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The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) worked closely with key education stakeholders to develop the national education Certification of Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers in Australia aligned to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Deb Brydon and I applied for, and received our HAT accreditation and we would like to share a little about our experience and possibly provide some advice for those considering applying. This process was rigorous, challenging and time consuming and should not be taken lightly.

This article was first published in the Kodály Queensland Newsletter in July 2020.

The Highly Accomplished Teacher (HAT) Accreditation Process

Deb Brydon and Debbie O’Shea recently qualified for national accreditation as Highly Accomplished Teachers. Here they share about the process and what they have learnt along the way.

Although this is a national accreditation, the process is different in different states and indeed different systems. For more information on applying to be a Highly Accomplished or Lead teacher, contact your own system. If you work for the Department of Education you can find information on their edStudio, through the QTU or QCT.

How long did it take you to write the application?

In short – hundreds of hours!

We made the decision to apply in Sept of 2018 after attending a seminar with Katharine Finlayson at the Perth National Conference. From here we attended a 4 hour information session run by the Qld Teachers’ Union (same one is also run by Department of Education) and in January 2019 we spent a day brainstorming together. We attended the 4 hour information session again (actually Deb attended it 3 times in total!). We also spent another 5 or 6 full days together working on it together and then countless hours at home and phone conversations.

The last 3 months of preparing our portfolio were the most intense. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that we communicated (phone, email, reading each others’ annotation, giving each other feedback) daily.

What would be your advice to others about to take the journey?

  1. Get the right partner. There were so many times we both felt like giving up or felt like we would never be successful (right up until the last week!) and we needed each others’ support. A good partner is someone who you trust, who is reliable, who is committed for the long haul and is on the journey themselves, someone who wants you to succeed as much as you do.
  2. Complete the AITSL self-reflection tool (really honestly) because this will show you where your strengths lie and, more importantly where you will have to work harder to improve your practice and gather evidence. Take your APDP/APR (professional learning/reflection seriously). This is a good tool (as annoying as it is at times) for you to focus your professional growth.
  3. Attend every information session you can (online and an person). The first four hour session that we attended, we can honestly say, in retrospect, that most of what they said went over our head. The second time we went (to the exact same session) we had specific questions answered and felt like we knew what to do (even though we were still overwhelmed with the amount we had to do).
  4. Every – single – word – in – every – descriptor – is – important. Be explicit – make the connections easy for the assessor to see. When writing annotations about your evidence, you can’t assume anything. Make all connections obvious. For example, descriptor 1.3…… In Debbie’s, they said she had not fully evidenced the word “cultural”, in Deb’s it was the word “religious” so then we had to make those connections to our evidence more explicit in Stage 2.
  5. Give yourself a generous timeline. This will allow time to authentically collect evidence and then organise and annotate it. We both took a day here and there as Long Service Leave to help us get on top of our folios. It is all-consuming.
  6. Don’t create evidence – find the evidence within your existing practice. Some parts will need tweaking and formalising but the best evidence is embedded in your practice already.
  7. Document everything. Start now. If something even has a possibility of being an artefact for you in the future, save it now. Create meeting minutes and email records of conversations. Much of our collaboration is done verbally and you need a way to document this formally.
  8. Build your team. Don’t be afraid to ask people to work with you. There are many people in your school who will be happy to collaborate. Debbie wishes she had worked more closely with the special needs team on some of the artefacts earlier on in the process as they were so helpful towards the end.

What was the most difficult part of the whole process?

  • It plays on your mind and takes over your whole life, not just at the time of focused work, but even when you’re not working on your folio. You will dream about descriptors! You will wake at 2am with some connection, idea, great wording…
  • At the start we felt like a square peg in a round hole with many of the descriptors seeming to be written for classroom teachers, not music specialists. However, as we continued to wrestle with this, we found ways around it.
  • Self-doubt. Along the way there were many times where we both doubted our abilities, our evidence and even whether we were adequate teachers! We had a good dose of ‘Imposter Syndrome’. We also doubted whether we would finish on time – but our commitment was stronger than our doubt.

What do you feel you have gained personally and professionally?

  • A full understanding of the AITSL descriptors. Even though we had read these and used them, we didn’t understand their full depth and complexity and usefulness.
  • We both feel that the deep self-reflection of the last 12 months has improved our practice.
  • Deeper collegiality. We have developed closer relationships with each other as well as with the colleagues with whom we have worked during this process.
  • The feeling of achievement. Though we wanted to give up many times, we were able to push through and finish. And we can’t deny that it is nice having independent assessors say that we are doing well in your profession. 
  • A pay rise!
  • Increased awareness of what we do in our schools. We are both the first HATs in our respective schools. Our Administrative Team have a greater understanding of the scope of our work and the impact on our students. It is great advocacy for Music Education.

We both believe that the work Music Educators do is vital. It is encouraging for us, and we hope it is for you, to know that the National Certification process works for us as well as for other teachers. 

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