Professional Growth Policy: A Balance of Professional Responsibility & Accountability
In May, 2018, I read an article about teachers suffering unusual administrative demands and a year on, a similar article was published in Education Review that discusses the effects of administrative overload. Clearly something needs to change in education but who is courageous enough to lighten the teachers’ load? It appears the pendulum between accountability and professional responsibility has swung too far towards accountability. Teachers aren’t given the professional respect and recognition once held and if we don’t acknowledge and promote teacher agency, we will continue to have teachers leave the classroom.
With increased accountability, the pressure for teachers to extend their impact beyond the growth of their students to the success of an entire education system is unreasonable. Society expects teachers to effectively perform in an already highly-demanding position. It is a complex system of curriculum, pastoral, technological, socio-cultural, economic, and political demands. Schools are continuously evolving, and teachers are chasing the illusion of mastering all the demands of the present to meet the requirements of the future. With higher expectations and levels of accountability, this must affect teacher wellbeing and teacher retention.
The NESA Accreditation Policy (2018) has resulted in a shift of accountability from the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA) to Schools. Ideally, accreditation should reflect the authentic teaching and the learning moments that happen in the classroom and should be centred on teacher growth and development. However, with limited time and support, it appears the accreditation process has become more a box-ticking exercise where documentation aligns to a level within the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Andrews & Munro suggest that using these standards as a box-ticking process may contribute to the 'erosion of individual professional judgement' (2019). This accreditation process may deprive teachers of valuable collaborative and planning time and I question how effective the process is at building teacher capacity and agency. Being linked to a salary increase, teachers and their supervisors experience an amplified workload and additional pressure. Does the outcome justify the time and effort required or is there a more effective approach? If the outcome or focus is on professional growth and responsibility, coaching, especially in a teacher’s first five years of teaching, could be more effective than this document-driven accreditation process. The agency-enabling process of coaching may also support teacher wellbeing and ultimately, influence teacher retention.
Not restricted to New South Wales or Australia, this global issue is reflected in a Times Educational Supplement (tes) article from the UK, 'Accountability is the noose strangling teaching'. Williams states that changes to accountability are vital for teacher wellbeing. Additionally, in an Education Week (US) article titled, Absenteeism, Teacher Stress, and School Safety: School Climate Factors to Watch in 2019, 'many educators feel stretched too thin, underpaid and misunderstood'.
Two recommendations found in the Gonski 2.0 Report were being innovative in ways to find more time for teachers to develop their capacity, and embedding professional collaboration, such as coaching. To value Gonski’s recommendations, a policy needs to be established to support teachers' professional growth, wellbeing and ultimately, teacher retention. To promote and nurture the teachers’ professional responsibility, while balancing a reasonable and practical level of accountability, it's imperative to include 'teacher voice'. This educational policy for professional growth must balance accountability with professional responsibility, while respecting the professionalism of current teachers and the teachers of the future. Who will take the initiative and invite classroom teachers to the policy table?