Harvard Professor, Richard Elmore once asked ‘is it possible that schools can continue to operate in the 19th century while the rest of society moves into the 21st century?’ The simple answer is no – although the adversarial position historically adopted by unions suggests otherwise.
NSW and ACT Catholic employers are currently in the process of discussions with staff and the union on a new enterprise agreement that we believe reflects the need to create contemporary working conditions relevant to a twenty first century model of schooling. This conversation is not limited to teaching profession, it is happening in most professional organisations around the world. Federal education minister Christopher Pyne recently said that education is one of the last bastions in the working world where length of service is still rewarded. Length of service in any profession does not guarantee that you are the best you can be. It simply means you lasted the distance.
We want all teachers no matter what stage of their career to develop high level skills and knowledge in their work. I know the majority of teachers want greater control of their working lives. As John Hattie states ‘schools need to collaborate to build a team working together to solve the dilemmas in learning, to collectively share and critique the nature and quality of evidence that shows our impact on student learning, and to cooperate in planning etc.’
This calls for a new professional maturity that provides teachers with greater autonomy but acknowledges the need for all teachers to adopt a rigorous and intellectual approach to improving teacher practice. In 2018, Australia will have a new national teachers standard administered by AITSL. This is one of the foundations of the new Catholic schools enterprise agreement. The standards are imminent and non-negotiable.
What is negotiable under a new enterprise agreement is how each local school community structures and shapes learning and teaching. For more than a century the working lives of teachers have been controlled by bells, timetables and externally imposed agenda. Do we continue to defend an industrial model of schooling in the face of the irrefutable and overwhelming impact of a knowledge age or do we embrace the opportunities for teachers to chart new waters?
Enterprise is defined in the dictionary as a ‘readiness to embark on adventures with boldness and energy.’ Educational expert Yong Zhao believes the time has come for schools to be enterprising, for students to be entrepreneurial and for teachers to be bold in re-shaping the educational agenda. This is what the new enterprise agreement is about. It challenges teachers to think about new ways of working together to improve the quality of learning and teaching in schools.
We don’t just want teachers to last the distance, we want them to shape their profession and to continually raise the bar of excellence for themselves, the school communities and most of all, the students they teach.
If twenty first century schools are enterprising schools, then we need a contemporary enterprise agreement which reflects a 21st century teaching profession.
The proposal for an enterprise agreement stems from a recognition that a new century requires new ways of working in schools. It aims to increase collaboration at a local level by supporting leaders but most of all, it aims to bring alignment in the standards
Enterprising schools need enterprise agreements. It’s time for educators to be bold and to lead the way with imagination and initiative on how we want to work.