What — or perhaps who — best characterizes professionalism in teaching for you? What are the hallmarks of professionalism? Who do you know who brings life to the words “professionally speaking”?
By Michael Salvatori, OCT
Photo: Matthew Plexman
As members of the profession, we instruct, assess, plan, supervise, report, communicate, nurture, develop … and more. As multi-faceted and complex as the job itself is, so too is the debate about what constitutes professionalism in teaching.
It’s more than a set of skills. It’s comportment. It’s attitude. It’s a vision about how to conduct oneself, and it’s the cumulative effect of our actions in living that vision.
I am delighted that so many examples come to mind when I think about professionalism in the education context. Professionalism is central to communication and to establishing and maintaining productive, meaningful and engaging relationships with our students, their parents, our colleagues and with various communities. For many years, I taught a summer program that combined a French-language course with travel and cultural exploration. The academic team that offered the program exemplified professionalism through regular and consistent communication with parents and by quickly establishing relationships of trust with these parents and the students entrusted to their care.
Professionalism manifests itself in many ways. It is evident in the way we dress, how we conduct ourselves in educational settings and beyond, how we communicate, and how we exercise judgment. I believe that it is perhaps our greatest natural resource.
The term even appears in our official publication: Professionally Speaking. The title is, of course, a play on words: speaking about the profession and speaking in a professional way.
Think about professionalism in a broader context: professional versus amateur — doing something yourself as opposed to having something professionally done. The professional approach brings greater polish, more credibility and inspires increased confidence.
We all come to teaching either directly from post-secondary studies or from another career with skills, knowledge and an understanding of professionalism. As you build on that knowledge, so too does the College build on the prior knowledge of its members and their different perspectives and contexts.
In the context of teaching, professionalism has many faces and the Ontario College of Teachers’ ethical standards help to frame it. We build relationships through trust and respect. We convey care through our actions and we are guided by our integrity in our decisions.
Professionalism is accompanied by autonomy. As trusted, dedicated practitioners, we act independently, secure knowing that our independence is framed by strong guiding standards, collegial support and encouragement from fellow teachers, principals and other leaders, and, most of all, by our core values.
The College develops resources for its members based on this premise of professional autonomy. For example, the College’s professional advisories are designed to inform and enhance the professional judgment of teachers, to help them act with integrity, to show care, to build trust and to convey respect in all of their interactions. The advice guides. It doesn’t prescribe.
Teachers as a collective helped to create the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession and the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession. They’ve set a high bar. As individual teachers — as professionals — we are our own models of professionalism.