Teachers have long claimed to be a profession. However, I’m not too sure this claim can be universally substantiated.
I think that there are two key elements for asserting professional status. The first is that the profession has a significant voice in shaping policy and agenda, which not only empowers those already in the profession but it also makes the profession more attractive as a career choice.
The second is the capacity to drive both change and innovation while maintaining a focus on the core business.
Too often the voice of the teaching profession is at best muted, at worst missing in leading broad educational change. At the moment, the teaching profession is not self-determining and its ability to self-govern is extremely limited (see Brian Caldwell’s 2009 Agitation Hill lecture).
Different voices have dominated the debate in recent decades. In the 1990s, the business discourse dominated: schools had clients not students, customers not parents. Industry needs determined the shape of the curriculum and so on.
The first decade of the new millennium has been dominated by governments of all political persuasion implementing their pejorative ‘reform’ agenda to drive and then demonstrate school improvement particularly in those schools that are deemed to be failing.
These intentions trigger another round of education revolutions in which schools not the business model of the 1990s are blamed for failure.
It is easy to understand how educators often feel so marginalised by the current process. This is no easy challenge but it will be the hallmark of a strong profession.
The second is equally important and sits closer to the profession’s circle of influence.
I believe one of the major blockers to change and innovation in schooling is underperformance by some teachers. Teachers who are resistant to change, are reluctant to become team-players for the good of the learning community and fail to innovate. They are easy to spot and difficult to engage in meaningful dialogue and it is an issue we have found hard to address in a fair and honest way.
The profession needs to look at under-performing teachers in the same way coaches manage high-performing teams.
It is the responsibility of systems to support all of their teams by ensuring they each have access to the best available resources, experts etc. It is the responsibility of principals to develop an appropriate strategy for improving learning outcomes by developing team strengths and addressing weaknesses. It is the responsibility of each team member to support one another in the process and to challenge themselves as individuals to continually improve their performance as teachers.
If a team member is under-performing, then I believe there are only two viable solutions:
- the individual takes personal responsibility for improving, seeks collegial support, finds a respected mentor and in doing so open themselves to “relearning”
- the individual decides not to improve performance or practice, in which case they make an honest decision about pursuing another path
This may appear to be harsh but as Andy Hargreaves says ‘teaching is not for the faint-hearted’. Unless we get tough on ourselves, we will always be shouting from the side-lines. The profession needs professionals if we are to revolutionise education.