Monday, 29 April 2019

Honouring Teacher Agency

Dear Editor,

From a teacher’s perspective, Professor James Ladwig’s article, “Put professional judgement of teachers first or we’ll never get the systemic education improvements we all want. Let’s talk about it” is uplifting and refreshing. Throughout the years, one could argue that the educational system, media and public have slowly disempowered the teaching profession. On numerous occasions, the media has criticised teachers for issues such as, not effectively dealing with bullying or behavioural issues to not providing the correct assessment grade. One could surmise that teachers have very few public advocates. 

Ladwig highlights issues that are impacting on the teaching profession, such as test measurements, market-driven professional development, and pre-packaged curriculum and apps that are promoted as the panacea. Tired of these imposed solutions, teachers want to be viewed and respected as professionals. Empathetically, Ladwig advocates on behalf of teachers by saying that more ‘best practice’ policies from vested interests is not what is needed. While in agreement with Ladwig, teachers may argue that it is not only important, but imperative to promote teachers’ professional judgment with a degree of autonomy. Does our current system balance professional autonomy with accountability?

Convincingly argued by Ladwig, the education systems are 'standardised, stratified, countable'. Unfortunately, these education systems can provide politicians and independent stakeholders the evidence that supports 'their' agenda or needs. Misusing the evidence can have negative consequences on the profession, damaging the reputation of the teaching professionals. I applaud Ladwig for asking, ‘how do we build systems that increase the likelihood that teachers will make intelligent and wise decision in their work?’ This solution-focused question authentically shifts the concept from teacher compliance and accountability to teacher agency, while reinstating 'teacher professionalism' back into the education system. Teacher agency is an essential element when designing new education systems.


Comments welcome

Friday, 26 April 2019

Watching from the sidelines

At times, when you watch a scary movie, you cover your face because you just can’t handle it! But for some reason, you sneak a peek through your slightly opened fingers to catch a glimpse of what you’re missing. I presently feel like I’m watching a scary movie that is currently showing in the United States and Ontario. There are moments when I want to learn more, but at other times, I can't bring myself to read the Tweets or articles about what is unfolding. As an educator, it is unsettling and a little frightening to watch how quickly politicians and political parties can change the trajectory of education. 

Due to social media and my current university course, I have become more aware of the broader educational topics, especially global and current issues in education. While some complain about social media and the wasted hours spent scrolling through the feed, for me it has provided varying perspectives and assisted in developing a global awareness of education systems and policies. Educators generously share informative articles, blogposts and video clips through various forms of social media. Watching the actions and decisions of DeVos (USA) and Ford (Ontario) from the sidelines, the mind boggles at how quickly and easily research and expertise can be dismissed. Programs can be dismantled and peoples’ roles terminated in haste. As I am unfamiliar with each political context, it is through an educational, not a political lens that I write. I identify as an educator with an interest in research and policy, and yet politicians with no educational or research background can make changes so rapidly with devastating and long-lasting effects.

The issue is that most of the effects will not be evident for years to come, and by that time, expertise may be lost and politicians may have moved on to another portfolio, promotion or more prominent role.  One might argue that short terms in office result in short-term solutions. While Ontario is slashing budgets, decreasing teacher positions, and changing programs, New Zealand has determined a need to create more equity and excellence in their education system, with additional support, funding and infrastructure.

In his recent blogpostFullan (2019) suggests that ‘education was increasingly on the receiving end of a bad society’ and if we accept this, then how do we improve society? Is it education, health care, compassion? When politicians hastily divert funds from education to other objectives, I wonder if the long-term repercussions to the general public and society are thought through and considered. With instant recognition and praise, short term gains appear to trump long term benefits when decisions do not include all stakeholders. Articles such as Fullan's, provide a window into other educational contexts and gives us the opportunity to learn by reading, reflecting and wondering.

According to Fullan (2019), Ontario has been viewed as one of the best-performing systems in the world and it is for this reason that last year, I applied for a scholarship to visit Ontario. Being connected with global educators, I had always looked to Ontario for inspiration, innovation and research regarding the professional learning of teachers. My intention was to meet and learn from educators, such as Andy Hargreaves, Carol Campbell, Lyn Sharratt, Kenneth Leithwood and Katina Pollack. While I was disappointed to not receive the scholarship for this study tour, I think now how disheartening it would have been to speak with educators about what was once.

Fullan (2019) suggests the combination of the pedagogical and the political pathways may have a strong influence on social justice and a high-quality education. Over the past few months, education and politics have been prominent in the headlines, and it has become evident that social media provides the opportunity to quickly create a community with purpose. In addition, Greta Thunberg, the #metoo movement and the students and teachers of Ontario have illustrated how social media can not only provide a platform to have a voice but also amplifies those voices. While one political party may dismiss people and dismantle programs, it takes a community to collaborate and create a better future for our children. Without ignoring or dismissing any voices, politicians, educators, and public citizens need to collectively focus on an educational system that will influence and benefit the individual, create a more equitable society and protect our planet, both now and for the future.

Always learning...

Fullan, M. (2019). Why Pedagogy and Politics Must Partner. Retrieved from