What is teacher professionalism?
I have been thinking about this question for the last three years and still have no satisfactory answer. My last three posts were looking through the lens of the teacher journey and what professionalism mean at each stage, I now turn my attention to the literature to find further meaning.. Hargreaves and Fullan make a distinction between ‘professional’ and ‘a professional’ in their book Professional Capital (2012) , with ‘professional’ being about behaviours and what you do, and ‘a professional’ defined as how you are perceived by others and how this affects your self-perception.
A classic definition of being a professional is one in which practitioners have;
- specialised knowledge expertise
- a shared professional language
- shared standards of practice
- a rigorous process of training and qualification to be part of the profession
- an ethical element to the service
- professional judgement built into the system
- collaborative working
- commitment to professional learning
Hargreaves and Fullan describe professional capital as the sum of human capital, social capital and decisional capital. These according to Hargreaves and Fullan are linked in an equation, shown below
Human capital can be defined as ‘economically valuable knowledge and skills’ which can be developed by practitioners especially through professional learning. In the OECD report (2015) human capital in new teachers was said to be ‘strong’ as teaching is seen as a desirable occupation in Scotland. Teaching in Scotland is premised on core values of social justice, integrity, trust and respect, and professional commitment through undertaking processes of professional enquiry. These core values underpin the suite of Standards held by GTC Scotland, to support all practitioners to embody and demonstrate the desired characteristics and qualities required of teachers in Scotland. The OECD report (2015) calls the suite of Standards ‘bold’ and goes on to state that they are “supportive of high quality individual professional judgment”. From evidence of Professional Update these standards are becoming embedded in the culture of professional learning for teachers across Scotland.
Social Capital is about “the quality of interaction and social relationships”, this is important in education as social interaction is the cornerstone on which relationships are built, and relationships are at the heart of education. If you have good relationships then you can increase your knowledge through the knowledge of others, which helps you to expand your influence and develop personal and professional resilience.
The final capital defined by Hargreaves and Fullan is decisional capital. This relies on practitioners having autonomy to make informed professional judgements. The ability to make informed professional judgements is built over time through expertise and experience, using your own and the reflections of colleagues to support decisions. The Standards for Career-Long Professional Learning is discussed in the OECD report (2015) as the standards which supports teachers so they can “develop and enhance their practice, expertise, knowledge, skills and professional values”. This is achieved through professional learning and is considered to be a decisional capital as it supports “deliberate development of judgment and expertise over time”. One of the main cornerstones of building decisional capital is “self–efficacy” which is defined in the OECD report (2015) as “a teacher’s belief that he or she can have a positive impact on pupils, even in adverse conditions and circumstances”. Self-efficacy can be developed through teacher leadership which supports teachers regardless of role and responsibility to take leadership roles as part of their professional learning. Teacher leadership support teachers to develop confidence and competence through professional learning choices and supports the improvement agenda of schools. It recognises collaborative and collegiate working to help teachers to develop professional capital.
So according to Hargreaves and Fullan, professionalism is a set of different capitals. These capitals embody professional knowledge and skills, professional relationship building and sustainment, and finally making informed professional judgements. So is teacher professionalism about what you know and how you engage with people and make decisions? This is a reductionist view of a very complex set of dispositions and attitudes. So the quest continues with the writing of Tara Fenwick the next stop.
Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in every school: Routledge
Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective (2015)