It is five o’clock. and the agenda indicates that the staff meeting should be wrapping up, but the principal mentions some interesting trends in the recently released schoolwide scores and asks staff to stay and discuss them. As a staff member, you feel that there may be merit to the discussion, but you did not get advance notice, you’re tired, and you have other commitments. You want to leave but the principal is asking you to remain. This situation happens frequently in schools throughout the province and illustrates the misuse of staff meetings and the misunderstanding of professional learning. In making your decision about whether or not to stay at a staff meeting such as the one described above ETFO urges you to consider
- the role of staff meetings
- teachers’ obligations to attend meetings outside normal working hours
- the nature of effective professional learning.
ETFO’s policy Staff meetings are intended primarily to deal with administrative and operational matters in a school. A good administrator will consult staff about the meeting agenda and will ensure that it ends at the agreed-upon time. Professional learning should occur at staff meetings only if teachers have been consulted and have agreed to take part. Teachers should feel free to leave if a staff meeting extends beyond the agreed-upon time. Effective professional learning is voluntary and chosen by the individual participant to meet her or his learning needs. It recognizes that teachers are professionals. It gives teachers a chance to be engaged with the ideas presented and with their colleagues. It provides teachers with the time and opportunity to share their knowledge and expertise. It either occurs as part of the normal workday or is voluntary. Participation in any form of professional development outside the instructional day is voluntary. Teachers may choose to participate in employer-provided professional learning during a school staff meeting if they feel that it meets their professional needs. The importance of teacher choice Why does ETFO feel it’s important to underline its beliefs about staff meetings and professional learning? Safeguarding teachers’ right to determine their own professional development has been a critical issue for ETFO and its members. In 1999, the Conservative government led by Mike Harris introduced a plan to force teachers to complete 14 mandatory professional development courses every five years to maintain their certificates. The government delegated the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) to carry out the plan. The way that the college implement- ed the plan is one reason ETFO members still feel bitter toward the college. This highly offensive plan met with widespread opposition from individual teachers and their federations. Through its Accountability YES/Recertification NO campaign, ETFO took a lead role in opposing the government and mobilizing members to defy policies that attacked the fundamental principle of teachers’ professionalism: their right and responsibility to determine what is best for their own professional growth and for their students. The vast majority of ETFO members put their professional careers on the line by defying the law that required them to take OCT- approved courses that were reported to and registered with the college. Teachers and their federations boycotted any professional development programs that were registered with the college. They returned to OCT letters telling them they were to be part of the first retesting cycle. They wrote letters to the college registrar, signed a petition of non-confidence, returned their copies of the college’s magazine, Professionally Speaking, and participated in a rally at Queen’s Park. The federation also lobbied the government. ETFO’s position paper, Ensuring H igh Professional Standards in Ontario Education, showed how ineffective the government’s plan was, and outlined better ways to ensure teacher competency. In 2003 when Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government was elected, it moved quickly to cancel the recertification pro- gram and the test for new teachers. A new consultation process allowed teacher federations to work with the Ministry of Education to develop an effective model of professional learning. The working table on teacher professional learning published its report in 2007. The report noted that “there is no single model of professional learning that can fulfill all the needs of experienced teachers. There is also no single, linear pathway or career trajectory for teachers . . . there must be respect for the complexity of the teacher’s professional journey and trust that teachers, on this journey, will make choices that ultimately benefit their students.” 1 The working table also outlined five characteristics of effective professional learning that teachers can use as guide- lines to ensure that staff development and/or professional learning is meeting their professional needs.
Professional learning must be
- Coherent – recognizing teacher professionalism and the complexity of teacher learning. It is built on the “three Rs”2 of respect, responsibility, and results.
- Attentive to adult learning styles – recognizing that teachers possess a wealth of knowledge and a variety of experiences. Research supports the importance of choice and self-direction in professional learning. The participant must view the learning as meaningful, relevant, and substantive. The model should fit the culture of the school and promote collaboration. Participants should be recognized when they successfully complete professional learning.
- Goal-oriented – and clearly connected to student learning and daily practice. It should relate to relevant ministry, board, school, and community contexts.
- Sustainable – and supported with the appropriate resources. Participants must have time to practise and consolidate the learning, and time for self- assessment through reflection. When possible, it should include all staff who support student learning.
- Evidence-informed – taking into consideration current research. It is built on both quantitative and qualitative evidence, including the knowledge and experience of teachers.
Professional learning gains credibility when school boards consider it important enough that they
- provide teachers with opportunities to collaborate during the day
- provide occasional teacher coverage for relief
- ensure that it takes place on professional activity days and is not added onto the end of a hectic workday.
Today, as ETFO members face increasing pressure to participate in professional development related to the myriad of ministry and school board initiatives, we can’t afford to forget the principle of voluntary, self-directed professional learning we fought so vigorously for less than a decade ago .
1. Report to the Partnership Table on Teacher Professional Learning, p.5. Available at edu.gov.on.ca/eng/teacher/pdfs/partnerReport.pdf 2. Ontario Education Excellence for All: Developing Partners in Education, Dec. 2005, p. 1. Available at edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/nr/05.12/developing.pdf.