A pandemic is no reason to push aside professional issues

Issues such as class sizes, casual shortages, low salaries for early childhood teachers, support staff matters, and the environment are slipping from view as we become blinded by the pandemic.

We all know what’s going on, the media barrage is taking care of that. But I’m concerned that while we’re focused on the pandemic and the restrictions it brings, we’re losing sight of the professional matters support staff and teachers will face in coming years.

Other challenges include the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD), new syllabuses, child protection, Working with Children Checks, teacher registration and lack of professional engagement. All of us in the independent sector have the need, and in fact the right, to engage in meaningful professional engagement so we keep abreast with the issues, advancements and initiatives that are floating just below the surface.

Let’s face it, professional engagement is difficult in a pandemic. Conferences may or may not occur, face-to-face workshops are ‘Zoomed’, meetings get cancelled, courses are online (if you can get on) and we are all time poor as we cope with the sector's expectations to ‘deliver a first-class educational experience’ during a pandemic (which, of course, we all are). And, for many rural schools, the looming threat of funding cuts has seen budgets for professional engagement cut and little or no PD being rolled out at all.

So, what can we do? Many of my colleagues have joined professional social media platforms, specialist staff in some schools have formed local associations, teachers and support staff in KLAs get together regularly to chew the fat, to network and to share ideas and initiatives, to plan and share programs and to discuss syllabus changes.

Music staff in a school I know meet monthly for breakfast. But let’s be honest, a coffee at recess or lunch, a few fleeting words or chat on playground duty is not professional engagement, which must be meaningful, worthwhile and engaging.

We can find ways to connect with our colleagues, associates and the broader sector to stop the disengagement and slow ‘de-education’ of our industry.

You can start by attending a local IEU sub branch meeting, hop onto the IEU website and check out the professional engagement there, ring a friend at another school, start a group or (gasp) cold call someone in another school and get something happening. We all owe it to ourselves – don’t blame the pandemic.