This may be controversial. But I think if someone is not willing to stop and challenge this road we seem to be travelling, we may go too far down the road of no return.
New can be great; change and innovation is vital. But we need to carefully balance this. We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater in this drive to professionalise the teaching profession.
I say this because we individualise, personalise learning for our students, but the currently climate is trying to make teachers uniform, cookie-cutter versions of what is supposedly a 'professional teacher'. And I worry about this because I think we are beginning to squeeze what makes each teacher special out of them and consequently the joy of teaching. I worry that we are not appreciating what makes each teacher special - their talents, their strengths, their weaknesses and even their own failings.
And some of the current generation of principals seem to be inadvertently leading this. Some of them seem more intent on ticking the boxes the MOE demands than forming strong relationships with their staff, finding out what makes them tick. As a result some of them are not always utilising the strengths and talents of the individuals on staff. Parental expectations and pressures also put these principals in a difficult position, often in opposition to supporting their staff.
As a generation of old school principals retire I feel that the essence of teaching and the 'history' of the New Zealand education system is being pushed into the junk room in favour of the 'sanitising' of teaching into a profession of tick boxes rather than relationships. Many old school principals tended to have an understanding of their staff and what made them tick, what balance of people were needed to having a dynamic learning school. Some often made concessions or created opportunities to keep the best people in their school (not to say that many of the current generation of principals don't do this, because each principal is their own individual).
In the effort to create cookie-cutter professionals we also have created an issue with one size fits all whole staff Professional Learning Development (PLD). Again this does not take into account the strengths or weaknesses each individual teacher has. Whole school PLD has been the norm for the last ten years or so, and the current government killed other PLD options in 2009 when they cut funding to the Teacher Advisory Service meaning that the teacher who had a weakness in science could no long access a science advisor or attend a science course run by Advisory.
In the face of PLD becoming an expensive option for schools with the government's focus on outside providers (who charged an arm and a leg due to being private providers), teachers have fought back in providing PLD for themselves in what interests them, the needs that they have, and forming their own networks. Educamps and Eduignites have sprung up. These are based on the unconference format, which means anyone on the day (present or virtually) can present for five minutes on a topic - it may be an app, a website, an event, a product, a classroom programme, a learning experience.... there are no limits. Educamps tend to focus on what will impact learning and the classroom, whereas Eduignites will broaden out into personal learning, sharing experiences that make the teacher the person they are, new opportunities, political thinking....
In 2013 @MissDtheTeacher established #edchatnz on Twitter fortnightly on a Thursday night. It created a formal opportunity for teachers on Twitter to meet virtually and discuss various education topics. This hashtag has enabled random conversations at any other point in time to spontaneously erupt. This gives educators the opportunity to learn from each other as well. Personally, I have learned heaps from this forum that has never come to my attention before and I have made new connections, networks and friends as a result of Twitter, Educamps and Eduignites.
From #edchatnz has come many other hashtags for specialist areas in New Zealand education, such as for science teachers, geography teachers, English teachers, PE teachers, primary teachers, principals..... schools are creating their own hashtags to encourage professional discussion.... There was even a conference (in an unconference style) held in early term 3 at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. This is real time learning, real time PLD, driven by the people interacting with each other.
Yet is this form of PLD recognised in this current drive for professionalism that teaching is experiencing? Is the individualisation of what each teacher needs allowed to breath?
As part of the Registered Teacher Criteria (RTCs), we are now expected to do a Teacher Inquiry. How many of us actually know how to do this? This has stepped up in the last couple of years, more schools are paying attention to this as they recognise it as needing to be part of the appraisal process for each teacher. But I have an issue with this. I don't know how to do this. Has any PLD on this been supplied in any school I have been in? Not while I've been there. I think I should make my teacher inquiry "what is a teacher inquiry and how do I do one?"
There is a matrix of sorts that a teacher is assessed on. Let's say they were poor at replying to emails. This could drop that teacher from being considered an advanced teacher to an amateur teacher despite the relationships they have with students, their planning and programmes and how effective they are and the teacher's contribution to the 'corporate life' (I hate that term in the school setting) of the school. If you are not doing professional reading, you are considered an amateur. And then there were a variety of other things from any individual's life outside of school in their personal and family lives that could reduce your professionalism to amateur level.
This came through my Facebook feed on Sunday morning from a group I belong to called Badass Teachers or BATs (the USA group). And this is where I see these appraisal systems leading to, making value judgements on teachers using student assessment data and scores from teacher performance matrixes to give an evaluation score and label to a teacher that is completely separate from the reality of the classroom interactions, relationships and learning.
I leave you with a few pictures to inspire your own thinking, whether you agree with me or not, and some of these pictures may be contrary to what I have written even. The whole purpose of this post is to ignite thinking, ignite discussion and conversation, to challenge the reader's thoughts.