May 1997

Professional Affairs


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Meet the Professional Affairs Team

"Your College is going to value you
for what you’re doing now."

By Philip Carter

Even when he’s sitting still, Joe Atkinson looks like he’s in motion.

He radiates enthusiasm for teaching. And as he lays the groundwork for sweeping changes in the profession, he has a message for educators. "We haven’t done a good job of telling the public what we do well. A big part of our job here at the College is to change that."

Atkinson worked for the Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation for 23 years and helped the federation earn an international reputation for professional development. Now he’s taking on a much bigger challenge. As the College of Teachers’ co-ordinator of professional affairs he’s trying to make lifelong learning a central part of every Ontario teacher’s professional career.

Today, he’s meeting with Linda Grant and Janice Thomson. Grant is responsible for the College’s professional standards and education program. Thomson will lead the College’s accreditation program.

They’re discussing the first year’s priorities for the College’s Professional Affairs Department. They’re joking, laughing, finishing each other’s sentences, obviously on the same wavelength.

Their first priority is clear. They want to hear from College members. How far can they stretch their budget for consultation?

"Make sure you let everyone know about our web site," says Atkinson. "We started our consultation with questions posted on the web site even before we hired most of our staff. We haven’t had much response because most teachers don’t yet know about the web site, but we felt it was important to establish this interactive dialogue right from the beginning.

"Once teachers learn about the web site in Professionally Speaking, we think this conversation with our colleagues is going to take off.

"This is going to become a very important tool for the profession as we work together to develop standards and a framework for professional learning," says Atkinson.

"We want teachers to tell us what they think, based on their learning and experience. We’ll post a synopsis of those ideas regularly, and the discussion will go from there. We also want to hear from members about additional issues or ideas we should pursue.

"We’re going to carry on this dialogue with our classroom colleagues through the web, through stakeholder groups, through conferences - however we can."

Teachers are going to be surprised

Linda Grant believes the College’s commitment to Internet communication sends an important message to teachers. "This is a tool that is vital to effective learning and teaching in the 1990s. We’re saying to teachers that working with the web is an important part of our professional behaviour.

"But the more important message that it sends is that you don’t have to be at a university or a big-city board office to be heard by your College on professional issues."

Every teacher in Ontario will be affected in some way within five years by the College’s professional standards andaccreditation programs, says Janice Thomson. "The initiatives the profession is starting will change the public perception of teachers, and the way teachers perceive themselves."

Teachers are going to be surprised, says Atkinson. "Some are going to be very surprised. Because what we’re saying in many cases is 'your College is going to value you for what you’re doing now'. So for example, if a rowing coach does a weekend seminar on sports psychology, we’re going to recognize that this is part of professional growth... there are hundreds of examples like that.

"A lot of the professional learning we’re talking about is cost-free to teachers. It’s already part of their daily practice."

Atkinson said many educators will be surprised to hear that the Ontario College of Teachers intends to accredit professional development offered by the federations. "We know the federations are offering some high quality programs that teachers want, and there should be value attached to these by the College."

Mandate is clear

On the other hand, the professional affairs team say their mandate is very much what the profession expects - to develop standards of practice and teacher education, then to accredit the providers; to develop a continuum of professional learning, and accredit that, and to provide teachers throughout their careers with snapshots of their skills and strengths.

But they caution that developing standards will not happen quickly. "You can’t do this work overnight if you’re committed to listening and consulting widely," says Grant. "This is going to be an evolutionary process, and we’re going to make sure that teachers are directly involved in the development of standards. Through it all, we’ll share the evolution of these standards with the teaching profession through Professionally Speaking, the web and other avenues."

Grant says the first project facing the Professional Affairs staff is to work with the Governing Council and the College membership to develop an overall plan for professional learning. "That’s the big job, building a consensus about the work this department should do over the next few years and how we should do it."

Concrete proposals

But the team will also be proposing three more concrete projects in the College’s first year.

"These are only starting points," says Atkinson. "We could have chosen another 50 starting points, but these are the ones we’re proposing to the Council - all areas where we believe the profession will be eager to see the results."

The first is a review of the faculties of education, which were last reviewed by the Ministry of Education in the early 1980s.

Thomson’s accreditation program will take a comprehensive look at pre-service training. "There are wonderful things in every university’s program. But we have to be sure that all the faculties are giving teacher candidates the training they need to meet standards.

"We’re not just going to focus on the faculties. We’re going to ask associate teachers and principals 'are the graduates that you see learning the skills they need? Are they getting a professional education that will fit them to walk into a classroom and provide the children of Ontario with educational opportunities?’"

There are some blunt questions the profession needs to ask, says Grant. "Should we be admitting students into education faculties who don’t know how to turn on a computer? Should we be training teachers to teach math who haven’t taken a math course themselves since Grade 10?"

Atkinson says he hopes to see three pilot sites operating at Ontario faculties - at least one French - before the end of the year as part of the department’s initiative to develop criteria for teacher education.

Supervisory qualifications

The team would also like to see the College begin work in a much smaller program area - supervisory officer qualifications. The ministry developed a guideline for this area in 1990 and Atkinson says it’s "one of the freshest programs out there right now.

"The supervisory officials already have a review running and we would be able to work with them. This area is in pretty good shape and we may be able to use the process to develop models for standards and accreditation in other areas."

Teacher as researcher

But the project that really taps the enthusiasm of the professional affairs team is ongoing professional learning the "teacher as researcher" or "action research".

"We have teachers, department heads, principals who do research - or would like to - arising out of their day-to-day work," says Atkinson. "Is it valued? Can our profession find a way to recognize the value of what happens when three teachers get together to talk and problem solve?

"This project, more than anything else, values the work that classroom teachers are already doing.

"Again, there are groups already up and running that are looking at this. We’d like to support their work and get their input into Ontario College of Teachers standards."

Asked what he hopes College members will learn from this interview, Joe Atkinson has a quick answer, "We want them to know their opinions are valued, that we want to work together with them. The more we can involve our members, the more successful the College will be."

To learn more about Professional Affairs or respond to the questions posted by Standards of Practice and Education or Accreditation, click here.


Experienced Team Leads Professional Affairs

Joe Atkinson

Long-time federation staffer Joe Atkinson is Co-ordinator, Professional Affairs. He was seconded to the College from his position as OPSTF Director of Professional Development Services.

Atkinson graduated top of his class from Lakeshore Teachers’ College in 1966 and went to work in the Toronto Board of Education, where his early experience included teaching in inner city junior and intermediate programs and in the outdoor education, gifted and adult education programs.

He joined OPSTF professional development staff in 1974 and was named director in 1991. The Ontario Teachers’ Federation awarded him a fellowship in 1992 in recognition of his contribution to teachers’ professional learning in Ontario and across North America.

Atkinson holds a BA in psychology from York and a MEd in educational administration from OISE/UT. A dedicated community volunteer, he has served as President of the Ajax-Pickering United Way, chair of his local hospital’s board and has been an Ajax town councillor since 1985.

Janice Thomson

Janice Thomson is Manager of the College’s Accreditation Unit. She is responsible for developing criteria for teachers’ pre-service and in-service education programs and the accreditation process.

She began her career in education with 17 years in Hamilton secondary schools. She joined the Ministry of Education in 1987 and worked on liaison with school boards and interest groups, and native education policy.

Thomson has worked on the College of Teachers project since 1995. She is co-author of the 1986 secondary school text Canada: History in the Making and has contributed to educational TV series for both CBC and TVO.

She received her teaching certificate after graduating from U of T’s Faculty of Education and earned her Supervisory Officer’s Certificate in 1987.

Linda Grant

Linda Grant is Manager of the College’s Standards of Practice and Education Unit. She is responsible for research and development of standards of practice as well as a framework for professional learning for teachers throughout their careers, from entry into faculties of education to supervisory officers.

Grant came to the College from OPSTF, where she was executive assistant in the professional services department since 1987. She began her career in Hamilton schools and has been a teacher, teacher-librarian, vice-principal, principal, faculty of education instructor and Ministry of Education officer.

She has received awards for her contributions to education from - among others - FWTAO, OPSTF and the Ontario Educational Research Council. Grant holds a BA from McMaster, a MEd from Brock and an EdD from OISE/UT.