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September 1998

What it Means to
Be a Teacher

AG00041_.gif (503 bytes) September's
Front Page

College Members Explore the Question,
"What Does it Mean to be a Teacher?"

Sault Ste. Marie, Oakville, L’Orignal, London, Kingston, North Bay, Toronto, Windsor, Brantford, Waterloo, Clinton, Timmins... the journey to standards of practice has taken the College to every corner of the province.

Teachers from every corner of Ontario will recognize their own words when the College Council considers the standards of practice for the profession later this year.

A self-regulatory body is established through legislation to give a profession the responsibility for determining and maintaining a level of competency for the profession. A self-regulatory body must be able to articulate what it is that makes that professional body unique. In the case of the Ontario College of Teachers, it means answering the question, "What does it mean to be a teacher?" Professional self-regulatory bodies most often use the term "standards of practice" to refer to the descriptors that will answer this question.

Over the last year, hundreds of educators across the province have participated in focus groups, discussion groups and writing teams as the College collected, sifted and refined the views about the essential qualities of teaching of practitioners in public, separate, native and private schools, teacher centres, staff development units and faculties of education as well as representatives of student, parent, business and community groups.

Every response was carefully recorded and analyzed by the College Council’s Standards of Practice and Education Committee and staff from the Professional Affairs Department, who synthesized participants’ contributions into statements of philosophy and draft standards that reflect the collective beliefs of the profession.


But the standards also reflect many individual voices – teachers whose contributions summed up the attitudes of their colleagues so clearly that the drafters of the standards agreed, "That’s it... that’s what everyone was getting at."

The Ontario standards will in part reflect the College’s wide-ranging research into current standards around the world and the theoretical work of leading academics in education.

However, the College ensured that the standards are essentially a reflection of the core values and beliefs of Ontario teachers by making focus group interviews the primary research tool.

A focus group is typically a group of 10 to 12 people who give specific feedback on issues presented by a facilitator. These groups are a useful way of listening to participants and learning from them, getting a sense of the issues and exploring beliefs and values.


A February group in North Bay presents a typical picture. Elementary and secondary teachers, consultants and administrators and university professors sit around a table talking passionately about standards of practice for their profession.

They listen intently to their colleagues, agreeing and disagreeing, articulating the core values and beliefs that ground their work. A tape recorder silently captures their responses. A facilitator keeps the discussion moving by asking prepared questions and timing the responses. Another facilitator keeps a scribbled record of the main points on a flip chart to which the participants often refer.

"What implications will the standards have for the profession... for individuals?

"What knowledge, skills and values should the standards include?

"What should they actually look like? How could the standards of practice be worded so that they would be relevant to teachers, principals, supervisory officers and other educators?

"How can educators share their ideas about what it means to be a teacher with parents and the broader community?"

After each session, the audiotape was turned into transcripts averaging 50 pages. These were added to a mountain of data – papers on international standards, papers on professional standards, papers on research data from teachers and Ontario faculties of education, position papers from educational organizations and electronic communications from the College web site.


The standards of practice writing team began with three images – the image of the teacher created from the research in Ontario; the image of standards of practice created by reviewing the international research on standards and the standards of other professional bodies, and the image of the future and the changing needs of students, schools and school districts in the 21st century.

Initially, the group established principles and purposes for standards, drawn out of the Ontario data. These reflect the key values and premises of teachers and the public about standards of practice and articulate the implications and benefits.

Then the drafters established a format based on five themes and elaborated on each standard statement by describing key elements and belief statements. The five themes were: commitment to students and student learning; professional knowledge; teaching practice; leadership and community, and ongoing professional learning.

This early draft of the Ontario teaching profession’s standards of practice has now been sent to all participants in the focus groups, interviews and writing teams for review. Standards of Practice and Education Committee members and staff will meet with a number of groups, including members of the College and the public to review the draft prior to the next meeting of the committee in October.

The committee will consider the feedback from these sessions and prepare a second draft for more formal and extensive field testing before the College Council considers it in December, 1998.

The draft standards of practice will continue to generate a lot of discussion about "What does it mean to be a teacher?" The participants in the research process have spoken with passion as they have struggled to answer this question. Their answers – reflected in the standards and principles and purposes they are based on – are highly personalized, deeply reflective and complex... just like the experience of teaching.

The authors are the members of the Standards of Practice and Education Unit of the College’s Professional Affairs Department – manager Linda Grant and program officers Gary Adamson, Allan Craig, Mary Marrin and Fran Squire.