Standard bearers of change line up

9th June 2006 at 01:00
Elizabeth Buie reports from the first national conference for chartered teachers

Chartered teachers have gained the confidence to challenge accepted thinking about classroom practice and now have the evidence to reply to the cynics, the director of continuing professional development at Stirling's Institute of Education says.

Gaining chartered status had given teachers a voice, Jenny Reeves said.

Dr Reeves told a conference of more than 300 qualified and aspiring chartered teachers that they were "no longer being a doormat in the classroom but standing up for what is educationally right".

"This was clearly linked to the skills that the chartered teachers had developed on the course and the subsequent evidence that they had generated in terms of their practice," Dr Reeves said.

She believed chartered teachers can answer the cynics. "This resulted in individuals being allowed to move forward professionally rather than being constrained by negative opinions."

One chartered teacher had said: "I'm not sure if it's changed how others see me; it's certainly changed the way I see myself because I now feel much more confidence about being able to challenge things that are going on within the school.

"You sit in staff meetings and you hear them talking about new policies, or whatever, and I can now think: 'Actually I've read that and I'm not sure what you're saying is entirely right'."

Dr Reeves emphasised that the programme aimed to bring about a change of culture in teachers as well as a chance for teachers to think about what they did in their job and what it meant. She deplored the situation where too many teachers no longer had time to reflect on what was important.

Teachers were now thinking more critically about what they did and why they did it. It gave them a "disposition to enquire" about why some things worked in the classroom.

The effect of gaining more evidence and knowledge had made them better informed and more confident practitioners, Dr Reeves said. They could now say: "I know what I know because I have got the evidence for it, because I have thought it through and have fitted the evidence with the theory."

The corollary of the enhanced knowledge and skill base, however, was a duty on chartered teachers to collaborate and engage with their colleagues. They could no longer say to themselves: "I'm an ace teacher and my kids are fine and 'her next door door' is a poor teacher, it's nothing to do with me."

Dr Reeves told the conference: "It is to do with you. You are beginning to be a model for what we think is at the heart of education." But she also warned of the dangers of teachers worshipping the "cargo cult" - once a feature of New Guinea, where islanders thought that each new boat's cargo was the answer to their problems.

Likewise, teachers should not treat each new set of materials or resources as a "magic box" that would solve everything. Instead, there should be more importance attached to teachers evaluating materials, resources and practice.

"I am angered by the lack of evaluation that goes on," she said, "but you can't blame teachers for a lack of evaluation. Evaluation makes no sense.

If I know this is a magic box and everything will go well if I get the magic box, what is there to evaluate?

"There have to be questions such as, 'why do kids find this particular thing so difficult?', or, 'why do they behave so badly when this is happening?' That's the point of evaluation."

Pioneers' perspective

* Andrew McNeil, Burntisland primary, is awaiting adjudication from the General Teaching Council for Scotland for CT status on the basis of accredited prior learning (APL)

"It does make you a different beast - more reflective professionally and asking questions both of yourself and of learners. Part of being a chartered teacher is to explore your professional space - whether you are creating that space for yourself or whether your school is developing as it should be. Ideally, I'd like to see schools becoming collegiate, collaborative and with a flat structure where leadership is distributed at all levels."

* Mary Murray, Leith Walk primary, Edinburgh, is using GTC teaching research work towards her claim for APL and is currently doing the compulsory module 1

"It makes you much more reflective because you are taking part in classroom-based, small-scale research. I am so much better informed to feed back to other people. The support from my school has been very good: I am doing CT because of the depute headteacher's encouragement. In an ideal world, I would like chartered teachers to use our knowledge for evidence-based practice and to continue to use skills collaboratively with other teachers, to use our own reflective knowledge and enthuse these qualities in other people."

* Clare Boyd, Pilrig Park School, Edinburgh, is doing module 1 of the CT course

"Already the fact that we have to examine things critically is making me think about everything I do in my classroom. I am seeking to get the pupils' opinions, which is slightly more difficult in a special school.

There have been a few areas of teaching that I would like to change and will consider that for next year. Some people have been surprised that I am becoming a chartered teacher, some are encouraging, some are unsure about the value of CT. But I would like to use my enhanced skills to support colleagues to enhance their practice."

* Sheena Dunlop, Winton primary, North Ayrshire, has taken the APL route and is now working on a doctorate in education at Stirling University "It has made a huge difference to me as a teacher. Critical reflection has been one of the big issues: it has made me much more conscious of what I teach and how I teach and the implications that has for the children. I just see the day-to-day impact. My colleagues are not really bothered about my becoming a CT. Some of the younger teachers coming into teaching are showing a greater interest. I would like to see more CTs because there are massive benefits for developing learning communities instead of individual people working on their own. Being a mentor for probationers would be a useful role as well, because we have been looking at ourselves and reflecting on our practice and that is what they have to do."

* Barbara Stewart, Boclair Academy, Bearsden, is having her CT claim considered by the GTC next week

"It has changed the fact that I can justify what I do. I did mind-maps before anyone gave them a name, but now I can justify things in theory. I can stand up at a meeting and say: 'We should be doing this because . . .'

It's given me the power of justification. At the moment, I don't feel our enhanced skills are being used as much as they could be. I have made a place for myself within my own school and defined my own remit. I would like to see myself becoming involved in more initiatives and the training of younger staff."

* Glenn Harrison, Baltasound Junior Secondary, Shetland, is a chartered teacher, based on a full APL

"I have been forced to face up to myself as a classroom practitioner and to evaluate myself. It took me to a scary place because sometimes I didn't like looking at my own failings. It has helped me to be self-critical and make use of self-criticism to sharpen up my practice in the classroom. I am struggling at the moment over where I fit into the school and the school may be struggling in terms of 'what do we do with this man?' But I volunteered this year to mentor a probationer teacher and three more are coming in. I do feel more valued in the school. People will say to me:

'What do you think, what's your view of this?' Before I was just another member of staff. I feel like the phoenix has risen and I have been reborn.

I enjoy work because I am putting more into it - I don't want to retire."

* Gisela Cumming, Kilchuimen Academy, Fort Augustus, gained CT status through Aberdeen University

"I have more sympathy for how children learn because I have been in a learner's position. I believe in lifelong learning and, having experienced this myself, what I want to see is the children who are already working for their exams also learning for life. I would like to be involved in discussion about educational policy at the school because I think I now have something to give which perhaps was not the case previously."

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