A recent survey of Ontario
teachers shows that teachers are actively searching out formal and informal professional
By Lois Browne
A new survey by the College of Teachers reveals that an overwhelming
majority of teachers take part in formal and informal professional learning programs
despite hindrances created by cost and family responsibilities but there is
a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the quality of many formal programs.
The professional learning survey was conducted last spring. The data on
participation and priorities for learning showed that over the past two years 92 per cent
of respondents had participated in at least one formal learning activity.
"That is a gratifyingly high level of commitment to their
professional practice," says College Registrar Margaret Wilson, "but the College
is anxious to address the issues of program quality that our members raise."
The survey consisted of a questionnaire sent out to 800 English-speaking
and 70 French-speaking College members in March 1999; 510 teachers responded. This
quantitative research with a large number of respondents was conducted to provide
additional hard data to the body of research the profession can draw on as it develops a
professional learning framework. A second survey on professional learning activities will
be completed by February 2000.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Although over half of the teachers rated the quality and usefulness of the
formal learning programs as "consistently high" or "generally high",
only 40 per cent said they could use "a great deal" or "quite a lot"
of what they learned "almost immediately" in their teaching.
Linda Grant, co-ordinator of the Colleges Professional Affairs
Department, says those results should indicate a higher standard. "We know that the
higher the quality of the program, the more teachers learn and that has a direct
bearing on what their students learn," says Grant. "To have only 52 per cent of
respondents praise the quality of the programs suggests a lot of disappointed teachers and
wasted resources. Thats not good enough for the teachers, for the College, or for
students and the rest of the Ontario public. Were very concerned about program
quality and will definitely be pursuing this issue with the institutions that offer these
Somewhat surprisingly, teachers did not indicate that the uncertain
quality of some of the formal programs was a deterrent to enrolling. However, the cost of
programs was discouraging to 64 per cent of teachers and almost half 46 per cent
said that family commitments "strongly discouraged" them from
professional learning activities.
"Costs are also a concern," says Clarice West-Hobbs, chair of
the Councils Standards of Practice and Education Committee. "Additional
Qualification courses are expensive, considering the time and sometimes
away-from-home costs, too that members have to bear," says West-Hobbs.
Most of the respondents 81 per cent who had enrolled in
formal programs reported they had had an opportunity to share their ideas and experiences
with other teachers. "Thats a very positive statistic because we know that
collaboration with ones peers greatly increases the effectiveness of a professional
learning situation," says West-Hobbs.
The survey questionnaire was designed to gather information on formal and
informal learning activities and the resources that teachers need to support their
professional growth. It asked College members to report on their professional learning
activities over the past two years, starting with the summer of 1996. Professional
learning was defined as any learning activity undertaken with the intention of gaining
additional skills, knowledge and understanding related to teaching.
Respondents reported taking part in formal learning activities such as
one-day and half-day programs, one or two-day conferences, Additional Qualification and
university courses, train-the-trainer programs and Principals Qualifications and
Supervisory Officers Qualifications programs.
Informal learning included reading magazines and books on general and
specific education-related topics, working with school and other committees or groups
related to teaching, researching in libraries or via the Internet, overseeing practicums,
mentoring students or pre-service teachers and organizing conferences and other
In comparing the importance of formal and informal learning, two-thirds of
those who responded said that what they learned in each case was equally important. Only
five per cent thought that formal learning was more valuable than informal learning to
their overall professional growth.
Informal learning, which was largely self-motivated and self-directed,
covered a wide range of activities, "which is in line with the kind of proposals
were putting forward in Consultation: Professional Learning Framework for the
Teaching Profession," says Grant.
Curriculum issues were at the top of a list of topics covered in informal
learning. Over half of the teachers said that implementing curriculum was their first,
second or third learning priority. Other topics included teaching strategies, assessing
and reporting student progress and computer technology. Over 75 per cent agreed that as
they became more experienced in the classroom, what they wanted to learn about became more
Eighty-six per cent of respondents said they read books on specific issues
or subject areas related to teaching, 82 per cent regularly read a journal or magazine for
educators and 63 per cent read books on more general themes in education.
Seventy-five per cent of respondents had served on some committee or body
at their school, 58 per cent on a school body dealing with issues of curriculum,
assessment or other issues of teaching and learning.
Nearly half of the respondents had served on a committee dealing with
issues that were not directly related to teaching, such as school administration, student
discipline or budgetary matters. Others were involved in educational issues with groups
outside their school, served on the local school council or other governance committee or
took part in an exchange program or study tour.
INTERNET USE GROWING
The survey results show that the use of computer technology to enhance
professional learning is growing steadily among Ontario teachers. Almost half the
respondents 46 per cent communicated with other educators through computer
conferencing and e-mail, and 94 per cent have access to the Internet either at home or at
school. Over half 52 per cent have both.
More teachers worked with others on informal learning activities than on
their own. Ninety-five per cent spent some time each week on informal learning on their
own, 66 per cent spending up to five hours. Six per cent of teachers spent more than 10
hours a week, on their own, in informal learning activities. Of those who took part in
informal learning activities with other teachers, 73 per cent spent from one to five hours
on these activities; 11 per cent spent between six and ten hours.
The wide-ranging and rapid pace of change characteristic of teaching today
is reflected in the survey responses. Thirty-two percent of respondents experienced a
substantial change in their responsibilities in their current job, and 29 per cent have
taken on some managerial responsibilities.
Notwithstanding the stressful environment, many of the respondents said
there were a number of ways in which their environment supports their professional
learning. The vast majority receive strong encouragement to learn, either from their
supervisors or their colleagues.
Eighty-two per cent said that they have a space a staff room or
lounge suitable for small discussion groups, and over three-quarters said they had
an effective means of publicizing professional learning opportunities. Only 15 per cent of
teachers surveyed, however, thought that professional development days provided most of
the professional learning they needed in a
"Were really pleased with the quality of information this
survey has provided us," says West-Hobbs. "These results support the direction
were taking in developing a professional learning framework that values both formal
and informal learning. And the survey has highlighted some important issues, such as
program quality, that we will address."
For the complete survey, click here.