The QCT recently spoke with Elisa Dingle, one of Queensland’s newest Lead Teachers, to gain her insights on the certification process: how her First Nations background informed her experience, what the process taught her, and the benefits for the teaching profession overall.
QCT: Why did you decide to apply for the Lead Teacher certification?
Elisa: It's been a bit of a journey. I have been a member of our school’s leadership team for a few years, but also continuing my role working in the classroom. I really value it because it allows me to have an impact on not just the students in my class, but with teachers across my school. I wanted to do the certification, so I'd get the recognition that came from a nationally recognized certification process. Not for doing something extra: it's recognition for the work that I do as my day-to-day practice that is having a positive impact on my colleagues and the students.
QCT: In what ways does the certification benefit your practice and your school?
Elisa: It was probably the best professional learning activity that I've ever done because it allowed me to reflect critically and improve my practice. I was able to use the certification to identify and target areas of my practice that I wasn’t aware could be improved and because as I learned new things, I was able to share those learnings with my colleagues, but not just in my own school. I'm lucky that I get to work with other people in other schools across our diocese, and through the networking, with different people across the state and even with teachers across other states.
QCT: How has coming from a First Nations background shaped your experience of becoming a Lead Teacher?
Elisa: When I first started looking at certification, I was looking online to see if there were other First Nations Highly Accomplished or Lead Teachers, and I couldn't find any information. When you consider that focus areas 1.4 and 2.4 of the Professional Standards are about what teachers need to know and be able to do to teach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, I thought it was interesting that it wasn't something that was identified and highlighted. So, it became a goal to put myself forward. I didn't succeed initially: it took me three attempts to gain certification. But that was a push for me to not give up, and to keep trying, because I wanted to show my students that you can be a person who comes from a First Nations background and still be a leader. It really gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment, not only for my students, but also for other First Nations educators to put themselves out there. My colleague and I are the first two Leads in our diocese, so to also be a First Nations person is something that I feel very proud of.
QCT: What would you say the most rewarding part about the certification process was?
Elisa: Knowing that you've been assessed against a nationally recognized process and given recognition for the quality of your teaching practice was one of the things that made it all worthwhile. I feel confident that my teaching practice is of a high standard and to be able to go through the process and improve my practice was rewarding.
QCT: What was the most unexpected part of the whole process?
Elisa: The time that you have to take to unpack the standards and the descriptors, because until you actually really understand the intent of the descriptors, it's hard to know what evidence you need to support it and having your evidence to stand on its own without your annotation behind it. That’s something that's really hard to do. In the Lead descriptors, they're quite detailed for what you have to provide evidence for. So that was the hardest thing, being able to unpack each one and ask, ‘Have I fully met the descriptor?’
It sounds like a negative, but it was actually the most rewarding aspect of the process because by going through, I was able to be more impactful because I was really looking at my practice and improving. I would say it had more of an impact on my practice than my Masters degree [did].
QCT: What's something that you learned about yourself during the certification process?
Elisa: Probably my level of resilience. Taking three times to get certified, I look back on what I did the first time and I laugh – I can't believe I actually thought that was good! So, being able to be reflective on my practice is something I would do internally quite often as a teacher, but the process made me really critically reflect, and gave me a standard to go, ‘That was really good, but this is where it could be better’.
I was proud of being able to not give up and to keep going; being able to take the knocks, come back and improve. My students, especially through the videoing sessions that involved them, I was very honest with them in saying, ‘I didn't do a very good job last time, but I'm back and I'm trying again’. I also had a lot of my parents as well asking me about it and being very supportive, which was great as well.
QCT: What advice would you give to your peers who might be thinking about going for the Lead Teacher certification?
Elisa: Get the support of your principal. My principal has been very supportive, which I've been really grateful for. I've also had a lot of support from people in our head office that are able to give us guidance and support that we've been lucky to have from our diocese. My colleagues, having people who are like-minded along the way. They were also my support so that I didn't give up. I was lucky that I had a colleague who was also applying for Lead and we also had a colleague who was applying for HAT (Highly Accomplished Teacher). So, we were able to work together and give feedback on what we thought.
My husband and my children were very supportive, and especially through the ups and downs of my journey. They were very supportive and encouraging because I spent a lot of time at home working on this as well, so having your family supporting you is great as well.
Don't rush into it. There is a commitment of time, and you really need to know those standards, descriptors, and the classroom practice continuum. When you're more aware of those standards and descriptors, you can see where you can collect your evidence from, rather than something that you have to create. There’s no right or wrong way of collection or annotation. Experiment with different ways to see what you're comfortable with to present your best evidence.
QCT: What benefits do you think the certification brings to the teaching profession in Queensland?
Elisa: It professionalizes the teaching profession, especially in the eyes of the community. It allows you to demonstrate leadership and it showed my commitment to excellence in teaching.
It allows you to stay connected in the classroom while also improving student outcomes in the wider context of your school and community. It can help you progress professionally, and you can gain valuable recognition for your skills while you're continuing to teach.
While the process was challenging, time consuming and frustrating, it was also very rigorous. It's rigorous for a reason. You have to demonstrate, reflect upon and provide enough authentic evidence that to show that you have the extra attributes of a Lead teacher.
Ultimately, I think what has been most worthwhile is that while being recognized as a Lead Teacher, I'm also increasing the influence beyond my classroom and my school. I love that in teaching now it's going beyond the four walls of your classroom or just your school. The doors are opening into the teaching practice and there's so many more demands on teachers now than when I first started, that the more that we can share, the more we can learn from each other. I really enjoy that that’s part of what I get to do as a Lead Teacher.
QCT: Did you have any anything else you'd like to discuss or anything to add?
Elisa: I'm just very thankful that I got selected (to be interviewed) because I know there would have been lots of other quality teachers that got through the process this year. So, I'm just very proud that I got to talk to you and have my story shared.
For more information about the certification of Highly Accomplished Teachers and Lead Teachers in Queensland, visit the QCT website: https://www.qct.edu.au/standards-and-conduct/certification.