Spreading the Word
The power of a purple booklet is shared at What Does It Mean To Be A Teacher workshops that celebrate the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession.
By Helen Dolik
Ottawa vice-principal Kevin Gilmore remembers getting the booklet and tossing it aside. One more thing to do, something else to read, he thought.
Gilmore soon discovered the booklet, which contains the College’s Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession, was more than that.
"I went from skeptic to believer," he says.
The title may lack zing but the contents pack a punch. Gilmore was so inspired by the standards that after three and a half years, he and a group of dedicated teachers continue to spread the message to hundreds of teachers, vice-principals and principals at workshops in Ontario.
The workshop is called What Does It Mean to Be a Teacher because that’s what the standards are about. The standards are captured in five key statements and provide a vision of what teachers strive for every day.
Gilmore is one of the workshop facilitators and a member of a focus group of 12 elementary and 12 secondary teachers who were asked by the College to review an early draft of the standards in 1999. They became the Focus Group That Wouldn’t Go Away. They modified the original session they had attended and created their own workshop to breathe life into the printed word of the standards.
After spreading their enthusiasm for the standards in several sessions for colleagues in Ottawa-Carleton, they took their What Does It Mean to Be a Teacher show on the road to the Durham Catholic District School Board Conference at Niagara-on-the-Lake for an energized session with principals, superintendents, and a director of education. In May,
they worked with Additional Qualification course facilitators, including teachers, consultants and faculty members, at York University.
The standards highlight the knowledge, skills and values that the profession embraces. They are meant to fit with every College member, whether that person is a director of education or a first-year teacher.
A TIME TO REFLECT
Fran Squire, who helped develop and write the standards when she was a program officer at the College, says the workshops are a time to reflect on the standards. "It’s a time to share and to think back, to tell some stories and analyze those stories," she says.
That’s what unfolds at Ottawa’s Confederation High School on February 11. Two dozen vice-principals from the board gather on a snowy Monday morning for the What Does It Mean to Be a Teacher workshop.
The workshops offer educators the opportunity to step back and catch their breath. They provide information about the standards, discussion, reflection, personal writing and a lighthearted quiz at the end with joke prizes.
Susan MacDonald, a principal at Pleasant Park Public School in Ottawa, is one of the presenters at the Ottawa workshop and a crowd favourite.
She first read the standards as a vice-principal after her principal had asked her if she’d prepare something about the document for a staff meeting.
"My first reaction was ‘holy cow, but they left out walks on water,’" she says. "I was actually a little disturbed by the document. But then I went back to it again. I went through it point by point and I realized this is really how amazing we are."
MacDonald talks about incorporating the standards into daily routines and offered practical tips. She suggested using the standards when writing notes of appreciation to staff. She carries a copy of the purple booklet when observing in classrooms. She recommends encouraging teachers to organize their professional portfolios using the five standards as sections. Print one key element at the top of your daily bulletin at least once a week, she says.
Hugging the purple pamphlet to her chest, she told the vice-principals’ workshop: "There are so many things that divide us as administrators now from our teachers, this is one thing that connects us at a very deep level."
Margaret Dempsey, principal of staff development at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and a College Council member, is a major proponent of the standards workshops and nurtured the original focus group.
"It was clear right from the beginning that once teachers personalized the standards of practice to their own teaching practice, they could see themselves in the standards," Dempsey says. "And then the light goes on."
She thinks awareness of the standards needs to continue. Province-wide consultation sessions held by the College confirm that members are barely aware the standards exist and if they do know, their understanding is limited and varies.
"It would be wonderful to see (workshops) blossoming all through the province," Dempsey says.
She tells the Ottawa vice-principals: "I hope this workshop, besides being an interactive and professional growth opportunity, will bring you some joy."
Part of the workshop involves connecting personal stories to the standards. Teachers are asked to place coloured dots under the key elements relating to their personal story. Charts listings the standards’ key statements hang on a wall. Think of your story and where it best fits, they are advised.
Dempsey tells her own story to the vice-principals – a morning she still remembers from early in her career, when she gently clasped the hand of a reluctant child to lead him into his first day of class. "For me as a teacher, that was a defining moment."
"If you look at the pages up there, the strongest indication of where their stories lay is in the commitment to students and student learning," says Mary Conroy, a vice-principal at Meadowlands Public School with the Ottawa-Carleton board. "You don’t become a teacher unless you are very committed to children."
She speaks of the difference between reading the standards on your own and the benefits of discussing them at a workshop.
"Anytime you read something, you only get what you bring to it yourself," she says. "But when you share it with somebody, you’re sharing different perspectives and you get different focal points to examine."
Marianne Harvey, a vice-principal at York Street Public School, felt the workshop was an extremely worthwhile presentation.
"As a second-year VP I am always on the lookout for ways to validate and honour our teachers," she says. "The standards of practice document allows me to do this. It is a tool through which I can define and recog-nize best practices in our school."
TEARS AND LAUGHTER
Two weeks later, about 60 Durham board educators, mostly principals, attended the morning workshop at the White Oaks Conference Resort in Niagara-on-the-Lake. They are enthusiastic, chat easily with one another and are open to learn about the standards.
Liz Snow, principal at Mother Teresa Catholic School in Ajax, gives the workshop a rave review.
"It was an absolutely wonderful, invigorating and reassuring session," she says. "It gives me the impetus to keep going and know I’m on the right track."
Nancy Drynan, principal at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic School in Pickering, says she’ll implement what she learned at the next staff meeting and school council meeting. She feels parents could benefit as well. "I found it extremely valuable and worthwhile," she says.
Drynan shared a personal story about a student that underlines how teachers’ commitment to students positively affects their lives. The boy had a difficult home life, lacked motivation and was often late for class. He had low self-esteem, she says. The school staff went out of their way to help him, the boy is now showing a real motivation to learn and the staff is celebrating how well he’s doing. "You see you do have an impact," says Drynan.
The session ends on a light note with a game that is based on the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The principals erupt with laughter at the What Does It Mean to Be a Teacher? (Is That Your Final Answer?) quiz.
The standards provide a reason not only for teachers to smile but to feel proud. Council member Diane Leblovic, who chairs the standards of practice and Education Committee, says the standards of practice are enabling and empowering for the teaching profession.
Part of the College’s mandate as a self-regulatory body is to establish and enforce professional standards and ethical standards applicable to members of the College. The standards are used to accredit both the teacher education programs at Ontario’s faculties of education and Additional Qualification courses.
"It is one of the most significant pieces of work the College has developed as it establishes meaningful criteria for teacher education and future initiatives," she says.
The Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession can be found on the College’s web site at www.oct.ca/english/publications/standards.pdf.
Students in the Faculty of Education at the University of Western Ontario created a visual interpretation of the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession. Each individual created a piece of this interconnected artwork and painted their interpretation of one of the standards. The students are in the Intermediate/Senior Art class. The artwork, entitled Creating Community, is on display next to the entrance of the faculty’s auditorium, directly facing the main courtyard.
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