Infusing the Standards of Practice into everyday teaching

How and why is the answer to a classroom management question different in Ontario than, for example, in the UK? As this educator found, part of the answer is in the unique expression of the values of the Ontario teaching profession.

By Deborah P. Berrill

For more than a decade, teacher candidates in one of our Queen's University concurrent programs have constructed personal professional portfolios. Several years ago they asked that their portfolios be evaluated.

Initially, I resisted, feeling that evaluation might restrict creativity and individuality. However, the candidates insisted that they needed a deeper quality of feedback than they received through formative evaluation. They needed to know what aspects of the portfolio needed work and what kind of work was necessary. It became apparent that this was not just about the portfolio. It was about their own construction of themselves as teachers.

"Let's face it. When the College of Teachers first published the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession in 1999, many of us rolled our eyes, feeling this was just another directive for which we would be accountable.
I already knew about professional standards in other English-speaking countries. These range from the National Standards in the UK to those of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in the U.S. These standards all focus on professional skills and knowledge, including

  • knowledge of students
  • knowledge of content and curriculum
  • learning environment
  • respect for diversity
  • instructional resources
  • meaningful applications of knowledge
  • multiple paths to knowledge
  • assessment
  • family partnerships
  • reflective practice
  • collaboration with colleagues.

Given the similarity of existing standards, I assumed that Ontariostandards would not differ very much.
Certainly, the professional knowledge dimensions listed are clearly articulated in the professional knowledge and teaching practices sections of the Ontario standards. However,I was yet to discover that these and other sections of the Ontario standards of practice could be powerful, supporting my teaching in ways I had not considered."

In creating a rubric for this evaluation, it became clear that creativity could co-exist with shared expectations and rigour. However, a second dilemma emerged-multiple and sometimes conflicting notions of best practices. How was I to assess a candidate's teaching practices that ran counter to my own values?

For instance, an issue in classroom management might focus on how to deal with class absence for non-medical reasons such as religious observances, cultural days or family events not observed by the majority of the class. Although there is certainly educational literature that supports an inclusionary position on this, it was possible for candidates to find literature that supported approaches unsympathetic to non-medical absences.

I suddenly realized how value-laden my own teaching beliefs were and was at a loss as to how to proceed. How could I defend my viewpoint, which honoured student diversity, without being accused of trying to sway student thinking to my belief system?

A Commitment To Values

The Ontario College of Teachers Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession provided exactly what I needed-an articulation of values. Three of the five principles at the beginning of the standards speak explicitly to values.

  • "The standards of practice are reflective of the beliefs and values expressed by the participants in the development process."

  • "The standards of practice recognize and value diversity in teaching."

  • "The standards of practice are based on the premises that personal and professional growth is a developmental process and that teachers move through a variety of career and life stages."

  • The value of respect for diversity is expressed throughout the standards, with specific statements in four different sections: Commitment to Students and Student Learning; Professional Knowledge; Teaching Practice; and Leadership and Community. Clearly, respect for many cultural heritages with accommodation of absence for cultural days was a value supported by the professional educators of Ontario.

    Without feeling vulnerable to attacks that I was brainwashing candidates to my own beliefs, I could now insist on classroom management strategies that respected the heritage of students.

    Other aspects of the standards resonated with my own values: building trust with students, parents and the community; reaching out to diverse local communities and inviting them to share their knowledge and skills; providing innovation through shared problem-solving; acting both as team leaders and team members.

    The different categories of our portfolio assessment rubric are now infused with the standards of practice. The categories of our portfolio correspond to dimensions of teaching-the kinds of professional knowledge and skill found in many teaching standards worldwide. The difference is that those practices are now imbued with the Ontario College of Teachers standards of practice. Thus, it is not just "a purposeful learning environment," as the U.K. standards say. Rather, it is "classroom management strategies that support learning and respect the dignity of students" that we seek in Ontario.

    We use the standards to determine the degree of accomplishment in each teaching dimension, exactly as the value-laden word "standard" applies. For instance, under the Classroom Management dimension, three different standards have direct application: commitment to students and student learning; professional knowledge; and ongoing professional learning. Our rubric explicitly reflects these.

    Teaching And Learning

    Infusing the dimensions of teaching with the standards of practice has had a profound impact on improving student learning and teaching.

    As teachers, we can refer to the portfolio rubric to judge whether we are incorporating all that we should in our teaching and whether our emphases reflect our professional values. We can identify elements of the dimensions of teaching that we have been glossing over and other elements on which we've been spending too much time.

    The rubric has also enabled us to critique those expectations and values. We can then choose to include additional skills or content. The difference is that, with articulated standards, we can do this consciously, as critical practitioners, examining our own practices and those of our institutions.

    The rubric also enables teacher candidates to become critical practitioners, reflecting on and examining both the standards of practice and the dimensions of teaching as they assemble their portfolios. For instance, they now have a description of what constitutes exemplary planning or classroom management from the point of view of the College of Teachers, their professional body. Having that description enables them to critique their classroom management practices - and to critique the standards.

    Providing Accountability

    The difference between using a standardized test and using professional standards to demonstrate practice and identify areas for professional learning is profound. When professional teaching portfolios are structured with professional standards infused into all teaching and learning dimensions and used for accountability, several things happen:

  • consistency, rigour and excellence are promoted in the daily practices of all schools

  • teachers reflect on their own practices in relation to shared standards

  • teachers identify their own areas for future professional learning which can then be integrated with school and board priorities and ministry expectations.

  • With this kind of portfolio demonstration, teachers are able to use a mechanism that allows for a rich authentic appraisal of their practice in a context of professional values and expectations. Their professionalism is celebrated, excellence is promoted and continual learning becomes an integral part of ongoing professional reflection.

    The key to all of this, however, is using the standards of practice to build and then evaluate the portfolio. The standards are what guide decision-making, maintain rigour and integrity, and ensure that shared values continue to guide teaching practice.

    It is my hope that use of this type of portfolio will receive strong consideration in provincial deliberations about teacher performance appraisal.

    Our students, parents, and teachers will be better served if we do.

    Queen's Concurrent Program Rubric for the Classroom Management section of the professional portfolio, demonstrating the
    infusion of the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession

    Class Management

    Commitment to Students and Student Learning

    • Demonstration of care and commitment: demonstrates concern for student character, peer relationships and personal aspirations; reinforces the rights and responsibilities students have as citizens.
    • Support for student learning: develops programs for students that incorporate a knowledge and understanding of human development and learning theory.
    • Equitable and respectful treatment: accommodates the differences in students and respects theirdiversity; helps students to connect learning to their own life experiences and spiritual and cultural understandings.
    • Growing as individuals and as contributing members of society: encourages students to become active, inquisitive and discerning citizens; creates opportunities for students to understand, facilitate and respond to change; engages students in activities that encourage diverse approaches and solutions but also reinforce the social responsibilities students have as citizens.
    • Assistance in becoming lifelong learners: encourages students to know about, reflect on and monitor their own learning.

    Professional Knowledge

    • Knowledge of teaching practice: establishes classroom management strategies that support learning and respect the dignity of students.

    Ongoing Professional Learning

    • Improving practice: reflects on practice and learns from experience; draws on various forms of educational research to improve practice.

    Level 2*

    • Belief statement is cursory or superficial.
    • Observational data of students are based on generalized behaviour or are not dated.
    • Plans to meet individual needs are inconsistent re working from student strengths.
    • Demonstrates some commitment to students and student learning:
      • establishes safe and supportive learningenvironment
      • demonstrates care and commitment tostudents
      • treats students equitably and respectfully
      • acts with knowledge of background and culture of students
      • responds to the special needs of students.
    • Some classroom management approaches merely punish students rather than supporting students in learning to make responsible decisions.
    • Demonstrates an early stage of identification of strategies which work for the teacher candidate.
    • Portfolio artifacts are not sufficient to produce a cohesive picture of the candidate's future classroom.
    • Portfolio artifacts do not clearly link classroom management approaches and classroom organization to student learning and to teaching practice.
    • Reflection on practice is sparse or superficial.
    • Professional terminology is sparse or used inappropriately.

    Level 3

    • Belief statement reflects commitment to students and awareness of maintaining positive classroom tone which supports student learning.
    • Observational data of students are dated and particularized.
    • Plans to meet individual needs are consistentreworking from student strengths.
    • Demonstrates considerable commitment to students and student learning re the standards of practice listed in Level 2.
    • Demonstrates ability to make insightful observations of students.
    • Demonstrates understanding of the needs of individual students through appropriate plans/responses.
    • Reflects awareness of multiple positive classroom management approaches.
    • Portfolio artifacts combine to produce a clear picture of the candidate's future classroom.
    • Portfolio artifacts clearly link classroom management approaches and classroom organization to student learning and teaching practice and to student responsibility for their own behaviour and learning.
    • Reflection on practice is thoughtful and addresses significant issues.
    • Professional vocabulary demonstrates some knowledge of classroom management approaches and classroom organization which promote equitable and respectful treatment and a positive learning environment.


    Level 4

    In addition, includes one or more of the following:

    • Observational data of students are dated and particularly well chosen to reveal significant learning achievement and needs.
    • Plans to meet individual needs show insight.
    • Demonstrates enhanced commitment to students and student learning re the standards of practice listed in Level 2.
    • Classroom structures/organization are used to support students as positive decision-makers and enhance learning.
    • Collaborates with parents.
    • Reflection on learning from practice in practicum placements is insightful.
    • Professional terminology demonstrates enhanced understanding of approaches which promote apositive learning environment.
    * Portfolios are not assessed at Level 1.
    College member Deborah Berrill has been keeping her portfolio for nine years. She has taught concurrent students at Trent since 1990 as a member of the Faculty of Education, Queen's University. She has recently been appointed director of Trent's School of Education and Professional Learning and can be reached at

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