Advocating for authenticity in times of standards-based reform, Tania Aspland – Head of the school of education the University of Adelaide, and President of the Australian teachers education association.
The development of a national system for the ongoing enhancement of teacher professionalism across Australia is currently underway. The initiative led by Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) on behalf of the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEECDYA) has finalised a set of Professional Standards for Teachers and a set of Professional Standards for Principals. It is clear that there is an inextricable link between the newly proposed professional standards and the professional education of teachers and principals across Australia. Further, it is imperative that the education sector will need to collaborate in a unified manner through ongoing consultations to ensure that the standards truly reflect what teachers and principals desire of the profession, in terms of teacher preparation, professional learning and training, and professional recognition.
It has been evident for some time that the Federal Government is keeping a close watch on teachers and educational leaders and that it has a preferred, if not popular view of the nature of teacher preparation, professional development and training. Federal policy linking economic growth and development to education has never been stronger and in many ways teachers and principals are in a prime position to reshape the future directions of this nation. However, within this opportunity is a deeply embedded discourse of regulation, one that could ostensibly threaten the autonomy of teachers and principals to independently regulate their profession. It is true that the consultative approach to developing the sets of standards for teachers and principals is high on government and AITSL’s agenda and there has been plenty of opportunity for all educators to contribute to the evolving construction of the frameworks that will regulate the shape of the profession for future graduates and practising teachers and principals.
Nevertheless, recent discussions across the sector have raised four serious concerns that are outlined forthwith:
- The conceptualisation of teacher and principal training and development within a standards framework that is linear in nature is somewhat problematic. The view that professional training for educators can be conceptualised from a developmental perspective is highly contestable. The standards model implies that teachers and principals improve with experience and age. For example, it is envisaged that teachers move from a stage of proficiency with time and experience, to unproblematically, become lead teachers. This is a questionable proposition.
- Whilst quality and accountability is essential to teacher and principal development, and the notion of professional standards is supported in principle, it is of concern to many educators that the complexity of professional growth, development and training has been reduced to a set of basic competencies that may not truly reflect the complex nature of teaching, the principalship, teacher education and the preparation of teachers and educational leaders for contemporary times and a challenging future.
- Many agencies within the profession, including teachers and principals, are concerned about finding a balance between the compliance discourse that accompanies standards and regulation and the discourse of innovation that is central to the development of rigorous and high quality teaching and educational leadership. There is a concern that standards will reduce all teacher and principal training to “a set of basics” that are determined by less than flexible standards, ill-informed bureaucrats and prescriptive or regulatory requirements. For a country striving to reposition itself in the international setting, such normative thinking towards the preparation and professional development of teachers and principals may be prohibitive.
- What must be placed at the forefront of this debate is that teachers and principals, in preparation and throughout their professional careers, require differentiated pathways through learning. The multiplicity of pathways of teacher preparation and professional development and training currently evident around Australia must be profiled, valued and celebrated with vigour within the education profession. To become regulated nationally in the ways that are suggested, can, if done collaboratively, celebrate diversity while at the same time, can ensure quality and foster public accountability within the standards discourse. If collaboration is overlooked, and professional development and training become positioned within a prescriptive ethos of regulation, educators across the nation risk working within a “check-box” mentality that will reduce teacher and principal development to forms of technocratic training that were rejected during the Dawkins era (1988).
If educational reform, as central to economic reform, is to become a reality in Australia, the funding of innovative and contemporary models of professional development for teachers and principals must become a national priority. Some years ago Macpherson, Brooker, Aspland & Elliott (1997) interrogated the field of professional learning and curriculum leadership. The principles of professional learning and training for teachers and principals that were advocated valued the centrality of dialogical conversations with educators as the core of professional development. The research team, using a case approach, also found that teachers perceived training programs of the highest quality to be collaborative, critical, action oriented, honest, meaningful, sustained and transformative in orientation (Aspland, Elliott & Macpherson, 1997).
More current research (Grattan Institute, 2010; Macpherson, Aspland, & Cuskelly, 2010; OECD Report, 2009; Doecke et al., 2008, Reezgit and Creemers, 2005) indicates that there is no one model that best prepares and sustains teacher and principal development. Rather, as the profession moves forward into the 21st century and the ways of engaging with educational communities becomes reconfigured, a set of Principles of Procedure for professional training and development can be identified. These Principles of Procedure may be instructive to providers of professional development and training across all sectors of education and further, they are principles that are congruent with the mandated frameworks of professional standards published by AITSL. The Principles of Procedure include the following:
- Professional development and training requires support AND challenge from self and others particularly curriculum leaders;
- Professional development and training should recognise the stages of individuals within their careers and the contexts within which they work;
- Professional development and training generally requires guidance AND intervention by educational leaders, trainers and discipline experts;
- The catalyst for professional development and training can be found in the state of perplexity that often characterises professional educational work – it is not an unproblematic venture as some trainers suggest;
- The different types of perplexities can be recognised as dilemmas or ironies or paradoxes all of which can be managed as a central component of professional development and training – simple solutions are not always the answer, rather it is working through the dilemmas that is of significance;
- The central focus of professional development and training for teachers and principals should be the educator (teacher or principal) who as a person lives and works within an educational, social and political context in differing ways and engages in curriculum decision making and leadership in unique ways that must be respected and celebrated – there is no sense in a “one-size fits all” approach to training and development;
- Professional development and training must recognise the complex interplay of factors that are central to and impact upon the uniqueness of teachers’ and principals’ work – no one set of professional standards can capture these complexities;
- Professional development and training must actively involve teachers and principals in the ongoing generation of professional knowledge. This is best accomplished through professional practice research – the intimate involvement by the professional practitioners themselves in researching, inquiring into, and interrogating their own practice as a basis for illumination and improvement of their practice, for an informed influence on policy development in relation to their practice, and the creation and extension of theory out of their practice (Macpherson, Aspland & Cuskelly, 2010).
Teachers and principals who are engaged in professional practice must advocate for professional development and training that is characterised by these Principles of Procedure if authentic, lifelong professional learning is to occur. This type of professional learning and training is congruent with the Professional Standards advocated by AITSL and increasingly, by regulatory authorities around the nation. Such organisations argue that the professional standards should:
- provide a framework for professional learning
- guide self reflection, self-improvement and development
- guide the management of self and others.
- (AITSL 2011: Professional Standards for Principals.www.aitsl.edu.au/schoolleaders/ national-professional-standard-forprincipals/ national-professional-standardfor- principals.html)
Professional development and training programs that capture the Principles of Procedure outlined above will be rigorous and engaging as well as meaningful and authentic. It is development and training of this type that is most successful in education as it is needs-based, context specific and designed and implemented from a practitioner perspective. At the same time, it is conceptually-based and critically-informed on the one hand, and systematically and sustainably undertaken on the other. To engage in professional development that is technocratic or reductionist, based on “other people’s knowledge” rather than one’s own, and embedded in theory that is disconnected from the personal professional world of practice is wasteful and ill-informed. As a profession undergoing constant pressure to grow, improve and reconstitute the work of teachers and principals in new times, we must as a continuing priority, advocate strongly for modes of professional training and development of the type that reflect these Principles of Procedure. To do otherwise, simply endorses modes of professional learning engagement that are outdated and inappropriate.
Aspland, T., Elliott, B. and Macpherson, I. (1997) Empowerment through professional development. Australian and New Zealand Councils for Educational Research. SET, March
Doecke, B., Parr, G. & North, S. with Gale, T., Long, M., Mitchell, J., Rennie, J. & Grattan Institute (2010) What teachers want: better teacher management. Report released 24 May. (www. grattan.edu.au/publications/033_what_ teachers_want.pdf)
Macpherson, I., Brooker, R. Aspland, T., and Elliott, B. (1998) Putting professional learning up front: A perspective of professional development within the context of collaborative research about curriculum leadership. Journal of Inservice Education Volume 24, Number 1, pp 73-86
Macpherson, I., Aspland, T. and Cuskelly, E. (2010) Constructing a territory for professional practice research: Some introductory considerations. In A. Campbell & S. Groundwater Smith, Action Research in Education, New Delhi: Sage Publication
Constructing a territory for professional practice research: Some introductory considerations. In A. Campbell & S. Groundwater Smith, Action Research in Education, New Delhi: Sage Publication
OECD (2009) Creating effective teaching and learning environments: first results from TALIS. Paris: OECD. (ISNB 978-92- 64-05605-3)
Reezigt, G. J., & Creemers, B. P. M. (2005). A comprehensive framework for effective school improvement. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 16(4), 407-424