Balance is the key to graduate survival

Many schools have a number of brand new, ‘fresh’ graduates battling to keep their head above water at the end of their very first term of teaching.

It is vital that leaders provide the support necessary to help them thrive, or at the very least survive their first year but too much can also be detrimental.

There is so much to learn that it can be tempting for well meaning Principals to implement an extensive program of professional development for their bright-eyed graduates. However graduates can only cope with so much input.

According to Happy School creator Steve Francis, “For a graduate it can feel like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. The volume can be overwhelming and any individual can only take in so much before they reach capacity.”

Balance is the key. Whilst a weekly program of after school professional development initially sounds great, it can easily become overwhelming for the graduate. The regular commitments of all teachers including year level, faculty and staff meetings contribute to a busy program.

Whilst often young and almost inevitably enthusiastic, the physical demands of teaching and the intellectual processing of making thousands of decisions every day can be very challenging for graduates.

Routines and practices that experienced teachers have automated and take for granted often have to be carefully thought through and systematically implemented by eager graduates. Teaching can be exhausting and overwhelming. Graduates are often not, “Teacher fit".

Education systems in a number of states have recognised the need to provide support to graduates and are providing some targeted funding. Establishing and supporting a mentor for each graduate often works effectively. However the format of the support and the specific strategies implemented need careful consideration.

School leaders would be well advised to take a “Goldilocks Approach” to providing the appropriate level of support for their graduates – not too little, not too much, try to get it just right. Prioritising and considering the timing of the additional support provided is essential.

School leaders need to be very selective to ensure that the professional development is timely.

According to Francis, “Whilst there are thousands of things graduates need to know, it is vital that school leaders drill down to the essential elements that they immediately need to know? The philosophy of ‘Just in time’ is better than ‘just in case’ and much better than ‘just too late’”

The Happy School program takes a similar approach in supporting school leaders to boost staff morale and reduce teacher stress. Each week schools who are members of the Happy School program receive a weekly article to share with staff. 

According to Francis, “It’s like a regular dose of self-help vitamins. We know that a happy staff is more engaged, absent less and achieves more. They are also more likely to put in that discretionary effort that we rely on so much in schools.”

Steve Francis is a leading educator and creator of Happy School, an Australian program which aims to help reduce teacher stress and improve staff morale.