The recent Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers (HALT) Summit in Darwin highlighted the amazing work and impact being made by teachers around Australia. But for me, it also highlighted a slightly disappointing aspect of the HALT initiative.

Almost a decade since its launch, just a fraction of a per cent of Australian teachers – 573 as at the end of 2018 according to AITSL data – have successfully completed the process.

Why so few?

In working with teachers and principals engaged with the HALT process at various levels and in varying sectors, I constantly hear an alarming amount of misunderstanding and misinformation about both the process itself and the supposedly smug or selfish motivations of those who apply.

So perhaps it’s time to examine the key barriers holding teachers back, and to bust a few HALT myths.

MYTH 1: My school already has a great professional learning plan or program – we don’t need any HALTs.

Supporting teachers to achieve HALT certification is essentially an opportunity to maximise the impact of your school’s professional learning plan.

Having a teacher (or teachers) either working towards or maintaining HALT certification enhances your overall professional learning plan by assisting in spreading best-practice approaches and techniques across an entire teaching staff.

Once certified, HALTs must play a pivotal ongoing role in working with their colleagues – providing feedback and advice when needed – to satisfy their maintenance requirements.

And given the limited hours available for teachers’ professional learning, HALT’s 37 standard descriptors provide the perfect set of actions to ensure you are making the best use of all teachers’ time.

MYTH 2: HALT is about individuals selfishly padding their CVs in pursuit of money and promotion.

The tall poppy syndrome that often clouds the HALT process fundamentally misunderstands what the program is intended to achieve and undermines the motivations of those who seek or achieve certification.

The fact is that in order to gain and maintain certification, a Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher must demonstrate evidence that their own practice is positively impacting that of their colleagues.

At its heart, HALT is about formally recognising good teachers and keeping them in the classroom where they can continue to impact students and help colleagues.

While some HALTs may ultimately gain promotion into roles involving reduced teaching time, they continue to mentor and improve the practice of their colleagues.

MYTH 3: HALTs self-righteously judge their colleagues’ work and abilities.

Going hand in hand with this myth is the fear from school principals and middle leaders that allowing their teachers to seek HALT accreditation will somehow undermine their own authority or highlight perceived failings in the school’s professional learning plan.

These kinds of individual insecurities, held by principals and teachers working with HALTs, fail to recognise the opportunity to harness a HALT as a tool capable of improving a school’s professional learning program and further developing individual knowledge and practice.

A Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher gains nothing from judging or pointing out the deficiencies of their colleagues or leaders. It is not about personal gain or individual superiority. It is about assisting in demonstrating genuine improvement and growth of the teachers with whom they work.

To shun or stand in the way of a teacher who may clearly be a good candidate for HALT certification because of this kind of prejudice is, in effect, cutting off the nose to spite the face.

MYTH 4: The process of evidence gathering is too time consuming and laborious.

There’s no shying away from the fact that a teacher pursuing HALT accreditation will need to dedicate a significant amount of personal time to the process. But for most suitable HALT candidates, the majority of this time is spent on the final submission itself.

If a teacher is already demonstrating that their practice aligns with the descriptors, then the process of evidence gathering should be as simple as that teacher getting on with their regular day-to-day practice of working with their colleagues.

By taking time at the start to understand what will be included in a submission, the candidate will be able to set themselves up to capture that evidence as they go rather than trying to find it retrospectively.

I’ve worked with people who have completed their certification process within six months because they were already operating as a Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher.

MYTH 5: Having a teacher pursuing certification increases a principal’s workload – I’m already too busy!

In most cases, the responsibilities of principals or service directors supervising a HALT candidate should not require any additional support on top of what a manager would normally provide for a member of their staff.

Paul Rijken, principal at Cardijn College in South Australia, perhaps best summarises the role of principals as breaking down into four key elements:

  1. Listening to the teacher talk about their experiences to understand where they’re coming from in their teaching and what they’re doing.
  2. Encouraging the teacher by acknowledging the aspiration to grow and improve teaching practices for the benefit of all students within the school.
  3. Continually engaging with the teacher throughout the process so support and guidance can be offered when the road gets bumpy.
  4. Being courageous in taking the opportunity to be engaged with the individual’s process. Being a sounding board and providing constructive feedback. All this is not to say that every good teacher in Australia should be applying for HALT or would be suited to the program. There are very useful pre-assessment processes that can help identify those individuals for which Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher certification would be most valuable.

But I refuse to believe that of the hundreds of thousands of working teachers in this country, just a small handful are capable of doing what I see being done in the schools where a HALT is making such a huge difference.

By changing the way we think about HALT, we can not only acknowledge our schools’ great teachers, but amplify their positive influence on their colleagues and students.

This article was first published by Education Review (online) on 29 July 2019.

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