Education is the power to make change

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
Do you feel like a professional? Are you allowed to exercise your professional judgment? Is your professional expertise valued?

Professionalism is a key concept in A Teaching Profession for the 21st Century, the agreement reached by the Scottish Executive, local authorities and unions following the McCrone report (and now known to some as TP21C).

TP21C recognised the "central role teachers play" and that "teachers are talented and committed professionals". It emphasised the need for "trust and mutual respect among teachers, employers and Scottish Executive". Don't you feel more professional already? If only writing it down was enough to make it happen.

The vision of TP21C was not just to give teachers better pay, changes in promotion structures and, of course, chartered status (where would Scottish education be without us?), but also to offer a package "on which to build a confident and highly regarded teaching profession".

It paves the way for A Curriculum for Excellence. Indeed, it would be difficult to help children become confident learners if we were not confident professionals ourselves.

But what do we understand by professionalism? Is it about pay and conditions of service? Is it about the amount and quality of our continuing professional development? Or is it about how people outside teaching regard us, about being rated with doctors and lawyers, about status?

All these are important aspects of professionalism. But more important is what we do and how we do it.

Judyth Sachs, in The Activist Teaching Profession (2003), writes about "transformational professionalism". By this she means collaborative and collegial professionalism which is self-regulating, responsive to change and enquiry oriented; transformational in the sense of bringing about change.

Sachs is not talking about the change that is imposed on a passive workforce from above, such as 5-14, Higher Still or A Curriculum for Excellence. Nor is she talking about change that just happens to us, that we can't do much about, such as growing older or the arrival of digital cameras. She is referring to change that we develop through collegial ways of working.

Collegiality is about consultation and respect for others. It is about co-operating with colleagues and collaborating as equals, not as part of a hierarchy.

J.W. Little, in Norms of Collegiality and Experimentation: Workplace Conditions of School Success (1982), says that collegiality is when teachers talk about their teaching, observe colleagues, plan, design and evaluate teaching materials together and teach others how to teach. I think I could enjoy that.

And how do we prepare to play our part in this? Working to become a chartered teacher is a very good start.

Chartered teachers study at postgraduate level and, whether we take the modular route with a university provider or the accreditation route with the General Teaching Council for Scotland, we have the opportunity to study, learn and research in our own classrooms.

Chartered teachers develop projects according to their interests and the needs of their work situation. Examples might be forming European school partnerships, investigating ways to motivate boys to read for pleasure or developing a movement programme for pupils with additional support needs.

Those who take the university route develop projects in relation to modules studied; those who take the accreditation route write about projects previously undertaken.

Developing our own path towards achieving the chartered teacher standard gives us confidence in our ability to work with colleagues to improve learning and teaching. Many chartered teachers say that involvement in the programme has made them more confident professionals. They speak out at staff meetings, ask questions and feel that their views are of value.

Paulo Freire, the South American educator, said that education is empowerment. Give people education and you give them the power to change their situation. Understanding gives us the power to change and improve our situation.

My personal vision of the teaching profession is of a body of empowered professionals, working together to improve learning opportunities and enjoying their work. That would mean a lot of changes in some teachers'

work situations. We will need a lot of chartered teachers to make it happen.

Anne McSeveney is a chartered teacher at Braidwood Primary in Carluke, South LanarkshireComment to

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