Ongoing learning is at the heart of teacher professionalism. To support Ontario teachers’ professional learning, the College published an updated Professional Learning Framework for the Teaching Profession (PLF) in 2016. Professionally Speaking spoke with some of the educators who contributed to its collaborative development.
By Melissa Campeau
Photos: iStockphoto.com, Ontario College of Teachers
The Professional Learning Framework for the Teaching Profession describes the many ways teachers can foster their individual and collective growth, as identified by members of the profession through provincial consultations, surveys, focus groups and written narratives on practice.
Additional Qualifications (AQs) for teachers help support ongoing learning, enhancing teachers’ professional knowledge and practice, and benefiting both students and the public.
Additional Qualifications (AQs) for teachers help support that ongoing learning, enhancing teachers’ professional knowledge and practice, and benefiting both students and the public. “The public trusts that the profession will engage in a multiplicity of forms of professional learning,” says Déirdre Smith, OCT, manager of the Standards of Practice and Education Unit at the College. “AQs are one important dimension of that trust.”
Ongoing professional learning is a standard of practice for the teaching profession. “There’s good reason for this,” says Pierre Beaudin, OCT, practicum co-ordinator and part-time professor at the University of Ottawa. “Additional Qualifications matter a great deal in our profession. They are a way for us to increase our knowledge and skills while keeping up to date on the most recent developments and remaining at the forefront of knowledge.”
The Professional Learning Framework recognizes the importance of thoughtful, ethical and critically reflective practices and innovations that help the teaching profession adjust, on an ongoing basis, to the “evolving nature of learning, teaching and leadership. “Teachers have a responsibility to seek ongoing professional renewal, to prepare students for the challenges they face in the future,” says Beaudin. AQs are one effective way to do this.
The benefits of Additional Qualifications extend beyond the academic content of the programs. AQ courses nurture a community of learners, whether connections are made through in-person or virtual classes. “Professional bonds can be established through the AQ courses,” says Marisa Di Censo, OCT, principal with the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board. “Instructional practice is enhanced through professional collaboration, which serves students across the province.”
Professional learning through AQs can help facilitate community building within entire schools, as well. “In my experience, teachers and education leaders who engage in AQ courses share their learning and enthusiasm with their colleagues,” says Di Censo. “Their practice — and that of their colleagues — is invigorated by new learning, affirmation of their own best practices, and by professional dialogue that occurs both formally and incidentally at school.”
While the positive impact of Additional Qualifications is widespread throughout Ontario, research suggests the structure and nature of AQs is quite unique. “We could find no other jurisdiction in the world with a similar offering of professional learning for their teachers,” says Pamela McGugan, OCT, a retired teacher and principal with the Peel District School Board, an education officer with the Ministry and a program officer with the College. “Bearing in mind the thousands of teachers that enrol in AQs each year, virtually at their own expense, it’s a prime example of our teachers’ autonomous self-directed learning in action.”
AQ course content originates in direct response to teachers’ needs and areas of interest — and this is at the heart of the very high levels of enrolment. “AQ course guidelines are developed at the recommendation of teachers or sometimes the public. In many cases a subject association will bring forth a request,” explains McGugan.
The development of new AQs might come from general demand, but the decision about which areas to study is largely in the hands of each teacher, directed by interest, curiosity and an evolving school environment. “Teaching requires a deep and profound understanding of pedagogy and a willingness to build on that knowledge as new aspects and techniques are discovered,” says McGugan.
“Each teaching assignment, classroom and group of students invariably brings new challenges that dictate areas of further inquiry and engagement in professional learning.”
The individualized nature of AQ learning means teachers often come to the courses already engaged in and curious about the subject matter — fertile ground for the development of new skills. “The most important element of effective professional learning for me is autonomy,” says Jennifer Damianidis, OCT, a Special Education teacher for Grades 6 to 8 with the Peel District School Board. “The interests I have pursued for professional learning have been deeply linked to my personal reflection and growth as an educator; they have not been pursued for the sake of status or career moves.”
This individualized learning allows teachers to focus on what matters most within their own practices and interests. “Although a portion of my ongoing professional learning is based on system needs, other learning opportunities are inspired by what motivates me most: my passion for Special Education and the needs that I have in my classroom,” says Melinda Rapallo-Ferrara, OCT, a Special Education teacher/program consultant with the York Catholic District School Board.
In addition to helping teachers enhance student learning, AQs also become a matter of public record, helping to maintain confidence in the profession and assuring the public that those who work directly with children and youth have the necessary professional knowledge and skill, and that they embody ethical standards and values.
Ontario communities are best served by confident teachers who work with up-to-date research and employ current best practices. “Professional learning facilitates this,” says Di Censo, and teachers then translate that learning to students. “Strong, capable students ensure and foster communities that are caring, prosperous and healthy.”