Alumni share their experiences

Teach For Australia’s Mid-Year Intensives represent an opportunity for knowledge sharing and the 2019 Victorian MYI was no exception. This year, Associates had the opportunity to tap into the lived experiences and hard-earned understandings of 10 Alumni who volunteered their time at Q&A sessions focused on exploring the six aspects of TFA’s ‘Lifetime of Actions’ philosophy, which are:

  • Teach
  • Lead
  • Contribute
  • Influence Policy
  • Innovate, and
  • Support Communities.

In attendance and talking about teaching were Alanah Andrews (Cohort 2015) and Romana Dalgliesh (C2015 & TTL C2018), while Thomas Cain (C2014) and Peta Johnstone (C2012) fielded questions about leading in schools. Elsewhere, Ben Russo (C2012) and Pip McIlroy (2013) shared ideas about supporting communities and contributing, while Michaela Epstein (C2012) and Alistair Harkness (C2014) discussed innovations. Rounding out the Alumni speaker list were Daniel Hanrahan and Jacqueline Magee (both C2011) who spoke in depth around policy issues.

Alanah described the period following the completion of the Learning Development Program as a tough time for her, but said she was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on the development of an instructional pilot program at her school. The pilot allowed her to implement many of the practices she had benefited from as an Associate, such as classroom observations, feedback provision and connecting with like-minded staff.

“You know who the great teachers are in your school so finding time to go and watch a lesson is a great growth system,” Alanah said.

For Romana, the post-LDP period was one to take stock and find a better work-life balance while continuing to contribute at her school and pursue ongoing professional development including joining the TFA Teach To Lead Program in 2018.

“Especially in the kind of schools that we work at there’s never an absence of opportunities and roles you can take on once you’ve shown you’re a good practitioner,” Romana advised Associates.

And speaking of roles to take on, a large turnout of Associates sat in on Tom and Peta’s leadership focused discussion.

“My first year at my current school the group that I led the performance development cycle for had all been teaching for longer than I had been alive,” Tom shared with the Associates.

“They had so much more experience than me but I felt that I was able to build relationships just like you would with anyone you are leading, even if they sort of aren’t at the ‘right’ age for you to be leading them if you listen to them, ask what their motivations are and engage with them then there’s nothing wrong with being a young leader.”

Fielding a question from a younger Associate who was concerned she was not being taken seriously around her campus Tom had some particularly pertinent advice.

“If you’re a young teacher you should not wear the Year 12 hoodie. There is signaling that you do in the way that you present yourself. It seems really small but I wear a suit and tie to school and that’s probably more than I need to wear but I think it adds legitimacy in the case that anyone is saying ‘Who is this kid who’s trying to teach these students’,” he said.

Peta explained her belief that considering taking on leadership opportunities is an individual process, with no universally ‘right’ timing involved.

“There’s something to be said for taking on too much – we all know that feeling and we’ve probably all been there – it’s a matter of being conscious of some of the things that do still tick your passions and what are some of the things you want to achieve, as opposed to mass commitment. It’s important to be clear about that when you’re talking to people and be able to say yes to this thing and no to that thing,” Peta advised Associates keen on starting the leading teacher journey sooner rather than later.

In terms of innovation, both Alistair and Michaela explored differentiation and the value of technology in the classroom.

“Technology is a wonderful thing but technology doesn’t take care of itself. It’s more there to give the teacher a whole lot of data and to free up the teacher’s time to provide more targeted support, so instead of teaching the whole class linear algebra when only 10 per cent of them are ready, or others are well beyond that, teachers can look at the data and do a targeted mini-lesson with them that’s going to be purposeful for those students,” Michaela said.

Ben shared his insight into the role that TFA Associates have when it comes to impacting the school communities they are placed in.

“The fact that people have so much to contribute, coming from different backgrounds and experiences and educations coming into schools, is a real part of the value proposition of this program. The idea that you can work as an engineer and also be a teacher or have some role to play in a school is an exciting pointer to the future of education,” Ben said, adding that there are partnerships Associates can make that serve the whole-school community.

Jacqueline and Daniel’s thoughtful discussion on influencing policy was led by an understanding that educational research is a comparatively modern phenomena, making the policy sphere a rewarding one to work in.

“I was shocked that research into teaching and what works in teaching only really started in 1980. Everyone probably thinks about it in the same way that they think about medicine, which started looking at issues in the 1900s, so I think it’s going to take a long time and there probably needs to be a lot more investment in research and development in education and learning before we start really to be able to do evidence based work,” Daniel said.

The Alumni and Community Engagement Team would like to thank the Alumni for volunteering their time and knowledge. Cross-cohort engagement and knowledge sharing like this is part of what makes our community so rich. We’ll be following up in the weeks ahead on Alumni involvement in MYIs around the country. Reach out to us at alumni@teachforaustralia.org if you have suggestions for how we can keep the sharing flowing to Associates in between intensives.

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