Rural and remote PD needs are different

Why we need to think differently about providing professional learning for our rural and remote school leaders and educators.
A different set of needs in the country

The term rural and remote encompasses all areas outside Australia’s major cities. In Australia we classify these areas as either, inner regional, outer regional, remote or very remote.

Whilst most Australians live in major cities, almost 30 per cent of our population lives outside of these areas. The almost, 7 million Australians that live in these communities are amongst some of the most disadvantaged in the country, and often have poorer health and welfare outcomes than their city counterparts.

Unfortunately, some of this disadvantage extends to the educational opportunities available for young people living in rural and remote locations. The disadvantage usually fits into three main categories: provision, access and quality.

In Australia we have state and federal governments that have chosen to support the provision of local schools, meaning most students have access to a reasonably local primary school to take part in face to face learning. That being said, our rural school numbers are decreasing, as families make the choice to either travel to an alternate larger location for schooling or to send children away to board.

Despite the provision of these local schools, the equitable access to education still remains an issue for rural and remote communities. The equitable factors do not only relate to geographic location and population, but also encompasses; size of the school, socioeconomic status of the area, and the range and frequency of support and resources.

The quality of schooling, for rural and remote schools goes beyond size and location also with parents, students and educators raising concerns about subject choice, education delivery and resources.

Whilst teachers themselves cannot influence many of these factors, we need to acknowledge that despite many jurisdictions having specific programs to attract and retain educators and school leaders to the bush, persuading them to stay has become increasingly difficult.

The high turnover of staff means that the quality of teaching can suffer and this can have a flow on effect into the classroom. Given what we know about the effect of the student/teacher relationship on student success and outcomes it is perhaps, not surprising that the concern is raised. Teachers and school leaders also raise concerns relating to the availability of ongoing and sustainable professional learning to support educators at all levels.

Teachers in our rural and remote schools, like most others in our profession are eager to continue their professional development but access to opportunities can be limited for some of the very same reasons that students are disadvantaged.

Rural and remote school leaders are often impacted by the very nature of being rural or remote, with the costs associated with them attending external or off-site professional learning being far greater than a ticket price. An educator must consider not only course fee, but must also factor in accommodation, travel and the costs associated with casual staff to replace them. Whilst our city teachers may, on occasion have the same associated costs they are also from schools with significantly higher professional learning budgets.

Fortunately, technology has bought some advances to this area of concern, and more than ever, regardless of location educators and school leaders can access content and learning from a range of sources online. Despite this, programs and providers have not taken into account the complex nature of teaching and leading schools in rural and remote locations, rather they just have adapted existing content for online delivery.

During my visits to remote and rural schools, I have had the opportunity to provide professional learning and coaching support as I worked alongside partner schools and leaders in rural and remote locations. The more time I spent with educators the more I realised commonalities and the unique chance our organisation had to support even more of our connections.

It has always been our organisational goal to provide differentiated professional learning, that is high impact and future focused. In a remote and rural setting, we felt the call from staff and leaders more than ever for a tailored professional learning approach that would support their individual or small team development.

Ultimately this is why we crafted 12-month ‘Rural and Remote Leaders Program’ that takes into consideration time constraints, access to resources, expense and budget, connecting with others and strengthening connections, and 1:1 coaching conversation, all with the aim to provide individual growth in context. We are excited to launch this new initiative in 2021, and hope that we can continue to support even more educators from even the most remote of locations around our incredible nation.

Rochelle Borton is the founder and managing director of Eduinfluencers, an organisation that provides professional learning programs, workshops, coaching and consultancy to schools in Australia.

Photo by Hassan Ouajbir from Pexels