Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards
Marsden State High School (QLD)
Michael Smith is improving teaching quality and consistency at a disadvantaged secondary school in outer Brisbane by boosting the support available to teachers at the beginning of their careers.
By offering development, mentoring and networking opportunities, and ensuring constructive feedback on their classroom performance, the Deputy Principal is attracting and retaining outstanding first-year teachers to Marsden State High School and building a professional community with strong ties to the Logan area. All 55 new teachers who have joined Marsden since 2014 have remained in the profession.
Michael is extending the approach to Marsden’s own students – who are guaranteed a practicum place at their old school if they study education after Year 12 – and to experienced teachers aspiring to higher accreditation.
Through links with four Queensland universities, he is also taking the Mentoring Beginning Teachers model to regional and rural high schools.
Twenty years into his own teaching career, Michael Smith is focused on those just starting out in the profession.
As he sees it, a positive experience for young teachers in their transition from university to classroom will not only mean better teaching performance. It will also lead to increased retention of newly qualified teachers, and more eagerness to grow and explore within their demanding profession.
The Mentoring Beginning Teachers program devised and implemented by Mr Smith, the Deputy Principal of Marsden State High School in south east Queensland, takes a strengths-based approach to teacher development – both for new starters and for those further along their career track and aiming for higher accreditation.
Classroom observations should not leave teachers feeling judged, Mr Smith says, but understood and supported – in contrast to traditional approaches that mainly tell people how they are falling short.
Teacher retention historically has been a critical issue for Marsden, with an enrolment of 2500 students – nearly half of whom are Indigenous or from a language background other than English. Losing teachers means having to employ new ones, who then need to come up to speed with the particular challenges of the Logan region – with its diverse population and relatively high levels of social disadvantage.
By forging strong links with four local universities and teacher training institutes, Mr Smith has positioned Marsden as a school of choice for beginning teachers. Since 2014, all 55 new teachers who were engaged after doing their practicum at Marsden are still in the profession. They are attracted by the emphasis on professional development and support, including an overnight retreat in Brisbane’s CBD for first-year teachers, in-house fortnightly professional development for all staff, and extensive mentoring.
Now Mr Smith is focusing on even earlier cohorts, encouraging the school’s own students to take up a teaching career. His ‘Marsden Guarantee’ gives Marsden graduates who choose to study teaching access to practicum placements while at university, plus the opportunity to join essentially the same professional development events and networks as the school’s beginning teachers.
Before the program started, about three students a year chose to enter teaching; in 2018, 15 Marsden Year 12s applied for a teaching place at university. Mr Smith hopes the focus on ‘home-grown’ teachers with strong local roots will further strengthen retention in years to come.
Mr Smith has now begun to extend the impact of his work by creating strong professional development links across the region, leading a mentoring collaboration for Logan district schools and reaching out to rural high schools.
There is no reliable way to measure the effect of beginning teachers’ early career adjustment on their students’ academic results, but educators agree that teacher morale is good for school performance as a whole.
The young teachers themselves are convinced. In the words of one: “It can be quite confronting when you start. Having someone to provide me support whenever I need it, and guide me through each new experience, has helped to shape me into a confident teacher today.”