Teaching is an honourable profession. To know that you can have a profound impact on a young person’s learning and indeed happiness, from the young child to the young adult, is very powerful! We all remember our stand-out teachers, be that for positive or not so positive reasons. Those interactions and experiences can last a lifetime. And, all learners deserve to have the most effective educators working with them. Teaching is not a profession you can sustain if your head and heart are not there with your students, whichever sector you work in. Your students, their parents and your colleagues will very quickly pick up on you if you are not in fully committed to your role.
I have been privileged to have worked with students in a career spanning 40 years in education. My experience is in the independent sector. I began as a graduate and worked my way to the role of Principal. I look forward to sharing some of my perspectives and perceptions about teaching and leading in the independent sector and would welcome any questions and observations from those interested to explore working in the independent sector more fully.
The first thing to note about the independent sector is the incredible diversity-no two independent schools are the same. You have single sex and co-ed; day and boarding; low fee and high fee; faith based and non-denominational; Pre-K to 6 and Pre-K to 12. So, if you are considering working in an independent school, you need to do your homework and determine whether or not you will be a “good fit” with the school. By “good fit”, I mean are you willing to:
· Visibly demonstrate the values of the school in your interactions with the students, your colleagues and parents?
· Engage with the mission statement of the school?
· Positively contribute to the school’s culture?
· Embrace the co-curricular activities that are very much a part of the school’s activities?
· Work the hours required of staff to attend before school and after school commitments?
· Be accountable for your students’ learning?
· Understand that student well-being is the domain of all staff?
· Be challenged on your professional practice?
· Demonstrate compliance in accordance with the re-registration standards for independent schools?
· Commit to the staff appraisal process in place?
· Manage the demands and associated pressures of your “clients”?
Of course the “good fit” will apply to any school, irrespective of the sector-government or independent however the degree of autonomy with which the Principal can act in relation to any of the above will vary in an independent school.
Those leadership team members involved in the recruiting process for a role in an independent school will ultimately be looking for the candidate they believe will be the best fit to their requirements for the role, so applicants will need to do their homework about the school and the role description. An ice-breaker question at interview will often be, “What do you know about our school?” “Not much”, is not a good answer!
If you would like to gain an insight into the level of accountability and hence requirements of teaching in an independent school in Western Australia- just go online and check out the Department of Education Services Registration Standards for independent schools-all 15 of them. You may also like to peruse the Guide to the Registration Standards and Other Requirements for Non-Government Schools 2022-all 74 pages! This may help you gain an insight into the “good fit”. But again, remember that each school will have its own values, traditions and culture which overlay the Standards and you will need to be very comfortable with the school’s policies, procedures and practices.
Being an educator in an independent school brings with it certain challenges and many rewards. I will just touch on a couple of these.
One of the most significant challenges is in managing stakeholder expectations. In communication protocols, parents are always asked to speak with their child’s teacher in the first instance and ideally any queries or issues will be resolved at that level. The problem being that the rules of engagement have become blurred and teachers may be fielding emails well beyond reasonable hours. Beware the email sent at 3am by an enraged parent! It is important that boundaries be set for all parties and clearly communicated to all, to avoid escalation of matters. In sending their child to an independent school, with the associated fee structure, parents do have very high expectations of success. Of course actually articulating what success means to them is a conversation in itself! Teachers will often find themselves at the very centre of these conversations and emotions can run very high. Learning to manage these situations is an important skill and my sense is that teachers are generally well supported by their colleagues, line-managers and the leadership team when dealing with these often challenging and difficult conversations.
Education is a people business, where positive and constructive relationships matter, especially in schools. Acknowledging the challenges, there are also incredible rewards to teaching in an independent school. When you are employed in an independent school, you are joining the school community and all that goes with that. Not only will be there a set of expectations about you as a classroom teacher, but you as a member of the school community. Those teaching in an independent school will be involved in the vibrant and diverse cocurricular and well-being programs on offer which enable staff to see students in a completely different context. This can only benefit relationships which has a positive flow- on to the classroom. A sense of community is core to an independent school where belonging and engagement are paramount. Celebrations are equally important. Many of my happiest experiences were around our school community coming together to celebrate and commemorate occasions. The opportunity for students to demonstrate their skills, talents and willingness to participate across an incredibly diverse range of activities, was truly affirming of what young people are capable of when given the opportunity.
Rewards also come along through opportunities for staff. Given the many roles of responsibility within an independent school, the opportunity to take on acting or substantive leadership roles provides the potential to develop leadership capacity. This is a fabulous way for staff to test the direction of their leadership journey and it also flags to College Leadership, those staff who are interested in pursuing higher levels of responsibility. Even the interview process is a worthwhile professional development experience.
So, there is a great deal to delve into about teaching in an independent school. In short, teaching is a calling; it is not a profession for the faint-hearted! I look forward to hearing your thoughts so please join the conversation.
A little bit about our Author…..
Meg has worked within the Education Sector for over 40 years and was Principal at Penrhos College for nearly 10 years and is a fountain of knowledge. Meg has kindly given us her email address and would love your own insights/conversation starters for future blogs.
I had always wanted to be a teacher but little did I know when I was in Mrs Levy’s kindergarten in Barker Rd Subiaco in 1962, that I would go on to enjoy a career in education spanning 40 years! I look back on that time now with a memory bank of the most incredible experiences and a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunities that I was given to learn and grow both professionally and personally. This is what classroom teaching and school leadership gave me. There was a lot of laughter and the occasional tears and even when things didn’t go according to plan or that curved ball came out of nowhere, there were lessons to be learnt. I became a reflective thinker and a skilled strategist, skills that I was able to transfer to the home front in managing three sons, much to their displeasure on occasions! I have made life-long friends and continue to be presented with opportunities to apply my experience and hard-earned wisdom into new contexts. Retirement from the role of Principal was not the end of the road-it was just the beginning.