Senior Lecturer (Education) Dr Amanda Gutierrez has been recognised with the 2022 Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching for her sustained work in Professional Experience, Work Integrated Learning (WIL) and piloting partnership models to provide the best outcomes for pre-service teachers.
Amanda’s work has focussed on finding effective teaching and learning strategies and WIL models that connect research, evidence and theories to practice.
Most recently, she has developed an innovative integrated initial teacher learning program, the Spiritual and Pedagogical Accompaniment Program (SPA), which intertwines spiritual formation and classroom practice to help pre-service teachers become classroom-ready. This program was designed after many years of research, critical reflection and conversation around effective partnership models.
Putting theory into practice
Amanda said that a key focus of SPA is helping pre-service teachers connect what they are learning during their degree with the practical realities of teaching in a school.
“When you’re going through a degree, sometimes it takes you a little while to be able to make the connection between what you’re learning at university and the actual implementation of that,” she said.
“We need to support pre-service teachers holistically, to truly bring together university and practice, for a stronger understanding of how research evidence is important to being the best practitioner that you can be.”
SPA is a faith-based work integrated learning program that aligns with several of ACU’s strategic priorities and concerns which were raised in a 2017 report on levels of theological literacy in pre-service teachers. Through mentoring with a ‘spiritual and pedagogical companion’, pre-service teachers build their understanding of the Catholic intellectual tradition and perspectives.
The program also offers pre-service teachers the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of what it means to teach in a Catholic school and to forge connections with experienced teachers. For some, those connections persist long after the program is complete.
“The alumni pre-service teachers that I’ve spoken to have said they still keep in contact with their companion,” Amanda said.
A focus on impact
The SPA program has been running for four years and its impact has been positive both for participants and the schools they work in.
“I was very pleased to find the data from the first three years working on the project illustrated that impact,” said Amanda.
Retaining teachers in the profession is a significant issue in Australia. An important aspect of the SPA program’s impact is its positive effect on pre-service teachers’ anxiety levels and sense of belonging, both of which are factors in teacher retention.
“It enables participants to transition from being a student across into their career and helps them connect and belong to that career, so they feel like they want to remain in the career for a longer period of time,” Amanda explained.
Partnerships at the heart of supporting students
Amanda said receiving the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching was recognition both for her work and the value of professional experience for our students, as well as the important contribution of partners. Partner schools and organisations have been a key part of the success of the program, she said.
“It’s a reciprocal program, and we really do need to recognise the fantastic effort of our partners.”