8 Lessons Lead Teacher Accreditation Taught Enrich Education Founder Nadene Kennedy
As a member of the inaugural cohort of teachers who earned accreditation under the HALT scheme in 2012, Enrich Education founder Nadene Kennedy’s pioneering journey to Lead Teacher certification broadened her understanding of professional learning and leadership.
Having since established Enrich Education as a means of helping other teachers and schools to build supportive and high impact learning environments, Nadene has invaluable insight into what it takes to achieve accreditation, its potential impact and the pitfalls to be avoided along the way.
She sat down with former education journalist Andrew Bracey to discuss her own journey to accreditation and what she hopes others can gain from her experience.
AB: How were your early professional aspirations impacted by the leaders and role models you were working with?
NK: As I started teaching, I had some not-so-great leaders, and some really good leaders. That helped me distinguish what I thought I could do to then improve the practice of other teachers, basing it very closely on some really inspiring people that I worked with.
One of those was my Head Teacher PDHPE – she helped me really recognise how vital emotional intelligence is in having an impact on people. She was a capacity builder – not an enabler.
When I first became a Head Teacher, I started off being an enabler because I was very young and thought I had to do everything for everybody to prove I deserved the job.
Fortunately, I quickly figured out that was not going to work and that it would burn me out.
I started to apply the strategies that she had used with us as a group of young teachers – they worked brilliantly, of course!
How long had you been in teaching when HALT was rolled out?
About 13 years. About 6-7 as a classroom teacher and another 6-7 years as Head Teacher.
I wasn’t a new-scheme teacher though, so I had never engaged with the standard descriptors because – as a pre-2004 graduate – I didn’t have to be accredited.
So, my introduction to the descriptors was when I had to engage with them through the HALT process.
I applied for a position that was about sharing knowledge and building the capacity of other people. The contract required me to gain accreditation at a higher level – it was tied to the role.
As a leader, I believe it’s important not to think you have to be the expert in everything.
You have to be able to recognise how to actually have a really good strategic approach to improving teachers’ practices – you don’t have to be seen by everybody to be a guru of everything. You just have to be able to encourage and guide others to improve their practice.
Can you give an example from your experience that illustrates that philosophy?
I was charged with developing a program to improve writing across the school.
Writing is not my strong suit – I still struggle a bit!
But that was fabulous because I had to improve myself first and then everyone else.
I remember standing up in front of 70 teachers and saying: “I don’t know how to teach writing – who wants to come on this journey with me?”
To be recognised as a leader, you need to be capable of admitting you are vulnerable as well. So that was a really good lesson for me.
I’ve always had good relationships with my colleagues where they feel safe and supported enough to say to me: “I don’t understand how to do this, can you help me?”
From there we could then try to come up with ways to work together on that.
What was your reaction when the HALT scheme was first announced?
It was something I felt I was already trying to model in my own practice, but the 37 standards descriptors for Lead Teacher gave me a framework to aspire to be better. There were some standards that, when I read them the first time, I was confident with. But with others I had no idea.
When we’re challenged, it’s often easy to just go back to focussing on what we like and what we’re good at.
The descriptors certainly challenged me in areas where I wasn’t confident – I had to just put it out there and admit my weaknesses and improve my leadership practice.
For me, the most beneficial part of engaging in such a formal process was the impact on how I thought about my leadership style – stopping to ask questions like what we want our impact on other teachers to be and how we’ll know if we’ve achieved that.
You need that evidence – if you’re not measuring the effects, the outcomes and the improvement, you’re not learning anything.
You achieved Lead Teacher accreditation yourself and have worked with a number of teachers on their own accreditation journeys. What’s the biggest issue that tends to create problems?
I was well supported at my school so the major issue I faced was the technology at the time – having to collect and scan and organise reams of paper all onto a USB thumbdrive! Today’s cloud technology makes it a lot easier.
The big thing these days is that people are often quick to blame the issues or difficulties they experience during the process on the process itself and the construction of the submission.
But in my experience, most difficulties usually happen when a teacher seeking accreditation is not having an impact on their colleagues in the way that they think they are. That realisation and reflection can be quite confronting for people.
It means the teacher has to change the way they operate and the way they work with people.
What opportunities has HALT opened up for you, your colleagues and your students?
The impact and rewards have been huge.
For me, the evidence collected for my Lead Teacher accreditation was able to be folded into my application for a Deputy Principal position. I ultimately got that job because I had evidence of impact – not just a list of things I had done.
Our school was interviewed and used as part of a NSW Government research project examining things that successful schools were doing right.
A focus of that study was the high impact professional learning structure we’d put in place to help more members of our staff gain accreditation.
That resulted in six teachers in that school alone being accredited at higher levels – when you consider that there are only a little over 200 HALT accredited teachers in NSW, that is quite a significant achievement.
That lead to the NESA CEO bringing his executive staff and members of the International Forum of Teaching Regulatory to visit and learn about how we did it, and why it worked. So, the school is seen as a great example.
In terms of student impact, ACARA has acknowledged the school eight times over the past nine years for demonstrating academic gains substantially above average for its students.
At an institutional level, these rewards were not just down to my Lead Teacher accreditation, but when you put together the systems and process like we had and everyone is working together and you get those settings right collectively, great things can happen.
And individually, it’s not just about having the letters after your name – it’s about earning the kind of reputation for how you work that gets you those opportunities.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from working with other teachers on their own accreditation journeys?
That about 90% of your chances of success in gaining accreditation is based on your emotional intelligence.
If you don’t work with people as individuals, if you don’t consider how to get the best out of the people you work with, and if you don’t take the time to ensure that they have an understanding of why we are doing this or what it will look like and where we want their journey to move to – then you just won’t get anywhere.
Everything you are doing in the school must be driven by the teaching standards because that is the only framework that is aligned to the teacher’s employment.
If you are not a proficient teacher, then you can’t work in any school – so that is what we should be using in order to improve their practice. And the standards descriptors should always be used in an aspirational way – never in a punitive manner.
What’s been the most rewarding element for you in working with other teachers seeking their own accreditation?
Seeing people get it – people who I have worked with and supported from the initial stages of their journey.
I can usually make a judgment in about five minutes as to whether a person has got any chance of succeeding at accreditation – you just need to hear the way they talk about how they work with people.
When I have gone into schools to give guidance, I see very quickly the way they’re respected, how they speak to their colleagues, and what their colleagues are asking them about.
If they’re asking them about teaching and learning, then it’s obvious they’re the right candidate for accreditation.
What has been really satisfying is assisting people to get recognised for their practice when they’re already the definition of a Highly Accomplished or Lead Teacher.
But the biggest impact of my work is trying to support principals and leadership teams to try to understand the connections between all these things.
The key message I try to get across is that the focus at all times should be on achieving consistent practices across our schools from all our teachers.
If you’re interested in pursuing accreditation, you need to understand that it’s not about you, your CV or your ladder climbing aspirations. It is about the impact you have on your colleagues and improving student experiences.
If you are pursuing accreditation purely for your own benefit or agenda, it is going to be a very difficult process.
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