Professionalism and Teaching

After some interesting conversations over the weekend, I’ve again come to thinking about the importance of professionalism in our identity as teachers. Surprisingly, there is a considerable degree of contention around what constitutes a profession, and what is required to be professional.

For anyone who is interested, I found this paper “Professional Ethics in Teaching, and Professional Teachers Organisations” gave me some good background reading. Apparently, in 1966, the International Labour Organization defined teaching as a profession for the following reasons:

  • it is a form of public service which requires of teachers expert knowledge and specialized skills, acquired and maintained through rigorous and continuing study;
  • it calls also for a sense of personal and corporate responsibility for the education and welfare of the pupils in their charge.

The key elements of this definition for me are:

Public Service: A service culture is the antithesis of an entitlement culture. The organisations that I have seen working well have a culture of service. Leaders serve, teachers serve and support staff serve…all focussed on common goals and working for the greater good. When those organisations start to come apart, the language of me permeates, minutes are counted and individuals fight for their entitlements.

In order to truly embrace teaching professionalism, we need to loose the entitlement culture. But, this needs true, committed, service orientated leaders that build a culture of mutual trust, respect and service.

Expert Knowledge & Specialized Skills: This one is contentious for me…as professionals, what are teachers expert in? Content or Skills? A brilliant scientist does not necessarily make a brilliant science teacher. I believe that our expert knowledge and specialised skills are in the educative process. A strong understanding of content is a necessity, but not as important as an expert knowledge in the learning process. Particularly as it relates to the modern context…it is not ok for your doctor not to be up to date with the latest practices…it’s also not ok for any of us to ignore them.

The rise in the “corporate educator” selling the next big thing in “online, personalised learning” is an ever present danger in this space. As Professional educators, we need to ensure that corporations are not dictating the learning in our classrooms. We need to develop, employ and reflect on our expert knowledge and specialised skills to design the learning experiences in our classrooms for our individual students…if lesson plans follow chapters 1-6 only, then we are de-professionalising our vocation.

Rigorous & Continuing Study: Another interesting element to our profession. How much of this study is to be provided by our employer, and how much is an individual responsibility. I know that I definitely went through a ‘flat patch’ for a couple of years where I was coasting. Fortunately, I was challenged by a professional leader, leading to some of the most rewarding learning experiences…and flipping my practice, with significantly improved outcomes for kids.

As professionals, I believe we need to drive our own study. It needs to not be a “hoop jumping” exercise, and it needs to be relevant. I’d love to move away from having to count up the number of hours of PD I’ve done…as professionals, it should be obvious in what we’re doing in the classroom / leadership, what we’re publishing / tweeting, what we’re presenting and who we’re connecting with.

Personal & Corporate Responsibility: Enough said…Professionalism is a partnership, between the corporation (Department / Admin) and the individual. Unless both expect professional behaviour from each other…it will fail. Trust in teachers to do the right thing, trust in their expert knowledge, the quality of their continuing study & research and their service ethos. Control them less and empower them more. Teacher…rise to the challenge, demand the trust, hold yourselves and your colleagues accountable…anything less is irresponsible.

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