16 Years a HALT: Reflections of a Highly Accomplished Teacher

By John Cole

I received some long-awaited news last week, and it came as a simple enough e-mail. After ten years, I’ve been certified as a Highly Accomplished (HALT) teacher under AITSL Standards for the third time, granting my accreditation from 2013 to 2029. 

Sounds very fancy. What does that actually mean?

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) provides a national framework for Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers (HALTs), who are recognised as expert teachers and reflective practitioners. Under AITSL’s vision, HALTs lead and support their colleagues towards better outcomes for learners, understanding their own impact in improving teaching and learning within and beyond their schools.

Some days I’m not sure

Some days, I’m not sure how expert I am. In reality, I see so many teachers doing amazing things every day. But, I have learned this about accreditation. It’s about professional teachers making decisions for their own career and working to develop colleagues and students every day. And it’s the kind of professional development we can initiate ourselves.

Since national teacher certification became available in Australia in 2012, around 1500 teachers have achieved HALT status, working in schools across every state and territory. Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 10 years as a highly accomplished teacher:

HALT is a Political Football

From the $7000 bonus initially promised by the Gillard Government, which was quickly withdrawn by Christopher Pyne as the incoming Education Minister; to some states, systems, and unions opting out of HALT operations for a while; the program has been at the centre of many political debates. Current Education Minister Jason Clare aims to have 10,000 HALTs or equivalents by the end of next year. Every discussion of HALT is a discussion of values and priorities in a contested place. Even the cost of applying for HALT is problematic  – teachers pay fees on progress through application in some jurisdictions while other systems provide incentive payments of $4000 during application

Everything Changes

The current models for HALT certification differ significantly from the original system. For instance, the ACT’s Teacher Quality Institute  has implemented a modular system to simplify applications and support teachers collectively. At the national level, AITSL’s framework change last year is designed to increase HALT numbers while maintaining the integrity of the certification process by allowing regulatory authorities flexibility in accrediting HALTs. The rate of gain for certification is growing and will continue to grow.

Your Progress Matters

Applying for and operating as a HALT demands continuous reflection on practice. The Standards provide a scaffold for innovation and improvement, encouraging teachers to consider their impact, actions, progress, and missteps. This constant focus on professional growth benefits not only the individual teacher but also those around them. Some days provide deeper inspection of practice than others, but the Standards provide clear expectations for performance.

One Person Can Make a Difference

HALT certification provides a professional mandate to pursue larger goals. For me, this has involved working with early-career teachers and teaching students during their practicum. With strong and consistent support from leaders at my College, I mentor new teachers in classroom practice, lesson planning, professional networking, and student feedback and provide practicum experiences to support the next generation of teachers. HALT offers a powerful impetus to support the development of others.

The Only Boundaries Are Your Own

I have been fortunate to work with researchers at universities in studies of teachers’ careers. I have been able to brief regulatory authorities about ways to support aspirant HALTs. The work to establish HALT networks in states and territories shows many HALTs are seeing opportunities to improve the profession in a range of ways. HALT can provide a banner for teachers to come together and make progress to benefit teaching and learning for all.

It’s important to note that HALT is not the only path to progress in schools. Many excellent schools thrive without a single HALT. There are impressive initiatives like QT Academy and the Monash Q Project, which guide thousands of teachers toward reliable improvement. A HALT badge doesn’t bestow superpowers. I am not, and never will be, the best teacher at my school. Instead, HALT can  serve as a marker of dedication to building capacity and creating development pathways.

Ultimately, HALT is a way to keep expert teachers in the classroom – to provide a career that recognises and rewards teachers for their work each day. Traditionally, great teachers were promoted out of the classroom into management roles. A system that recognises and rewards exceptional teachers while keeping them in the classroom is a vital part of addressing the teacher retention crisis. HALT is not a silver bullet, but it is a significant step towards ensuring expert teachers can continue to teach effectively and support their colleagues’ professional growth.

John Cole is a Year 7 teacher in Canberra. He is about to take a sabbatical to work on a Doctor of Education with University of Melbourne, researching how Australian teachers make  career decisions (but he’ll still be teaching every week).

Republish this article for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

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