Giraffe Academy - steps towards teacher professionalism

Giraffe Academy – steps towards teacher professionalism

Some years ago, during a professional development event of questionable merit, groups of teachers were invited to share ideas for schools.  I recall two worthwhile ideas (neither of them mine):

1) Giraffe Academy
An apt name, said the presenter, as giraffes aim high and only move forward.

2) Teaching and Learning Boards
School leaders are often divorced from the day-to-day work of a teacher, the presenter argued, while teachers are disconnected from the tough decisions leaders face.  Solution: a ‘Teaching and Learning Board’ – composed of teachers, ASTs, heads of department and the SENCO – who would spend four days each week in their main role, the fifth making key decisions.

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Two ideas, but only one comes illustrated

The more I understand the the head teacher’s role, the more I wonder if this is practical – see, for example, Tom Sherrington’s timetable.  On the other hand, greater teacher autonomy might make managing teachers less onerous and time-consuming (while day-to-day management could be done by a full-time Director Of Operations).

I offer this anecdote not necessarily as a practical solution, but to illustrate the importance to teacher professionalism of unifying teaching and leadership.  Having tried to define teacher professionalism and argued that it matters, this post sets out some ideas of steps towards it (most of which I’ve borrowed, and many of which are in use in some schools).

In a sentence, the idea is:

Teachers lead; leaders teach

Professionalism in schools demands that…

  • Teachers make key decisions in their classrooms.
  • Teachers receive the time and resources needed to improve.
  • Teachers lead their own professional development.
    • Pedagogy Leaders at Canons High is a great example – inviting teachers to apply on merit, pursue their strengths and share them with colleagues.
  • Key school decisions are made with or by teachers.
  • Leaders teach at least a few hours a week (and open their classroom to their colleagues).
  • Those supervising teachers’ work approach looking to probe, support and challenge, rather than to judge; an observation opens a discussion with a peer, rather than closes it.

Professionalism in the education system demands…

  • Career progression that lets teachers stay in role while playing a greater part in school or system leadership, rather than an either/or choice between the classroom and promotion.
    • This is central to career structures in Singapore.
  •  Allowing all teachers to manage their time and careers such that they can teach most of the time, and use this experience elsewhere for a day or two a week (or a year seconded in every three or four).  This would enable:
    • Teacher secondment to the DfE to support (and manage) its work.
      • The DfE have recruited a number of teacher fellows in the last year.
      • This is analogous to military postings to the Ministry of Defence.
    • Teacher secondment to bodies to design the curriculum.
    • Inspections led by serving teachers.
    • Teacher-training led by serving teachers.
  • Teacher judgment as to (high) standards of entry and quality in the profession.
    • At entry.
    • On an ongoing basis.

In a sentence: the profession should be led by teachers.

How do we get there?

The initiative must lie with teachers.  First few steps could include:

  1. Taking charge of our own improvement and work – professional development, curriculum and test design, for example, are far too important to leave to the ‘experts.’
  2. Standing up for what seems best for our students – based on what we know about them and the evidence.  This means insisting on a right to respond and a real discussion with school leaders and inspectors if we disagree with their actions or judgments.
  3. Getting involved in the College of Teaching: it could be a disaster – but that’s far more likely if teachers don’t get involved.

When I began cycling, five years ago, it was hard to envisage a move beyond the status quo of spectacularly dangerous and ill-designed roads.  A lot of hard work, some smart campaigning, and a strong vision of change have led to a reimagination of what is desirable and possible – such that by the end of this year I might be able to cycle fairly safely from my home to Central London.  When I began teaching, professionalism looked similarly distant.  It needn’t.

Post Script – who are you to write this anyway?
Regular readers may note a certain irony that someone who, since Christmas has no longer worked in the classroom, is now advocating teacher professionalism.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I drafted these posts some time ago, as a teacher with no intention of leaving the classroom.  When Andrew Old began advocating that College of Teaching membership should primarily be reserved for teachers, I wanted to be included.  But, for what it’s worth, I’m convinced he’s right…