Bella Beryllium is a casual teacher by choice. She loves her job and loves the “little people” she works with. Flexibility is one of the key reasons she’s attracted to casual teaching.
But for its positives, there are some serious challenges to casual teaching. One is not feeling part of a team, particularly at a new or unfamiliar school. Another key issue, Bella says, is a lack of quality professional development opportunities.
“I don’t have a direct supervisor that will meet with me and help devise a professional development plan,” she says. “I have to make things happen on my own, often at my own expense or giving up a day of paid work.”
That’s why she was thrilled when the principal at New Lambton Public School, where she works regularly, asked if Bella wanted to be involved in a study looking at the impact of Quality Teaching Rounds on casual teachers.
At the two-day Quality Teaching Rounds foundational workshop, 32 casual teachers from around the NSW Hunter region came together to learn about the QT Model and the Rounds process. Bella said she left the workshop feeling excited and nervous about the challenges ahead.
“I felt a renewed sense of confidence that I could get the most out of my role and make a difference to students’ development,” she says.
Wrangling the schedules of the casual teachers in Bella’s professional learning community was the first hurdle. They set up a group chat using Messenger, which proved invaluable for idea sharing, clarification, support and feedback.
“The chat is still going today, months after we finished doing Rounds,” Bella says.
It wasn’t just the network that proved invaluable. The Rounds days themselves were high quality professional development that none of the casual teachers had experienced before.
“Seeing other teachers teach was inspiring,” Bella says. “We all had different styles, but we were aiming to achieve the same outcomes. It was really self-affirming.”
The lessons Bella learned from QTR have now become part of her everyday practice. She has devised a cheat sheet to help bring out the elements of the QT Model in her teaching. It was particularly valuable on one occasion when she entered a newish school, with a class she’d never taught before, and the work left for her was in a SharePoint folder she couldn’t access.
“I didn’t stress, I went back to the four key questions of curriculum planning and the elements of the QT Model to devise a lesson that would be intellectually challenging and connect with the students. The teacher afterwards emailed me to say what a great job I’d done.”
“I felt a renewed sense of confidence that I could get the most out of my role and make a difference to students’ development”
For Bella, one of the most valuable benefits of doing QTR has been becoming part of a team.
“I continue to rely on, check-in on and collaborate with three really awesome teachers,” she says. “This small team has made me feel more connected to the larger whole school team in a much more significant way.”
Bella has four key lessons from her experience that she wants school leaders around Australia to know:
- Casual teachers can and should be invested in with high quality professional development.
- Casual teachers are less likely to want to leave the profession, or the school, if they feel included and valued.
- Inclusion can be as simple as making sure casuals receive staff communications and are offered opportunities.
- Assign casuals a supervisor to complete a professional development plan once a year.