Spotlight On: How we keep our teachers happy

24 November 2023


This article first appeared in Queenwood Weekly News on Friday 24 November 2023.

The teacher shortage has received significant airplay in recent years. The Queensland government is experimenting with ways to address this by introducing a four-day school week. Some schools have returned to online learning, suggesting that COVID-19 is still wreaking havoc in education. Queenwood has not been immune. We have seen fewer candidates applying for roles and our teachers have been approached by competing schools. This is the new normal. Recruitment is difficult, which is why we have developed a secret weapon – a teacher retention plan.

The best way to avoid recruitment pain is to try to bypass it altogether, so we have developed ways to ensure our teachers feel invested in their workplace and the profession. Professional learning is key to job satisfaction in teaching and while all schools provide some measure of professional learning, few have the potential to immerse teachers in their communities. According to Linda Darling-Hammond, professional learning needs to be active, collaborative and sustained. Our years-long initiatives certainly fit this description and we have seen the benefits for our teachers.

In the past 12 months, we have worked alongside the Australian Education Research Organisation on a year-long project to develop writing resources for use across the nation. Four departments were involved in this project, and it was instrumental in developing our younger but also our more experienced teachers who were new to teaching writing. Similarly, we set up professional learning communities to develop the content for our Smart Study program, funded by the Association of Independent Schools. Both of these projects, with the backing of the school in relation to time and resources, kept our teachers engaged and invested in Queenwood.

Many of our senior school middle leaders have taken on instructional leadership in the last 12 months. Middle leaders are the engine room of the school and it’s so important that their leadership doesn’t amount to simply administrative work. The Lighthouse Teacher team has spent several days with Commonwealth Bank Teacher of the Year (2022) Toni Hatten-Roberts, learning how to influence instruction in their departments, so that classroom time is optimised for our students. Next year they will learn how to coach others by spending time with Dr Mark Dowley from The Crowther Centre. We hope that all three of these projects will have no endpoint but become more embedded over time.

Professional learning at Queenwood is K-12. The Junior School engages the country’s best experts like Lyn Stone and Tessa Daffern to support their professional literacy knowledge. Teachers meet every week to work towards the Experienced and Proficient Teacher accreditation, a qualification that comes with not only a rewarding pay rise but the chance to reflect on best practice. Since her arrival, Director of Curriculum Sonia Weston has ensured that teachers have the time and resources available to write great programs for our students, underpinned by the best available research.

In the context of all we offer our teachers at Queenwood, building community is key, not only in the professional learning domain, but as colleagues. There aren’t many K-12 schools that will allow teachers to spend an afternoon out and about in Sydney, building relationships walking and talking and eating with our colleagues to enhance overall staff wellbeing. Nor would they invest in sessions with Lorraine Cushing-Kleber, an expert in teacher mental health. Our Director of Staff Wellbeing Suzanne Kerr knows well that when the going gets tough, it is these mental resources and relationships that teachers draw upon to get them through.

So what is the upshot of this investment in our staff? Well, since we directed our focus to retention, we have significantly reduced our teacher turnover at both the senior and junior campus. At Queenwood, we have nobody teaching out of their area of expertise due to recruitment issues Ultimately, the benefits are to our students, who are able to develop lasting partnerships with their teachers, who know them academically and pastorally. This stability is worth both celebrating and protecting, for the sustainability of the school, and the learning relationships of our students.