Above: ACET success stories from Te Mata School, Havelock North, (l to r) Brenda Skelton, Adrienne Hurley, Lynne Legarth, Danielle Burroughs, Sharron Tomlinson , Debbie Gough and Mary Wakefield.

Above: ACET success stories from Te Mata School, Havelock North, (l to r) Brenda Skelton, Adrienne Hurley, Lynne Legarth, Danielle Burroughs, Sharron Tomlinson , Debbie Gough and Mary Wakefield.

New entrants’ teacher Brenda Skelton was gutted to find that she was the only one of her teaching colleagues who failed to get ACET registration two years ago.

Along with four other colleagues from Te Mata School in Havelock North, Skelton had spent months working on her application. It had been a supportive collaborative effort, with the five teachers spending weekends and after-school time working together, discussing and critiquing each other’s portfolios.

But when it came to the assessment, her four colleagues got through and she didn’t.

“I was absolutely devastated. We had all worked together and I thought I had a robust document that met all the criteria. I felt I’d let down, not just myself but also my family, my students, my colleagues and Mike [Te Mata School’s principal Mike Bain] who signed off on my portfolio.”

ACET (Advanced Classroom Expertise Teacher) recognises and remunerates the best teachers to support them to remain in the classroom where they can make a big difference to kids’ learning.

It resulted from an agreement between NZEI Te Riu Roa and the Ministry of Education as a way to allow career progression for great teachers without their having to take on extra leadership duties. Those who qualify get $5000 over and above their salary, each year going forward. Q1 and Q2 teachers who gain ACET can progress beyond their qualification maxima to Q3 on the salary scale.

But ACET is no easy alternative career path. It’s a deliberately rigorous assessment process that requires applicants to be strongly reflective of their teaching practice. They must show evidence of how that makes them, not just a good teacher, but a great teacher who makes a real difference.

So far 552 teachers have become ACET registered in the past two years. Ten of these are from Te Mata School. An astounding half of the school’s teachers have now gained ACET.

More clarity

In hindsight, Skelton says her portfolio needed more clarity and more evidence linking that vital triangle of theory, research and practice.

“I thought some of the links were obvious but then realised what I needed was more hard evidence.”

So Skelton made the decision to give ACET another go.

“I’m a mum, and I had to model to my own kids and show that if you don’t succeed, then try again. So I had to pick myself up and take a really hard look at my portfolio and try again the next year.”

Part of Skelton’s first portfolio focused on transitions between kindergartens and school – an area where it is difficult to show evidence of student progress. New entrant classes are constantly changing and sometimes kids move on after just one term.

Principal Mike Bain believes that this portfolio subject was part of the problem. “Brenda collected a whole raft of stuff, including parents’ assessments and so on, but it didn’t show that it made more of a difference than what would be standard practice.”

Choose a subject that shows real evidence of exemplary classroom practice, he says, and then explicitly show the difference that makes to students. Typically, successful portfolios have been around reading, writing and maths, but also around speech-language using evidence such as auditory files of voice and film samples. “The more richness you can show in the examples, the better.”

Success

Skelton says her next application was “much more gutsy”.

“I had the hard data and was much more explicit in making the links between the theory and research that led to my practice and the result of that.” Second time round resulted in success. “I was really chuffed. I had pulled apart my first portfolio which was around 60 pages. The second portfolio came to 134 pages.”

The process has made her a more reflective teacher. “Things become automatic, but ACET helps you to be thinking constantly about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what difference it makes.”

ACET may be only two years old, but Te Mata School has a depth of experience – and some advice. “Start thinking about your portfolio in the year before you intend to apply,” says Bain.

“You need that much evidence to show progression. If you start your journey in March through to August, how are you going to show progression, that you are a better than average teacher? Where possible, use case studies and you also need graphs, samples of student work, and professional dialogue around moving kids forward.”

Use material already in the system, he says, such as the TAI appraisal system. “If you’ve got exemplary TAI already collected – you’re two-thirds of the way there.”

Gaining ACET is a tough journey but it recognises the choice of teachers to do what they love most, and stay in the classroom.