Is it Worth Becoming a Highly Accomplished Teacher?

Should I become a Highly Accomplished Teacher?

It’s something that’s been on my mind. I’ve been mentoring more new teachers and going to the compulsory professional development to ensure they are set up for success. A big part of that process is creating their portfolio of evidence so they can move from the Graduate career stage to Proficient. 

It was at one of these sessions that there was a bonus workshop for the mentors. We were told all about becoming Highly Accomplished Teachers, and the fact that we were mentoring a colleague probably meant that we had reached that standard already. 

A confused cartoon face with the word "HAT?" above it's head.

It made me think! As an Early Career Teacher, I’d always planned to become a HAT eventually. I enjoyed sifting through evidence, reflecting on my practice and piecing together my portfolio. What I had never considered was that I was already Highly Accomplished!

If this sounds like you but you have a little bit of analysis paralysis, I’ve put a list of pros and cons about moving from Proficient to Highly Accomplished. Hopefully, it can help you make your decision!

Cons:

The process is quite intensive.

Becoming a Highly Accomplished Teacher is not like becoming a Proficient Teacher. All teachers in Australia are expected to move from the Graduate career stage to Proficient, so the process is well-supported in schools and straightforward. 

The process does vary from state to state, but regardless of where you are teaching, it is more complicated. 

You will still need to create a portfolio of evidence to prove that you are working at the Highly Accomplished career stage. You must provide evidence against each of the 27 descriptors in the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers

The main difference is that you will need to have an external assessor come into your school to observe your teaching and interview you and a few colleagues. These assessors are often school leaders or ex-teachers who now work elsewhere in education. You will need to organise for a whole-day visit where they will watch you teach as well as speak to you and a few selected referees to make their judgement. 

On top of this all, you will often also need to pay.

This process is a barrier for many teachers. It is a lot of extra work to get organised and finish the process. It becomes even more painful if you don’t get through in the first round!

On top of all this…

You won’t necessarily get higher pay.

This again depends on which state you’re in, but most schools will not automatically increase your salary just because you are a Highly Accomplished Teacher. 

Many school systems do have a salary tier for their HATs, but these are often specific positions that you will need to apply for. There is no guarantee that you will be able to win one of these, or that there are even any positions vacant. 

Some schools may specifically create a position for you if they know that you are a Highly Accomplished Teacher, and some principals even have the power to transfer your existing contract to a HAT position. This does depend entirely on your school and school system, though. 

You will need to renew your certification.

Being a Highly Accomplished Teacher isn’t a done deal. You will need to renew your certification every few years. 

The renewal isn’t nearly as intensive as the initial certification, with most Teacher’s Registration bodies only requiring an updated portfolio to ensure that you are still working at a Highly Accomplished level. Still, it is something that you need to factor into the equation if you are considering becoming certified.

Pros:

It’s good professional development.

There’s nothing better for your professional learning than sitting back and having a good, hard look at your teaching. 

It could just be my maths/science brain, but I really like measuring things. I really enjoy having an example of what really good teaching looks like, and seeing how closely I match that picture. Being able to tick off elements of my practice as being “Highly Accomplished” is incredibly rewarding for me. 

Sometimes, sitting in our classrooms at the end of a hard week, we wonder if we did a good job. There’s always more that you can do in teaching; more resources that you can give to your students, more conversations that you can have with parents, and more time that you can give. Sitting back and realising that not only are you a good teacher but an objectively great teacher is important. 

You will also find areas that you may not be as great in. Maybe you really focus on your lesson design, but on reflection, you’re not as focused on engaging with parents. Maybe you’re an ace at behaviour management but aren’t entirely sure how to best support your students’ numeracy. Working on a HAT portfolio is good for reinforcing what you do well and highlighting areas that you might want to focus on next.

You can increase your salary without extra responsibility. 

While becoming a Highly Accomplished Teacher is not a guarantee of a higher salary, these HAT positions still exist. Many school systems have targets for increasing the number of HAT and Lead Teacher roles in schools, and what better excuse for your principal to do so if they already have a fantastic Highly Accomplished Teacher on board?

I know many teachers who have had positions pop up at their schools when their leaders knew that they were working towards HAT certification. While these are specifically not leadership positions, many of them do come with some release time to support other staff and perform extra duties around the school. 

A big element of the Highly Accomplished level of each teaching standard is supporting colleagues to improve their practice, so you might find a role for a HAT with extra release time for mentoring early career teachers. If you are really passionate about individual learning plans and literacy/numeracy strategies, you might be able to find a role with a greater focus on this. 

Becoming a Highly Accomplished teacher is a recognition of your skill and expertise. While you won’t have the additional leadership responsibility, it is a lot easier to negotiate to get time to do what you are passionate about.

See more: How to Write Good Notes as a Mentor Teacher

You will be supported by your school system.

I’ve briefly mentioned this throughout, but school systems do want more Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers. 

In an era where teachers are viewed in an increasingly poor light, schools and universities are trying to raise the profile of teachers. Highly Accomplished Teacher certification is one of the key ways schools try to do this. 

I know that in my current school system, there is a two-year mentoring program for teachers who want to work towards becoming Highly Accomplished. If you enrol in this mentoring program, you will also have the certification fees paid for. This is coupled with a promise in our Enterprise Agreement to double the number of HAT positions in schools over the life of the agreement. 

Becoming a Highly Accomplished teacher is a lot of work, and it isn’t for everyone at every point in their career. If you’re looking to really hone in on your teaching and improve your practice (as well as get a potential salary increase), it can be a fantastic option.

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Elise is an enthusiastic and passionate Australian teacher who is on a mission to inspire and support fellow educators. With over a decade of experience in the classroom, Elise leverages her expertise and creativity to provide valuable insights and resources through her blog. Whether you're looking for innovative lesson ideas, effective teaching strategies, or just a dose of inspiration, Elise has got you covered.

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