the year, but these were pulled out from underneath us all in a pretty dramatic way!”
Especially in the schools and communities that Teach For Australia works with, research released last week demonstrates how Covid-19 is exposing new depths of educational disadvantage in Australia. Teachers themselves have been responding with agility, resilience and leadership in the face of this increasing inequity. Associates have been helping their wider school shift to online platforms, turning the pandemic into subject matter for their classes, making and delivering personalised work packs to students, and connecting with parents and carers as part of well-being checks to understand the unique circumstances of each household. MYI was a chance for Associates to re-connect with their fellow Associates amid extraordinary circumstances. We hope you find a moment to recharge before school resumes, and wish you and your students all the best for the upcoming term.