Small changes in professional practice can spur enormous positive outcomes — for students, teachers and the profession.
By Michael Salvatori, OCT
Photo: Matthew Plexman
The professionalism of teachers is one of the greatest resources in our education system. It serves students well, inspires public confidence in the profession and ultimately serves us well as members of the profession.
The term “professional” is paramount in the discourse about teachers and the work that we do. In the College’s Standards of Practice, we speak of professional practice and professional knowledge. Within this context, professional denotes “of the profession,” but the term also evokes qualities such as responsibility, integrity and fairness. These are qualities that members bring to their communications, interactions and decision-making.
When I think about self-regulation in this context of professionalism, I think of individual professionals and their capacity to regulate their own practice and to earn and maintain public confidence. Through an iterative process of inquiry, reflection and dialogue, we hone our professional judgment and make small, incremental changes to our practice throughout our careers in which continuous improvement and professional growth are among our primary goals.
Teachers also hone their professional judgment and practice in the company of other professionals. For example, full-day kindergarten in Ontario schools brings certified teachers, registered early childhood educators and registered social workers together in a child-benefiting partnership that exemplifies interdisciplinary collaboration and dialogue.
What then is the role of a professional regulator such as the Ontario College of Teachers? Harry Cayton, chief executive of the UK Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, says that professional regulation is a support for professionalism and not a substitute. I agree.
Our College provides a wealth of support to teachers to manifest their own process of self-regulation. Through our institutes and resources based on the Standards of Practice and the Ethical Standards, we encourage and support professional dialogue and ethical decision-making.
So, too, our professional advisories inform members’ professional judgment and are intended to help them to make informed decisions. Advisories are not policy and they are not law. They do, however, provide a foundation of knowledge and advice that encourages reflection and dialogue and assists practising professionals to consider their own practices and, where needed, to make small, incremental changes that benefit student learning.
Similarly, self-regulation is an integral component of student learning. The ability to self-regulate is a learning skill and emphasized in the 2010 Ontario Ministry of Education Growing Success document. Accordingly, report cards now assess a student’s capacity to set goals, monitor progress, seek assistance, assess and reflect critically, identify learning opportunities, choices and strategies, and persevere.
Students, like their teachers, inquire, reflect and assess to take responsibility for their own learning and make small changes. Like the idiom mighty oaks from little acorns grow, small changes in practice can result in outcomes of enormous and lasting benefit. By your example, students benefit. By your example, we are led.
In Leapfrogging, author Soren Kaplan says that “most breakthrough ideas emerge over time from ‘little bets’ that give us ways to reduce risk by starting small and using trial and error to refine and build out our ideas.” Sometimes, as Kaplan suggests, by making a small change we learn about what didn’t work so that we can move on to what will work. One of the goals is to become more comfortable with trial and error.
Have you tried a new idea, approach or strategy that allowed you to leapfrog to a breakthrough in your practice? How did your idea emerge? How did you build on it?
Please share your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.