Symposium Report

Fundamentals and Renewal



Ernie Checkeris, Council member, among those listening to keynote address


by Gabrielle Barkany

Briefcases and note--books in hand, educators arrived in November at the Ontario College of Teachers in droves. The enthusiasm was palpable. And with reason.
More than 200 educators from across the province would be together for two days to discuss topics near and dear to their hearts. The occasion was the College's first-ever symposium under the theme, Enhancing the Profession through the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession and the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession.

"This symposium is very uplifting, very positive. There are success stories. There has been a vitality in the last two days that I rarely see," said Marie Marrin, an experienced educator.

The variety of topics and issues helped fuel a sense of relevancy: How do we become better leaders? What are the best ways to support new teachers?

Most importantly, the questions were addressed with a view toward sharing ideas in order to improve student learning. The symposium's purpose was to increase our understanding of how supervisory officers, principals and teachers integrate the standards into their practice.

The standards of practice and ethical standards convey the principles that underlie effective professional practice. For example, teachers are attentive and devoted to their students; they treat them respectfully and equitably and help them learn; they are familiar with the curriculum, teaching strategies and the learning environment and strive to improve their skills. They also maintain a professional relationship with their students, demonstrate integrity, impartiality and honesty, and are committed to equity and justice.

The symposium's focus on things educators do that succeed and ways that we can continue to move toward our ideals helped to keep the energy and enthusiasm high.

The time and place to reflect

Striking the right key
Keynote speaker Dany Laveault, Professor of Measurement and Evaluation at the faculty of education of the University of Ottawa, kicked off the proceedings by raising some current and serious questions.

"Evaluations must serve the students, not the other way around. There are risks involved with over-evaluating a student. When teachers evaluate students they must always ask themselves what the students will get out of it."

Laveault noted that evaluation should not be an end point, but a beginning. "The teacher should try to stimulate students who do well - to keep them doing good work or to excel. In other cases teachers must tailor their instruction and change their teaching strategies in order to advance a student's learning."

His comments seemed to confirm a general view among participants that reflection on the true goals of education is essential to the accurate assessment of both our processes and our successes.

Laveault also pointed out that teachers have a great opportunity to support student motivation when evaluating them, and provided some compelling examples of the potential pitfalls of well-intentioned messages.

"On a test, the teacher may write that the student has difficulty forming the present perfect. The student will think that this is true and that there's nothing he can do. Instead, the teacher could say something like, 'Next time, pay more attention to tense.' This orients the student towards the future and doesn't speak to what he is, but to what he does."

Laveault similarly pointed out that commending students for their efforts may not always be constructive. "If I repeatedly tell you, 'You see, when you apply yourself you can do well!' you may conclude that you can do well as long as you work hard - but there is also the risk of you concluding that you are not so smart."

He suggested that teachers use the standards during student evaluations to do some soul searching. This would lay the ground for a better understanding of individual students, allowing teachers to tailor instruction to students' learning levels and adjust assessments so they are understood.

Making connections
"Before hearing Laveault I had difficulty relating the standards to my work. Now I understand this link better," said André Lalonde of the Centre de leadership en éducation. He saw the importance for teachers and other education stakeholders of using evaluation for the improvement of student learning rather than for political purposes.

The symposium offered 20 workshops, in both English and French, on a full range of topics, including new teacher induction, professional learning and leadership. Each workshop presented a different perspective on the integration of the standards in teaching.

Carole Bennett, a professor of artistic education at Laurentian University's School of Education in Sudbury, led a workshop on the importance of creativity in teaching.

Bennett proposed that it is crucial to encourage future teachers to think of the standards in creative ways. "Many of my students don't know how to be creative. I try to bring them back to life so that they want to develop their creativity, so that their future classroom will be dynamic and real."

The needs of new teachers were central to a workshop on mentoring led by Janet Wilkinson, director of education at the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board. She noted that "Right now, very little is done for new teachers," adding that her own board has implemented a mentoring program to support new teachers.

"We need to retain our new teachers, rejuvenate our experienced staff and formalize that process." Wilkinson said that it is crucial to give more support to new teachers and that matching them with experienced teachers from the start not only increases their confidence, it also gives the experienced teachers a new outlook.

Maureen Davis, a science teacher at Monseigneur Bruyère Secondary School agreed. "We should make use of ex-perienced teachers to help young recruits get comfortable in their classroom and grow in their profession."

Another workshop participant, Nancy Astrobel, a school vice-principal in the Waterloo Region District School Board, noted that this was exactly what her board had been looking for. "I'm going back to my board and I'm going to use the connections I've made and draw on my new-found zeal to convince them they need to buy into a mentorship program. We need to do more for our new teachers."

Michael Fullan delivers Saturday's keynote address

Building leadership
Michael Fullan, former dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto and an international authority on educational reform, kicked off the second day with his keynote address. Noting how the standards cohere to form a whole and must be integrated in today's school culture, he focused on the need for extended communities of learners.

"Building learning communities at the school level is not enough; there must be district-wide reform. The whole district must be living the standards and building learning communities in order to have a positive impact on student learning," Fullan said. "It is not enough for an individual teacher or an individual school to do so."

School districts need to plan strategically and develop their leaders in order to create learning communities within their schools and their boards.

According to Fullan, principalship is the only role strategically placed to mediate the tensions of local and state forces in a way that gets problems solved. "The solution is to acknowledge the extreme importance of principalship, to clarify the power and nature of the principal's role, and to invest in developing the capacity of principals to act as chief operating officers.

"The system is in deep trouble. There is a huge need for new leaders at the same time as conditions make the job unattractive. There has been such a lack of attention to leadership development that there is difficulty in just filling vacancies, let alone filling them with people who possess highly developed leadership qualities."

He noted that there is great need for a strong moral purpose, especially in troubled times.

"Principals are constantly experiencing overload and a proliferation of expectations. They're left asking: Why did I become an educator in the first place? What do I stand for as a leader? What legacy do I want to leave?

"These are all-powerful questions that must be continually revisited; otherwise the principal's role becomes overloaded with emptiness," Fullan said.

The opportunity to share what is learned

Information and inspiration
In the workshops that followed throughout the second day, participants were afforded the time and place for personal reflection on such questions, as well as opportunities to work in groups and share what they had learned.

"I believe the standards to be leading edge," said Jean-Luc Bernard, Director of Education for the Conseil scholaire de district du Centre-Sud-Ouest. "They can be used to reinforce a feeling of trust and professionalism for our members."

"This has been a great symposium," he adds. "It should happen more often. It really highlights the professionalism in the teaching profession."

By the measure of those in attendance, the symposium was a huge success. It reflected the diversity of the English and French school boards and allowed participating educators to validate their work. By exchanging ideas about standards integration and recognizing the accomplishments and aspirations of participants, the symposium seemed to strike the right balance of information and inspiration.

Many in attendance said that it reminded them of and reinforced their initial reasons for choosing the profession.

The event also reinforced the idea that the Standards of Practice and the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession are living documents. And just as the standards invite teachers to reflect on their own practice, so is the College inviting us to reflect on the documents themselves. The symposium provided data that will inform the first phase of the College's review of the standards.

"We have been very gratified by the feedback we received from the symposium," said Déirdre Smith, Manager of the Standards of Practice and Education Unit. "It has definitely reinforced our commitment to making sure that the standards continue to reflect our constantly evolving profession."

The standards review involves consultation with members, stakeholders and the public and is taking place through various means, including questionnaires, study groups, formal meetings and informal discussions. For more information or to participate in this review visit College Reviews Standards.