Let's believe in ourselves and be heard

9th January 2004 at 00:00
It is a long time since I took part in a standing ovation but I was moved to do so after listening to Matthew MacIver, chief executiveregistrar of the General Teaching Council for Scotland, just before Christmas at the Argyll and Bute headteachers' conference on continuing professional development.

In his usual manner, Mr MacIver challenged us, amused us and, most importantly, fired us with enthusiasm and vision for our profession.

He talked about the opportunities which the final area of the post-McCrone agreement, CPD, provides and of the dangers.

I tell you, we need people like Mr MacIver. We are down in the forest working our socks off while the Mr MacIvers are at the top of a tree and shouting down: 'Hey, you are in the wrong forest!'

All would agree, I think, that we as a profession in Scotland have not developed our teachers well and that this situation is unacceptable. There are many reasons, not least resources available for professional development and the powers to enforce it, but the agreement now gives us the opportunity (and resources) to make this work well for the profession.

Mr MacIver suggested that teachers, in addition to keeping a record of what they have done in terms of CPD, should also keep a portfolio containing a commentary of how it has affected their practice; that is, bcome the reflective professionals which we have talked about for years but done little to develop.

This struck a chord with me, since so often in the past teachers (including myself) have gone on good quality courses which have not impacted on professional practice.

However, to make CPD really work for teachers we need a big shift in our attitudes towards our professionalism. We need to take ourselves seriously as a profession and believe in ourselves.

Scottish teachers are a self-effacing lot and I spend my life trying to persuade teachers of the levels of skill and expertise which they have, in spades, only to be met at best by blank expressions or, at worst, by a look that confirms I am from a different planet. This attitude has to go.

After the conference, I returned to school and pulled my McCrone folders from my bookshelves. There are now five fat folders - seven if I include the job-sizing ones - covering hours and hours of report and paper writing, of meetings and negotiations. I feel that while all of this was necessary and important, it is not what the agreement was all about, or should be about.

I kept a copy of the Scottish Educational Journal of April 2001 and turned to it to remind myself of what the agreement has to offer. The front page has the headline "McCrone agreement I The next steps". There is much talk of a "change in culture", "new professional ways of working together" and a "climate of trust".

It is interesting to compare the grand vision expounded with the reality of the past three years. This was before the job-sizing exercise and new structures which have caused so much grief in our profession.

The most interesting article was by Sarah McLean, a then newly appointed teacher. She concluded by saying: "Teaching will always be a demanding but rewarding job. I hope that my current enthusiasm continues and is reflected in the children's achievement and enjoyment of their educational experience.

"I am interested to see the development of McCrone's recommendations and look forward to a challenging but satisfying career."

I wonder what Ms McLean is saying now.

I think we have lost the plot of the McCrone recommendations but in this new year we simply must rise above the trees and see the forest. We owe this to our profession and especially to the Ms McLeans of this country.

As Mr MacIver says, the profession has to take the initiative. We must remind ourselves of the underpinning principles of the agreement and turn it into a real "Teaching Profession for the 21st Century". If we don't set the agenda, it will be set for us and there is a real danger that this will not be our best dream but our worst nightmare.

For the past 20 years teachers have not been involved in policy making, but we must take advantage of our Parliament. So, in this new year, headteachers, teachers, sharpen your pencils and get writing. Let's get our voices heard.

Bliadhna mhath ur.

Linda Kirkwood is headteacher at Oban HighIf you have any comments, e-mail scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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