CONTINUOUSLY REGENERATING DEVELOPMENTAL STANDARDS OF PRACTICE IN TEACHER EDUCATION: A CAUTIONARY NOTE FOR THE ONTARIO COLLEGE OF TEACHERS
Presented at the Ontario Educational Research Council (OERC) 40th Annual Conference, Toronto, December 4, 1998.
Jackie Delong and Jack Whitehead
We are locating our enquiry into the continuous regeneration of developmental standards of practice in teacher education in the context of a recent study by the Ontario College of Teachers (the OCT) which shows that "an astonishing 41,000 teachers will retire in just five years and more than 78,000 of the College’s 171,500 members will reach retirement age over the next 10 years". (McIntyre, 1998, p. 10)
Everything we say about standards of practice in teacher education is based on the assumption that the quality of student learning within schools is influenced by the quality of teacher professionalism. If there is a shortage of well qualified teachers in classrooms, we are convinced that the quality of students’ learning will suffer. Hence we recognize the importance of the political and economic decisions made by the government in relation to rectifying the teacher shortage.
This paper focuses on the responsibility of the OCT to the public and the teaching profession for setting standards of practice and learning for teachers and for accrediting teacher education programs and providers. The College is responsible for ensuring that teachers receive the necessary training to provide Ontario’s students with an excellent education.(Ontario College of Teachers, 1998b)
We will be arguing that this responsibility could be fulfilled in the development of a form of research-based professionalism in teaching which is focused on the creation, by individual teachers, of their own living educational theories (Hamilton & Pinnegar, 1998, p. 242). Through such a process, teachers would define their own professional standards of practice while taking into account the standards of practice and responsibilities of the OCT.
Our interest in these standards of practice of teacher professionalism was stimulated by Dr. Fran Squire’s presentation to the International Conference on the Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices in August 1998. Fran is, as many of you will know, a program officer for ‘standards of practice and education’ at the OCT. In her paper (Squire 1998a) she asked the following questions:
What implications arise when standards of practice are linked to action research endeavours?
We are suggesting that a most significant implication of linking standards of practice to action research endeavours is that the standards become living and developmental. Jean McNiff (1992, 1993), an international figure in the action research movement, writes of the ‘generative’ nature of action research. The standards of professional practice in ‘generative’ action research are the values we use to make sense of, and to give purpose to, our lives in education. Jean has presented her ideas in numerous publications and an introductory booklet on her ideas has been included in an Action Research Kit (Delong & Wideman, 1998).
At the heart of a ‘generative’ approach to action research is the belief that teachers, as individuals, have the capacity to create their own living educational theories in the explanations which they offer for their professional learning as they ask, answer, and research questions of the kind, "How can I help you (the student) to improve your learning?" One distinguishing feature of this action research approach to professional learning is that the standards of practice used by action research are not the traditional kind of external criteria we are so familiar with in education. The standards of practice are the living values which are embodied in the teachers’ form of life. Their meanings are not communicated in linguistic lists with universal applicability. Their meanings are communicated through the descriptions and explanations which teachers create for their own professional learning. The standards are the living values which form the explanatory principles for the meanings and purposes which the individual teacher gives to her or his own professional life in education.
Perhaps the best example, at present, of the living and developmental standards of practice in an action research approach to teacher professionalism can be found in the work of Moira Laidlaw, a teacher of English at a secondary school in Bath, UK. Moira Laidlaw has already received her doctorate (Laidlaw, 1996) for her action research accounts of her work with her students as she researched her own standards of professional practice and helped her students to develop their own. Moira’s originality of mind can be seen in her insight that standards of professional practice, in her narrative of her professional growth, are the living and developmental values she uses to give her life meaning and purpose in education (Laidlaw, 1998).
Moira's materials are available online at the address: http://www.actionresearch.net. They include: a guide for introducing action research in programmes of initial teacher education (http://www.actionresearch.net/writings/preserve.shtml); her thesis on the creation of her own living educational theory in her classroom with her pupils (http://www.actionresearch.net/living/moira2.shtml), and; a delightful paper on the values of fairness and love in her classroom (http://www.actionresearch.net/living/MOIRAPHD/Kaylab.htm).
How do we keep the spontaneity and individualism inherent in action research as we establish criteria for its recognition in the educational community?
We think that this is a most important question to address. We are mindful of the criticisms being made of the Teaching Training Agency (TTA) in England. The TTA has a set of similar responsibilities to the OCT and has been subjected to a barrage of criticisms for the way it has set out its standards of professional practice. Amongst these criticisms we have Professor Ted Wragg’s (1998) damning reference to:
the zombie method of training heads or teachers, whereby complex human behaviour is atomised into discrete particulars, or 'competencies'. This mechanical approach, much favoured by the hapless Teacher Training Agency is an unmitigated disaster. The tyranny of brain-corroding bureaucracy must end. Most important of all is to support creativity and imagination, collegiality and trust, not just foster the mechanical implementation of dreary, externally driven missives. (p.22)
We also have Jim Graham's point in an excellent article on teacher professionalism saying of the negative influences of the TTA, "For teacher professionalism, the over-prescribed, centralist regulation by the TTA established a technicist model of teaching at variance with the autonomy, flexibility, and collegiality necessary to create the learning organizations (of the future). (Graham, 1998, p.17)
One of the reasons why the Teacher Training Agency is in danger of becoming such a threat to enhancing teacher professionalism, rather than a support in enhancing professionalism, is that it has issued standards of practice as 'lists' of competencies. In the case of initial teacher education, each pre-service teacher has to provide evidence that she or he has met a list of 63 standards. Now it may not have been the intention of the TTA that these lists should be used as checklists which support a mechanical view of teacher education, but this is what has happened. One of the reasons why this has occurred, in our view, is that the TTA was not asking questions of the kinds Fran Squire has asked, "How do we keep the spontaneity and individualism inherent in action research as we establish criteria for its recognition in the educational community?"
There are studies being presented at this conference which show how teachers can take ownership of their own standards of professional practice through their action research as they produce autobiographical studies of their own learning. Cheryl Black is one such teacher and we do recommend her study (1998) on applying action research process to a grade 9 vocal music class published in this issue of the Ontario Action Researcher. While not on the formal programme, the study by one of us (Delong, 1998) on 'Seeking an understanding of influence by representing and explaining my life', addresses explicitly the OCT (1998a) draft standards of practice in an analysis of Jackie's professional learning as a Superintendent as she seeks to support the professional growth of Cheryl Black. Jackie is currently studying for her Doctorate at the University of Bath, and her paper emphasizes the importance of partnerships between the different sectors of the education system in providing support for teachers' professional growth.
Here are the relevant extracts from Jackie's paper concerned with relating professional learning to the draft standards of professional growth from the OCT. These standards themselves are in the process of development and we would urge the OCT to keep them under a process of continuous review. Indeed it may be better if the OCT could keep the developing standards as 'Draft' Standards to emphasize the importance of a process of continuous professional learning rather than an externally imposed set of standards.
It seems to us that the challenge is to provide living stories of teachers' professional learning so that, "All members of the College should be able to ‘see’ the work they do described in these standards of practice." (OCT, 1998b)
In emphasizing the capacity of individuals to see themselves in the standards as they live their lives in classrooms with students, we wish to send out a challenge to teachers to tell their stories of professional learning as they seek to enhance the quality of students' learning. We include ourselves in this challenge and Jackie has made a first attempt with Cheryl. Through focusing on their attempts to improve their professional practice they have integrated the standards within their stories in a way which shows their professional growth.
Can the draft standards be used to assess Cheryl’s growth as a teacher?
Jackie: What I thought I would do is see if an early version of the draft standards (Ontario College of Teachers, 1998a) could be used to assess Cheryl’s work, as she conducted research on her own practice. The data come from Cheryl’s own notes and transcripts of sharing sessions in which Cheryl took part. The lettered draft professional development standards below revolve around the OCT strand, "teachers committed to ongoing professional learning." The bullet points below each lettered standard indicate how Cheryl’s work demonstrates that she meets the standard.
A teacher in the sharing session group stated:
You were saying, too, that some of these changes could have or would have happened anyway? I don’t know about that. I don’t have secondary experience, mine is all elementary but I find that without interventions those kind of behaviours and the negativism will increase as the year goes on rather than decrease unless there is a teacher picking up on it and doing something about it like you did.
The commentary above shows that Cheryl clearly meets the standard as one of the "teachers committed to professional learning. " I believe when they articulated the standards they must have been thinking of her. Even in the midst of a work-to-rule sanction, her professionalism shines through. What I am struck with, though, is that linguistic checklists like this cannot capture the magic and energy that Cheryl brings to her classroom and that her students share with her. There is an analogy to standardized testing in that the OCT Standards may serve as a useful tool - as a starting point in a dialogue on performance indicators of effective teaching - but not as a summative evaluation or measuring stick. Fran Squire’s question on how we can make them regenerative and living is the salient one. (Squire, 1998)
Can the draft standards be used to assess Jackie’s work as an educational leader?
Jackie: As a professional teacher in the role of superintendent, the OCT standards also apply to me work. The question that haunts me is, "Is there any evidence that anything that I have done has helped to improve student learning?" This is probably the most difficult question associated with my work. While I want to believe that what I do has an impact on the classroom and on student learning, I recognize that it is only through others that that can happen. When I work with teachers like Cheryl, I am at least one step closer than when I try to influence principals in order to influence teachers who can influence students. And if the answer to the question is, "No!" what is the meaning and purpose of my work? I believe and so does Cheryl that her action research has improved student learning and that she has gone this direction because of my influence.
As I had with Cheryl, Cheryl tried to apply the same OCT draft standards of practice to my work. Under each of the lettered draft standards below are Cheryl’s words as found in her learning journal and Email correspondence with me.
If the OCT standards of practice are to fulfill their promise of helping to improve student learning and professional practice, and if they are to avoid the pitfalls of linguistic checklists, we, the practitioners, must protect the spontaneity and individualism by providing the stories/case studies of our professional learning. In that way we can ensure that our professional standards are living and developmental and not part of an oppressive form of external control.
Our challenge is that each one of us should take responsibility to share a story/case study that makes one or more of the standards exist in our images of ourselves in our educative relationships with our students and colleagues. We recognize that the most powerful form of sharing, as part of our professional learning, takes place in face-to-face, small groups. We do, however, believe that we should be exploring the potential of the Internet for sharing our stories/case studies of our professional learning. Jack Whitehead has done this on his action research home page and it is one of the key goals of the Ontario Action Researcher.
In our view, the profession needs to strengthen its standards of practice in partnerships between schools, school boards, universities, teacher unions, parent/teacher/community groups, and the College of Teachers. We believe that one important way of doing this is to focus on the development of action research-based teacher professionalism for the enhancement of student learning. We are suggesting that the following questions raised by Fran Squire, Program Officer for Standards of Practice and Education at the Ontario College of Teachers, could be usefully addressed by educational action researchers in Ontario:
We have raised our concerns about the dangers of standards being seen as ‘general’ and ‘abstract’ criteria, rather than the living and development values which are embodied in teachers’ practice. By publishing our paper in the Ontario Action Researcher we are hoping to contribute to a conversation among Ontario educators which will help to resolve the tension between linguistic ‘checklists’ and living accounts of practice. We believe that the development of collaborative enquiries between Ontario educators offers a way of ensuring that the OCT standards of practice become an integral part of the process of continuous professional revitalization as we focus on enhancing the quality of students’ learning.
Black, C. (1998). Improving group dynamics and student motivation in a grade 9 music class. Ontario Action Researcher, 1 (1). [On-line]. Available: http://www.nipissingu.ca/oar/
Delong, J. (1998). Seeking an understanding of influence by representing and explaining my life. Paper submitted to a validation meeting held at the Annual Conference of the Ontario Educational Research Council, Toronto December 3, 1998.
Delong, J., & Wideman, R. (Eds.) (1998). Action research: School improvement through research-based professionalism - professional development kit. Mississauga, Ontario: Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation.
Graham, J. (1998). From new right to new deal: Nationalism, globalisation, and the regulation of teacher professionalism. Journal of In-Service Education, 29 (1), 9-29.
Hamilton, M. L., & Pinnegar, S. (1998). Conclusion: The value and the promise of self-study. In M. L. Hamilton (Ed.) Reconceptualizing teaching practice: Self-study in teacher education (p. 242). London: Falmer.
Laidlaw, M. (1996). How can I create my own living educational theory through accounting to you for my own educational development? Doctoral dissertation, University of Bath, UK. The Action Research Homepage. [On-line]. Available: http://www.actionresearch.net/living/moira2.shtml
Laidlaw, M. (1998). In loco parentis with Sally: A matter of fairness and love; Discussion paper for the chat room. The Action Research Homepage. [On-line]. Available: http://www.actionresearch.net/living/MOIRAPHD/Kaylab.htm
McIntyre, F. (1998). Shortage looms: Almost half of Ontario teachers to retire in the next 10 years. Professionally Speaking, (December), 10.
McNiff. J. (1992). Action research: Principles and practice. London: Routledge.
McNiff, J. (1993). Teaching as learning: An action research approach. London: Routledge.
Ontario College of Teachers. (1998a). Draft standards of practice for the teaching profession. (June). Toronto: author.
Ontario College of Teachers. (1998b). Draft standards of practice for the teaching profession. (October). Toronto: author.
Squire, F. (1998a). Action research and standards of practice: Creating connections within the Ontario context. Paper presented at the Self-Study of Teacher Education Practice Second International Conference, ‘Conversations in Community’, Hersmonceaux Castle, East Sussex, England, August 16-20, 1998.
Squire, F. (1998b). Questions to the annual conference of the Ontario Educational Research Council. Toronto, December 4, 1998.
Whitehead, J. (1998). The Action Research Homepage. [On-line] Available: http://www.actionresearch.net/
Wragg, T. (1998, September 16). Times Educational Supplement, p. 22.