The Highly Accomplished Teacher and Lead Teacher certifications are milestones in a teaching career and reflect the exceptional standards Australian teachers can reach. The QCT spoke with recently certified Highly Accomplished Teacher Paul Batchler about his experiences with the certification process: the benefits for his practice, unexpected aspects, and his advice for those considering applying for certification.
QCT: Why did you decide to apply for this certification?
Paul Batchler: I'm always looking for ways to improve my practice and I felt like the HAT certification process was essentially the ultimate litmus test for my efficacy as an educator. I wanted to challenge myself to that test. I was initially hesitant to apply over the first couple of years of the certification being part of the system because I felt uncomfortable in chasing recognition for my teaching practice. However, I had a colleague of mine who helped me reframe my thinking and said to me: “It's not about an accolade, it's about you improving your practice, and it's a tool to use to improve your practice.” Once I had that reframed for me, I felt like it was a challenge that I wanted to take on.
QCT: You mentioned that it was a way to improve your practice. Could you give us some examples of the ways it benefits your practice and your school?
Paul: The process made me a significantly better teacher. Even if I wasn't successful with obtaining the certification, I still would have come out of the process a much better teacher. I don't want to undersell it to anyone: it's a very rigorous process, and to be successful you've got to be highly critical in terms of your evaluation and reflection in all areas of your practice. From that evaluation I was able to identify the areas that I am good at and that helped boost my confidence. There were other areas that I needed to improve, and there were parts of the standards in which I was lacking, so through the whole process I feel like all areas of my teaching practice have seriously levelled up.
QCT: It sounds like it's been a really rewarding and reflective experience for you.
Paul: When I first started the process, I was feeling quite daunted by it, and then 12 months later, regardless of whether I was successful or not, I felt like I was a much better teacher having gone through the process. That's how it's benefited my practice: through critical evaluation, reflection, and improvement.
Now the school has someone within their community who's gone through the process and therefore other teachers can access them for leadership. You’re a sounding board now for other teachers and you’re highlighted as someone who is effective in terms of professional practice, ideas, and collaboration.
QCT: What was the most rewarding part of the certification?
Paul: The most rewarding part was that I was simply getting back to the basics of trying to be the best teacher I could be every day. I always think about being a teacher as a Swiss Army Knife. There are so many different roles that you play each day that you often are thinly spread across so many different aspects of your practice, and the certification process forced me to simplify and take one tool out of this Swiss Army Knife and sharpen that blade the best I could. It really motivated me to focus on the simple art of teaching and learning in the classroom, and that’s the thing that I love most about being an educator.
Then to receive professional validation and acknowledgment on top of that was just an added boost to my confidence, which in turn motivated me even further to continue my improvement and my learning.
QCT: Is there something that was unexpected throughout the process?
Paul: For me, the most unexpected part of the certification process was the learning that was involved and the love that I had for that learning process of improving my practice. Discovering those areas of the standards that I hadn’t focused on for a time and then adding new skills to my teaching repertoire, that was one of the main things that was unexpected for me. The other one was the connections that I made with the staff around me. It really made me focus on collaborative sharing of my practice. It’s quite a confronting thing to do at first when you open your teaching practice to everybody, it’s a vulnerable place to be. But as you become more experienced, you start to trust in your practice a lot more and you become more confident with your sharing. It brought people in and strengthened the professional connections that I have with teachers within the school.
QCT: We've been speaking a lot about outwards learning and how it benefits the school and your practice. What's something that you learned about yourself during this time?
Paul: Quite simply, the more I'm learning and the better I’m getting, the more I realize the love I have for teaching. Teaching for me – it's always been part of who I am, but after this process and the learning that's been involved, it has become more of who I am. I know that sounds like a greeting card, but it's true.
QCT: You've mentioned that you’ve become a sounding board in your school. What advice would you give to your peers who might be thinking about starting the Highly Accomplished Teacher certification process?
Paul: The first thing is to get good mentors, people that know your practice and can help you evaluate, because quite often they're on the outside looking in and can see all this amazing stuff happening that you don't even know that you're doing.
The second bit of advice would be to give yourself enough time to play the long game because it'll be a far more enriching experience and you'll give yourself a better chance of being successful. This isn’t something that can be done over a couple of weeks or a long weekend. Give yourself plenty of time to collect evidence and do the learning that's involved to level up, so you can refine your practice and sharpen that Swiss Army Knife.
QCT: What benefits do you think that these certifications bring to the teaching profession in Queensland as a whole?
Paul: I feel it adds value to the profession by acknowledging that great teaching is enough and is happening. You don't need to be an administrator to shape teaching and learning at a school and it provides that pathway for passionate teachers who don't want the extra administrative responsibilities to advance their career. It also gives teachers a goal to work towards – the light at the top of the ladder that we can climb to.
QCT: Is there anything else that you'd like to add about your experience of the Highly Accomplished Teacher certification process?
Paul: It was a very rigorous, but very rewarding process: that's essentially what it comes to down to. There were some nights where I was like, “What am I doing?”, and other nights where I was like “Yes, this is great”, so it's very much a rollercoaster ride. But you end up in a really great place at the end whether you're successful or not.
For more information about the certification of Highly Accomplished Teachers and Lead Teachers, visit the QCT website: https://www.qct.edu.au/standards-and-conduct/certification.