Published 15 Jun 2020
What does teaching look like at the Royal Children's Hospital Education Institute?
In late 2019, Matt from our Professional Practice team went to the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) to speak to members of the RCH Education Institute about various aspects of their teaching practice.
It’s a very different teaching context from a school or an early childhood service, but they still have to complete the same job: educate young people, provide professional learning opportunities and induct new teachers into the profession (including supporting provisionally registered teachers to move to full registration).
While at the Hospital, Matt had the opportunity to interview Naomi McBride, Director of the Education Institute, as well as one of their teachers, Bridget Sowersby. You can read the full interview below.
VIT would like to thank the Education Institute for their kindness and generosity in taking the time to show the learning environment they have created, of which they are rightly proud of.
What does teaching look like at the Royal Children's Hospital Education Institute?
While visiting the Royal Children's Hospital Education Institute (RCHEI), I viewed the learning environment (which looked remarkably like a regular classroom given we were in a hospital), saw how support staff play an integral role in the education and wellbeing of the learners and, of course, I stopped to say hello to the meerkats.
Our tour guides for the day were Naomi McBride, Director of the Education Institute and Emma Fraser, Head of Education (Early Years and Primary). I had the opportunity to interview Naomi, as well as resident teacher, Bridget Sowersby.
How is teaching in a school or early childhood (EC) centre different and similar to teaching at RCHEI?
Teaching at the Education Institute is similar to schools and EC centres in many ways, particularly as no two days are the same. Like other settings, educators need to be flexible, creative and adaptable in their teaching practice.
In other ways, teaching at the Education Institute is vastly different to other school settings. We provide essential, quality education services to over 1,700 students, all year round (averaging 70 students per day), from kindergarten to Year 12. Our teachers work one-on-one with students at their bedside or in small groups in classroom spaces. Students are transient, and may be inpatients for long or short stays.
The Education Institute keeps students connected to their regular school or kindergarten by bridging the gap and ensuring continuity of education and social connectedness between hospital, home and their enrolled setting. Teachers consult with the student, their family and school when evaluating new patients to determine the appropriate level of educational support. These evaluations are based on learning needs and / or educational risk. Teaching staff and education consultants advocate for the student by working with their school to provide advice relating to education supports, accommodations and modifications.
Each student receives an Individual Learning Plan (ILP) prepared in collaboration with the student, families / carers and the enrolled educational setting. The ILP is reviewed regularly and updated in line with the student’s educational progress.
How do you build high levels of support or modifications into teaching and keep things as normal as possible at the same time?
The Education Institute work closely with medical and paramedical staff at the Hospital to support students and to provide expert advice regarding modifications to teaching and / or the physical environment. Student voice is paramount when planning for transition or re-entry into school or kindergarten. Often, students prefer that their medical condition and associated supports remain discrete, and we work collaboratively with education settings to facilitate this.
How do you induct teachers into this context?
New teachers are provided with three days of intensive, in-house induction, followed by opportunities to ‘shadow’ experienced teachers at the Hospital. During the induction period, new staff are taken through policies and procedures, which are very different to mainstream schools and are given a ‘Teaching Competencies Handbook’ to work through.
New staff are given time to complete tasks outlined in the handbook and to become familiar with the competencies, to ensure they feel confident with the Education Institute and broader Hospital processes. The mentoring experience is incredibly valuable for new teachers as they get to see, in action, all they have learned in the preceding induction.
Does the inquiry model used by VIT work with your teaching context?
The Education Institute provides a rich and diverse learning environment, which supports provisionally registered teachers (PRTs) to achieve full registration using an inquiry approach.
The Hospital, being an alternative education setting, is an interesting learning context for PRTs to understand and investigate. As is the process in traditional education settings, PRTs at the Education Institute work closely with their assigned mentors to develop an inquiry question, which will be the focus of their professional learning.
With this question in mind, PRTs develop, implement and enact their action plans, and collect evidence to address the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST). Along with their mentors, PRTs then evaluate the effectiveness of their practice and engage in professional reflection, before presenting their final registration piece to the review panel.
Being an alternative learning setting is certainly no barrier to PRTs undertaking a meaningful professional learning inquiry and developing their skills as proficient educators. In fact, this process, in this teaching context, enables emerging teachers to become more flexible and adaptive in their approach to teaching and learning. It also allows them to differentiate their teaching methods to cater for a wide range of students with diverse needs.
How do you organise / conduct professional learning?
Professional development opportunities at the Education Institute are broad and numerous. Many of our fully registered teachers far exceed the minimum 20 hours each year of professional development activities aligned with APST, mandated by VIT.
Education Institute teachers and education consultants work closely with the leadership team throughout the performance and development planning (PDP) cycle, to consider their own individual professional learning needs, the unique needs of their students, and both organisational and hospital-wide priorities. Staff are required to identify which professional standard(s) their learning need addresses and commit to a reflection and knowledge sharing process. Many staff members choose to capture their professional development experiences and associated reflections on the MyPD tool available online via their MyVIT account.
In addition to professional learning that takes place at the individual level, which may be accessed both internally and externally, the Education Institute also provides whole of staff learning experiences. For example, at the beginning of each year, the Education Institute hosts a week-long, targeted professional development experience. This year, the professional development week included: evidenced-based literacy, numeracy and STEAM teaching and learning strategies, assistive technologies, supporting students with autism, and visits from the Melbourne Museums and the National Gallery of Victoria.
The Education Institute aims to have an inclusive approach to professional development, which is a balance between meeting academic and social-emotional learning needs, as well as developing meaningful links to the community. We also run in-house professional development sessions, making use of the vast range of skills and backgrounds of our team, as well as engaging our medical and paramedical colleagues.
Using your experience, do you have any tips for other teachers / education providers regarding
- Engaging learners
At the Education Institute, teachers work with students’ families and their schools / kindergartens to get to know them. We learn about our students’ interests and strengths as well as the things that they need to practice, and then use this information to develop ILPs.
Engaging students is key to our success as teachers here, as building rapport helps students to feel confident in a different type of learning environment, such as a hospital.
We also have relationships with external organisations, such as the Australian Chamber Orchestra, authors Jane Godwin and Alison Lester and artist David Booth, who run workshops with our students. These partnerships help us keep our learning environments engaging and interesting for students.
- Children who experience interruptions to their learning
The students we work with at the Hospital often experience significant interruptions in their learning. To best support them, we work with their enrolled schools to modify tasks and expectations to allow them to be active participants in their learning and have achievable outcomes. We encourage regular communication and Student Support Group meetings between families and schools to ensure the student is supported in their learning, connectedness and wellbeing.