Take control

16th March 2012 at 00:00

What does being professional actually mean? It is a question that I and many of my fellow teachers and trainers in FE have long debated. Am I deemed to be a professional because I am qualified, because I hold professional status and professional body membership, or because I am an experienced teacher, committed to my professional development and to the concept of education as a force for shaping society?

Surely all are characteristics of FE teachers and trainers as professionals. So why do I not always feel that I am seen or treated by others as a professional? Why do I often feel that I am over-managed and not trusted enough? Why, in the public eye, am I not always seen as a "real teacher"?

The Institute for Learning (IfL) is leading a debate that seeks to understand and address these questions. We are seeking a radical new vision that establishes FE teachers and pedagogy at the heart of everything we do in FE. It's a big conversation and it needs to lead to practical outcomes.

A range of agents shapes the behaviours that are considered to be professional, and hence our understanding of professionalism. For example, a national policy can mould our understanding of standards and accountability. Our managers and peers influence our sense of professional identity. The way we are treated by management raises or lowers our sense of self, our self-respect and our perceived importance in the educational process. The way in which a professional behaves affects the culture of our working environment and the public's perception of the profession.

Autonomous learning and development is the hallmark of a professional. The ability to direct and plan one's own work and be accountable is fundamental to the idea of professionalism. Practising as a professional is not a lone activity. Being part of an extended network of like-minded professionals is a vital aspect of the manner in which professionalism is sustained.

Our aim is to secure the professional status that teachers in our sector deserve. Teachers and trainers need to understand that they are best placed to determine their own professional development, rather than being on the receiving end of others' plans. They also need regular opportunities to share their professional development and practice with each other. We know that collaborative, reflective learning equals effective professional development. Consequently, an extensive network that supports professional learning will support a strong and influential professional identity.

Bea Groves is elected president of the Institute for Learning.

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