standards.jpg (21572 bytes) Standards of Practice Striking a Chord with Educators

The College’s statement defining what it means to be a teacher – the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession – is gaining a foothold among educators as a valuable resource in guiding discussion among teachers about their classroom practice and in planning new initiatives.

By Fran Squire and Lois Browne

The standards are touching a nerve with people. They just seem to capture something that teachers need. We’re a bit beleaguered now, as a profession, and this really is an exercise that makes people feel very good about what they do," says Ottawa teacher and guidance counsellor Kevin Gilmore.

The Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession consists of five statements – commitment to students and student learning, professional knowledge, teaching practice, leadership and community and ongoing professional learning – and key elements of how committed teachers practise their profession.

During 1999, a number of faculties of education, school boards and classroom teachers were invited to incorporate the use of the draft standards into a number of activities such as mentor programs, pre-service education and staff development.

Some teachers report having to overcome some initial reservations about another new document. Others expressed apprehension about what impact it might have on their workload or uncertainty about its purpose. But early wariness quickly disappeared as teachers and administrators began to see themselves and their work in the standards, often using stories from their professional lives to highlight what mattered most to them.


Two mentoring programs in Ontario, formed in response to a growing need for planned and sustained support for beginning teachers, have found the standards useful.

Janet Wilkinson, superintendent of the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board, introduced a mentoring program last year. "We can’t afford to have a school district full of first-year teachers going through trial-by-fire initiation without any additional support," says Wilkinson.

Wilkinson’s work as a member of a College accreditation panel gave her the idea of using the standards as part of the program.

An effective activity in a workshop on standards is to ask the mentors-in-training to think of stories that illustrate what they might want to say to new teachers. For example, says Wilkinson, the standards’ statement on professional knowledge includes the key elements of assessing and evaluating student learning, student approaches to learning and achieving curriculum expectations. A mentor might describe to a new teacher their own experiences in drawing up report cards at the end of the year and realizing that they didn’t have all the data they needed.

"That becomes a comment on the need for good data collection, and accurate and complete record keeping throughout the year. At the same time, it makes clear what the expectations of a good teacher are," says Wilkinson. "The strength of this approach is that you have removed the evaluative element."


Margaret Dempsey, principal of staff development for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, used the standards with a group of elementary and secondary school teachers she drew together to design workshops aimed at helping teachers recognize best classroom practices.

"They became the focus group that wouldn’t go away," says Dempsey who had hoped the group – a combination of experienced and beginning teachers – would see themselves in the standards. "I knew that teachers speaking to teachers would be powerful, but I didn’t realize how powerful. I think that each came to feel ownership in the standards. It’s not just a College document."

One of those who became involved was Kevin Gilmore, a history teacher and guidance counsellor at Rideau High School in Ottawa. "I had heard vaguely about the standards, but I fully admit to knowing very little about them at the time," says Gilmore.

The most interesting part of the process for him was an exercise that had each experienced teacher recall an outstanding teaching moment in their career.

"I remembered a time when I was talking to my students about Greek sculpture and body form. I was very interested in the subject, but I wasn’t sure the students would be. I related the Greeks’ definition of the human body and sculpture and how they saw the human form to how we perceive the ideal human form today. And that ended up being a real magical moment in teaching because the kids just took the ball and ran with it," remembers Gilmore. "They talked about body image, issues that teenagers deal with regarding body image, what society says we should look like."

"I found that particular moment in many different key elements of the standards, and that’s part of the whole point. The standards are all about descriptors, about the many things that teachers do that we don’t usually quantify."


After the project was completed, the group decided to continue with discussions on teaching practice. "We wanted to help other teachers use this document," says Gilmore. The result was a series of workshops on the standards to discuss what it means to be a teacher. So far, over 100 teachers have taken part.

"We’ve had two workshops and the feedback has been 100 per cent raves," says Gilmore. "People have said ‘I really see what I do as a teacher. I’m surprised at all the things I do.’ Participants have come away feeling good about being teachers, and that’s so important these days."

Faculties of education, charged with producing classroom teachers, are also finding the standards to be a useful tool. Last year, Clare Kosnik, assistant professor with the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, introduced the standards to students of the pre-service education program.

"It got them talking about what they needed to work on for their

own professional development," says Kosnik. The standards help to give students a vocabulary to discuss curriculum issues and teaching strategies, she says. "We want them to start using the language of professionals, and I found that the College standards are written in a way that makes them very easy to use."


Studying the standards is useful for re-enforcing elements of the pre-service program such as action research, says Kosnik. "The section in the standards on ongoing professional development complements the action research that students do. Our message to the students is that this is the type of professional development they can engage in when they are a teacher."

The standards also find a place in initiatives involving very experienced teachers, such as the School Leadership Program of the Grand Erie District School Board, which prepares people for administrative roles as principals and vice-principals. Once again the standards combine with action research and stories to help educators see their own values reflected in their daily work.

Cheryl Black, a music teacher at Bradford College and a soon-to-be Grand Erie vice-principal, took part in the School Leadership Program last year in which 20 educators used the standards to examine their own practice.

Black says that before this exercise, "I guess I took my values for granted." In this, as in other projects using the standards, stories are central.

Black’s story is of her vocal music class where she noticed her students were working harder and challenging each other to work ahead. When she asked why, a Grade 9 boy told her, "It’s because you made us believe we could do it!"

Students have also commented on her willingness to listen, her acceptance of constructive criticism and her philosophy of treating students as respected and valued individuals – all values that are reflected in the standards.

The participants of the School Leadership Program shared a common passion for leadership issues, looking not only at their own image within the standards, but how they might inspire and influence others. They spoke of purposefully modelling ongoing professional learning,

an important element of the standards, and they understood the connection between that and the commitment to students and student learning.

For these participants, leadership was creating a culture where supporting colleagues, keeping a balance of experience among staff and clearly stating expectations were all part of a culture of leadership as exemplified in the standards.

Making the Standards of Practice Come Alive

It took many months, the efforts of many College staff members and the input of hundreds of educators throughout Ontario to arrive at a first draft of the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession. By that time, the College was receiving a lot of feedback on the document through e-mail as a result of presentations or through formal position papers from stakeholder groups.

"What we didn’t have," says Fran Squire of the College’s Standards of Practice and Education Unit," was any additional information about how the standards would be used in practice by educators in the field."

The College launched a project to collect such information through case studies, inviting educators involved in a variety of projects to incorporate the standards into their process.

Squire and colleague Allan Craig set up and followed six case studies, two of which – the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board – involved mentors and new teachers. Squire and Craig also conducted case studies involving Lorayne Robertson, supervisor, and Judy Arnold, principal, of the Thames Valley District School Board; Jerri Popp, practicum co-ordinator and consecutive co-ordinator of the Faculty of Education at York University, and Jackie Delong, superintendent, Grand Erie District School Board; and resource teachers from the Peel District School Board.

"One of the interests I had was in finding out how to make the document come alive," says Squire. "A list of attributes in a paper can’t capture the artistry and passion of teaching," she says. "Sharing stories is the way to do that. That’s been the power of the case studies."

Squire believes that the standards are now gaining a wide acceptance within the education system and that teachers are accepting them as their own. "Educators are now starting to understand that this document has not been imposed from outside. It has been developed by teachers for teachers, and will be useful in providing descriptors for teaching, as a foundation for in-service and pre-service learning and as a tool to support professional growth."

The case studies cited in this article were presented by staff of the Standards of Practice and Education Unit at two recent academic conferences – the American Educational Research Association Conference in April and the Canadian Society for Studies in Education in May. The case studies are in the College library, and copies are available from the Professional Affairs Department by contacting Sandra Bodnarchuk at 416-961-8800, ext. 859 or toll-free in Ontario at 1-888-534-2222, ext. 859.