So for four years, The Mathematical Association of South Australia Inc. (MASA) have been ensuring that staff at Ceduna Area School, in the state’s far west, don’t miss out on quality professional development.
MASA’s Executive Officer Carol Moule takes us back to when it all began.
“The numeracy coordinator at Ceduna called me and said they were having trouble getting qualified mathematics teachers to teach there. So I suggested that I could bring the expertise to them at regular intervals for intensive in-school PD,” Moule recalls.
Determined to overcome the school’s geographical barriers, Moule and her colleague agreed to forge a new PD partnership, intent on opening up learning opportunities.
“This was extended, high quality PD – not a one-off, off-site event for teachers, but actual modelling of good teaching practice in front of their own teachers with their own classes,” Moule says.
In 2013 MASA organised for nationally recognised, expert practitioners to visit Ceduna Area School for several days at a time during Terms 3 and 4.
The expert teachers took over classes, while Ceduna teachers observed their practice. Afterwards teachers had the opportunity to reflect on what they had seen and consolidate their new knowledge.
As Moule notes, MASA was “turning PD on its head” by bringing the program to the school over a period of time, rather than requiring teachers to be released from school for one-day sessions.
A further innovation was that the teacher-training was delivered through practical demonstrations, using real teachers.
Although the project was foremost an opportunity for the state association to support their colleagues in a rural and remote location where there is less opportunity to access PD, Moule sees it as an expertise-sharing exercise as much as anything else.
“The school was not underfunded, and they certainly have staff willing to learn – they just didn’t have the personnel who could teach them,” she shares.
Aware of their duty to support all SA teachers, regardless of their location, MASA was able to co-ordinate getting the necessary experts “on the ground” where they were needed.
In 2014 the project earned MASA an innovation grant from AITSL, which provided extra funds for its continuation at Ceduna.
For AITSL, MASA’s work was an example of both the flexibility and coherence required to champion innovative teaching practice in Australia.
The Ceduna partnership was a success because of the strong collaborative planning and the mixed-mode delivery of its professional learning.
Indeed, today the project has been taken up by the whole far west school partnership, comprising five schools in the Ceduna region, with each school being visited by teaching experts for up to 10 days per year.
Moule urges school leaders, policy decision-makers and others looking to boost innovation in teaching to consider professional associations as a platform for effective ideas to improve teacher practice.
“People who are looking for ideas tend to think they must go to the universities. But professional associations have teachers on the ground who know what teachers need – as the far west teachers can attest!”