Increasing Teacher Retention in Remote Outback Schools

Remote outback schools are known for the high turnover of staff, low teacher retension and challenges in recruiting staff. 

Our work in this space is to make sure teachers feel aware of the opportunities and challenges and be prepared to take on their remote teaching roles with strength. 

As part of that, we admin a Facebook Group called ‘Teachers in Remote Communities (Past, Present, Future)’ where we regularly share polls, posts, and discussions (as well as our courses, resources and advice). The rich discussion, ideas and support available in this group have led to us creating these blog posts.

However, for teachers, the experience of remote teaching comes with unique challenges and opportunities. In creating this series of blog posts, over the next few weeks, we talk about ways we can enhance the remote teaching experience for our educators. We will explore insights from recent polls, comments and suggestions from discussions in our Facebook group Teachers in Remote Communities (Past, Present and Future), which reveals the top concerns of teachers and their valuable suggestions on improving their professional lives in remote settings. We hope these posts reach ‘remote curious’ teachers, remote teachers, but also principals, leadership and head office staff- so they can see what teachers on the ground are feeling and saying. 

A recent poll where we asked How can we improve the experience of remote teaching for our teachers?’, had with 276 responses, and, sheds light on the priorities of teachers when it comes to enhancing their experience in remote teaching. The results are as follows:

  • Increase Financial Benefits: 22%
  • Upskill and Train Our ATA/AEIO to Be Teachers or Grant Limited Authority to Teach: 15%
  • Provide Extra Leave Allowances: 11%
  • Allow Teachers to “Work Shadow” in Different Remote Schools: 8%
  • FIFO (Fly-in, Fly-out): 8%
  • Provide Mentors to Remote Teachers: 7%
  • Events Between Schools to Increase Connection: 7%
  • Build the Remote Teacher Pool
    – Less DOTT/RFF Lost to Relief: 5%
  • More Cultural Training: 4%
  • Hire Support Staff (Massage Therapists, Hair and Beauty, Yoga, Mindfulness) Once a Term: 4%
  • Others: 9%

These results highlight the diverse concerns and priorities of teachers in remote settings from across Queensland, the Torres Strait,  Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia. The poll also sparked some great discussion which can be viewed on the link here. 


Teachers' Suggestions and Insights

Let’s explore some of the valuable suggestions and insights shared by teachers who have firsthand experience in remote teaching:

Increased financial benefits: Given that 22% of respondents to this survey identified this as a factor is telling- living and working remote can be expensive. It is argued that because teachers leave their hometowns, support networks and other comforts we should be compensated for their inconvenience as well. To make the move it needs to align with teachers’ financial, career, and family goals as well as values. We explore We explore budgeting here. We also need to reflect on our privilege when discussing financial benefits when many of our students, families and community live in the same place sometimes in overcrowded homes, less job opportunities, and additional bills (that are often covered by our employers). Teachers, like many Australians, have been impacted by the cost of living. And the teaching career has not kept pace with other professionals for many years. Valuing teachers across the board- not just in remote locations- and compensating financially for our work is an important discussion. 

Upskill and provide training for AEOs/ATAs to be teachers: We know many highly experienced AEOs/ATAs that have many years of experience teaching, planning, leading in outback schools (including Carl, co-owner of this business) who are granted no RPL/Advanced Standing for their skills, knowledge and experience when completing their teacher training. While there are some programs to support access into education pathways (RATE, Grow Your Own, Teacher Aid Pathways), there are not culturally appropriate options for RPL/Advanced Standing in any of the universities we contacted. We have been really active in this space- writing to Education Ministers, Heads of Universities, Teacher Registration Boards and more urging for systemic change to acknowledge the deep knowledge and skills First Nations educators often have- that is not recognised in an institutionally racist environment. First Nations educators often on much lower pay as ATAs and AEOs without the financial benefits, travel benefits or accommodation and utilities benefits that out-of-town teachers often enjoy. And yet data shows that First Nations educators from outback communities often have higher retention, increased buy-in and personal investment in ensuring positive outcomes for remote students. They already know the students, community, language and culture. Students benefit from reduced teacher turn over, reduced ‘wasted’ time while teachers get to know students and their needs and their levels, trusted teachers in culturally safe environments, positive role models and more. 

Provide Extra Leave Allowances: Leave allowances are very important in remote outback schools. You are so far away from home, specific services that if you need to travel, you need to be sure you will be able to get to and from with the right leave entitlements. Many remotes have a few extra days for travel leave, some have additional personal leave. Western Australia has ‘remote long service leave’ for remote outback DET teachers at the end of a 3 year contract, while NT has ‘Special Study Leave’. The poll implies that some of this is not enough.

Allow Teachers to “Work Shadow” in Different Remote Schools: This is a really valid and important consideration. It allows collaboration, connection, and professional development in regard to ‘best practice’ in remote schools. When we talk of remote education- teachers often report difficulties accessing professional development, often they work in isolation and are not connected with the surrounding community schools, sometimes they feel like they are ‘reinventing the wheel’. A program that encouraged and supported teachers in remote schools to have time- maybe once a year or once a contract) to go be hosted at another school and learn and share best practices, connect and form relationships with other schools would be invaluable. Given that remote outback students can be very transient between communities- this also allows teachers to get an understanding of the context of the communities that students from your school might move between, form relationships with teachers to ensure follow-up and consistency of education and care so less students fall between the cracks. 

Creating a Friendly Workplace: Many teachers in the group often reiterate the importance of a supportive and friendly work environment. The ability to make friends and connect with colleagues is vital for their well-being and effectiveness. Building these connections before relocating to remote areas can significantly improve the transition and increase retention. This information could be important for you as a teacher to ensure you make time to connect with colleagues and community, but is also important for administration teams in remote schools to provide moments of connection in meetings, staff events and in the creation of work spaces. We talk often of this in our blog posts: 9 Quick Tips To Forming Relationships When You Arrive In Your Remote Teaching Role and Building Support Systems.

Consider FIFO Teaching for Experienced Educators: The idea of “Fly-in, Fly-out” teaching for experienced educators was proposed in the post. Western Australia has the Flying Teacher Squad while Queensland has the Rapid Response Team– models that could be considered by other states and territories. Longer contracts are essential for student relationships, trust, engagement and growth. Attracting teachers, experienced remote outback educators may have other commitments and only be able to offer short term services.prefer short-term commitments. A member of the group suggested FIFO-style arrangements could offer a solution. This could be particularly beneficial in the times of extreme, nation-wide teacher shortages where remote outback students can be disproportionately impacted. ‘Teachers in Remote Communities (Past, Present, Future)’ and groups like ‘Teachers on the Road- Travelling Australian and NZ’ are great groups to reach out to if you have an interest in short term contracts or relief teaching at remote outback schools- we often have posts for these types of positions as well.

Provide Mentors to Remote Teachers: A very high percentage of remote outback teachers are graduates or early career teachers. A notable percentage of leadership in remote outback schools are in their first or second leadership roles. The first few years of teaching or leadership, no matter what the context, can be a huge learning curve. Teachers from many different backgrounds and contexts have been asking for teacher mentors for early years teachers. And in the remote context this is more important- for all staff. This is one area that The Remote Teacher, The Grad Guide, Weave, Footprint Placements and other small consultants work in. 

Events Between Schools to Increase Connection: Given the transience of students between communities and across regions- it makes sense for teachers in regions to be connected, communicating and supporting one another- your clients are similar/the same. Remote outback teachers often experience homesickness, isolation, overwhelm… events that bring together schools make sense to increase the feeling of connectedness, belonging and a support network beyond your school and community. So how do you do this? Invite other schools to your PDs, school events, performances, guest speakers. Reach out to the staff at different schools around you- and see if they would like to join in on a staff event like parties, camping trips. 

Build the Remote Teacher Pool: This one is a tricky one… in a teacher shortage. It makes sense- and the work around improving conditions for remote teachers will feed into this one. 

Bringing Well-being Specialists to Remote Locations: Some teachers on the discussion comments recommend flying in well-being specialists such as yoga instructors, masseuses, and other well-being professionals throughout the year. They proposed that this type of initiative could contribute to the physical and mental well-being of educators. The other alternative could be to train up local people, health or education staff in these types of skills- so that they can in-service school staff on well-being such as by running dance classes, yoga classes, beauty days. Well-being provided by employer or not, there is no stopping you or your friends doing pamper days, meditation or yoga, massage trains, pot dinners, doing each others nails. There are also affordable options for massage chairs, foot baths, essential oil kits, facial kits and other self care ‘do it yourself’ options. And many remote outback workers pre-book their hair, waxing and other beauty or well-being appointments in the larger towns or back home on holidays. Some remote communities near popular tourist attractions might have the option to book in a travelling well-being person such as a hairdresser on the road- joining a local Facebook group might help you hear of anyone coming through. While it would be amazing for employers to organise these things- you might be surprised with how you can look after your own mental health and well-being too.

Beyond Financial Benefits: Teachers stress that enhancing the remote teaching experience shouldn’t be solely about monetary incentives. Guaranteed employment opportunities in mainstream schools, access to specialists for students with learning needs, access to housing and vehicles, and effective school leadership are equally important aspects. We explore the benefits and challenges in a blog post here.

Less DOTT/RFF Lost to Relief: This again ties in with the challenges of recruiting teachers to remote outback communities. In remote outback communities there may not be relief teachers available meaning that teachers may have to take internal relief classes during their DOTT/RFF time, or have collapsed classes. Many members often speak of the need to employ a dedicated relief teacher in all remote schools- and many remote schools do (when they can). 

More Cultural Training: Making sure outback teachers feel aware, informed, upskilled and supported is one of our ‘soapbox’ issues. When you know what you might face, you can be prepared for it and present the best possible self for your students, colleagues and self. Some systems and states/territories do provide training including cultural awareness training, 4WD training and other sessions at the start of the year. But as we know with remote teaching that there are many of our colleagues who join us mid term- so they might fall between the cracks of support. Something for all leaders to reflect on. We aim to address some of this with our courses. We know of several amazing First Nations companies delivering cultural awareness training (learn why here and here.. See providers here, here– many more as well so do your research). It also highlights the need for Aboriginal Education Officers in classrooms- to help with individual teachers and to help make classrooms culturally safe and appropriate. 

This post has explored the question ‘How can we improve the experience of remote teaching for our teachers?’. Over 250+ members responded to the poll and shared their thoughts. 

Building a close-knit and caring community among our remote outback teachers is at the heart of making the teaching experience positive in these isolated areas. When we come together to tackle these issues and put our heads together for creative solutions, we can make remote teaching more rewarding and sustainable for everyone involved.

Loved this post? You might also like to read: Building a Support System: How to Connect with Other Remote teachers and Educators

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Hi, we are Hakea Hustler and Carl Merrison

We help new remote teachers feel confident and successful  so that they can make the most of their time remote and live a life of adventure.

Learn more about us and how we can help you here.

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