“We need to keep skilled teachers in the classroom.” - Helen Hamilton
A decade ago, Helen Hamilton worked as a preservice teacher in Dwayne Rees's classroom.
She was late to the career, but she was also exceptional. Dwayne saw her talent and later encouraged her to teach at Murrumba State Secondary College, where both work as Mathematics and Science teachers, as AIM mentors and as Quality Learning Coaches.
The pair, who both started their career in primary schools, are a perfect example of not only what it takes to become Highly Accomplished Teachers, but also working together makes the certification process easier.
Helen says a group of teachers at the college decided to apply together -- some are in the second cohort. “We figured a group of us would be better than just one of us paddling this canoe by ourselves,” she says.
“So, Dwayne and I bounced a lot of ideas off each other, because we are in cohort one.”
Both “conservatively” estimate they put about 120 hours into their portfolios.
“You think you have ticked every box and you hand it over to Dwayne and he goes ‘I think you’ve missed this indicator’ and you go ‘aarrrgghhh’,” Helen says.
Dwayne says they were advantaged by their school’s focus on the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, which stood them in good stead during the process.
“Our school encourages us to reflect on the standards all the time,” Dwayne says.
He says the certification process allowed him to reflect on his teaching practice. He hopes it will not only keep skilled teachers in the classroom, and that it will also benefit the status of the profession.
“I have been teaching a long time and I have made a conscious decision to stay in the classroom, so it is good that there is something that recognises that,” Dwayne says.
“I think that some teachers will feel that getting the accreditation will validate what they are doing in the classroom and they will be willing to stay in the classroom longer,” he says. “If the public really understood the complexity of obtaining that rating, it might show them a small snippet of what a teacher does in a day -- when you look at all the indicators and all the things that a teacher does, even at a proficient level there is a lot. So, if this opens up the public’s eyes as to what a teacher does in a day, I think it can only present the profession in a positive light.”
Helen is also positive about the recognition the certification brings.
“Dwayne and I, we put in the hard yards with these kids and we do way more than you would expect just a base teacher to do, so it was an acknowledgement of the skills that we bring into the classroom and how we shared those skills,” Helen says.
“I have been in management roles where I have managed big budgets – I don’t want to do that, and until this came along the only option I had for progression was to become a HOD or deputy and move into an admin role; we need to keep skilled teachers in the classroom.”
Both Dwayne and Helen have great tips for anybody else wishing to apply for the process.
Helen's tips for applying for HAT certification:
Be committed to this process and ensure the evidence you collect is authentic; it can be supported by colleagues as having impact on their teaching practice and also shows direct impact on them; speaking with parents also.
Some of the indicators (Standard 7) ask for impact on the greater community – so you may need to involve yourself in the wider community (school/teaching profession) to ensure this indicator is met. For example, I spent time at the BETA conference (Beginning/Early Teachers Association) hosting a table at a breakfast function with 10 early/beginning teachers answering their questions etc. and I maintain contact with them as a mentor outside of their school. This breakfast was part of a three-day conference for early/beginning teachers across Queensland, where experienced teachers hosted workshops on a variety of topics.
Forward planning is the key — gather your evidence, ensure it is authentic and will stand up to the rigorous assessment by the HAT/LT assessors, and can be validated by other people at your school. Then match the indicators to this evidence and annotate to further detail the impact the evidence has on your teaching practice, the teaching practice of other teachers and the students.
Dwayne's tips for applying for HAT certification
Start to compile your evidence now – it would be the biggest piece of advice I would give someone if/when it starts going live. Spend the year before you want to apply making sure you are collecting the evidence, then the year that you apply, use all that in your application, don’t try to be collecting evidence as you develop your portfolio.
A good tip is if you have got a team of teachers at the school doing it, it’s really helpful to bounce ideas off people and what their understanding is.
I honestly think if you are investing your cold hard cash, to make it more certain, do it the year before, make sure you have got it all there so you know that you have covered everything before you put some money down to actually go through the process.