A mentoring program for early career teachers is nurturing a new and diverse generation of educators at Marist Sisters’ College Woolwich.

Ryan Leonard was an academic and research scientist with a PhD on honey bee cognition before he joined the college’s staff as a newly-minted biology and science teacher in 2022.

That same year, graduate Visual Arts teacher Lili Negrine began her first permanent teaching role at the college and the task of guiding students through their HSC.

Both were among 19 early career teachers on staff in 2022 and joined the college’s pilot coaching and development program alongside peers with diverse backgrounds.

The two-year program is aligned to national professional standards for teachers and supports new teachers in four domains: professional identity, professional practice, wellbeing, and orientation.

It embodies the recommendations of the Australian government’s Strong Beginnings report into initial teacher education released in June 2023.

Mentoring matters

Instructional Specialist Melissa Carson brings 30 years of teaching experience to her role as program coordinator and mentor.

“We focus on teaching practice and work with faculty groups and one-to-one on what can make a difference to students’ learning growth,” Ms Carson said. “They come out of the program fully accredited.”

Ms Carson said the coaching experience needed to be authentic and agile to help new teachers adjust to the demands of the profession.

“Even though there has been a marked improvement in the accreditation process to become a professional teacher, it’s still daunting,” Ms Carson said.

“An experienced teacher looks at the standards and says ‘You do that every day, it will take you no time to find that evidence’. The coaching gives them time and space to be more reflective.

“It is our hope that this program one day be scaled across the Sydney Catholic Schools network for the benefit of all early career teachers, as feedback and results have shown it to be invaluable to those in the early stages of their careers as educators.”

Ms Carson said early career teachers brought many strengths to their roles.

“They bring a lot of connection to their theory but they are also open to thinking about new ways and ideas.” – Melissa Carson

“They connect readily with the students and can bring their experiences of being a learner to their job and really model that life-long learning,” Ms Carson said.

Teaching science

Ryan Leonard teaches Science at Marist Sisters' College WoolwichMr Leonard swapped work as an academic and research scientist, including a stint at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s restoration ecology lab, for a Masters degree in teaching at Australian Catholic University and his current role.

“It was a steep slope going from teaching at university and talking at conferences to teaching students, but it prepared me to break down complex science into simple language,” he said.

“Through Melissa’s program, I felt confident that I wouldn’t be part of the attrition that you get with early career teachers because I had support.” – Ryan Leonard

“Mentoring might be how to maximise a success criteria or learning intention, or maybe I walk in with a question about effective behaviour management for a particular student.

“We’ll have a session about best practice and how I can align my teaching with that.”

Art and practice

Early career teacher Lili Negrine“It’s a time and space for me to get feedback on programs and teaching.” – Lili Negrine

Lili Negrine studied a combined fine arts and education degree at the University of NSW.

She has brought skills in painting and ceramic wheel throwing to her practice, and said she felt supported to develop new resources for her subject.

“I really loved having fortnightly meetings with Melissa because it’s a time and space for me to get feedback on programs and teaching,” Ms Negrine said.

Mentoring has included assistance with teaching accreditation, and observing Ms Negrine teach Year 9 practical and Year 12 theory lessons to give feedback on her practice.

“I was put on a Year 11 class last year and took them through to Year 12 this year,” she said. 

“As an early career teacher, especially with HSC visual arts major works, it was a little bit scary at first, but with Melissa’s help it became a very manageable task and I enjoyed the process.”