More than ten years have passed since the publication of the ‘The Activist Teaching Profession’ Sachs (2003). In a new paper, Sachs “Teacher professionalism: why are we still talking about it?” reflects on the changes that the ten years have made to the teaching profession and I have chosen two themes to discuss which are accountability and professional judgment.
Professionalism is conceived ‘of its time’ through the political and accountability frameworks that either support or constrain it and it is multidimensional. There is evidence to support the fact that professionalism is not one thing but can be many different things. In using the terminology of a ‘mature profession’ Sachs take the view that professionalism is “no longer questioned or contested” (p422) and pulling on Mocker (2005) works, Sachs continues by saying that this tries to help teachers to develop as “creative designers of curriculum and innovative pedagogues”. Within this ‘mature profession’ teachers will be both creators and consumers of research, individually and collectively, and need to establish a trusting relationship with various stakeholders to become less risk adverse in partnership working. Hargreaves (2000) however, has cautioned that ‘positive new partnerships’ both in and beyond schools as discussed as a way forward by the OECD report (2015) may lead to “the de-professionalization of teachers, as teachers begin to flounder under conditions of uncertainty, multiple pressures and intensified work demands”. However, Sachs also cites Guskey who is more of the mind that “jointly planned activities are consistently more effective and more efficient than those planned by either school-based or district educators working alone (Guskey, 1999)”. This challenge then becomes about how we create ‘third spaces’ where collaboration can develop and more importantly thrive.
Accountability has become a key element of professionalism and as such is a driver of the discourse around professionalism. For Bovens, Schillemans, and T’Hart (2006, pp. 226–227) in practice, being accountable is seen as a virtue, as a positive quality of organizations or officials. (p416). So how do we balance this organisational accountability with professional autonomy? In a performance culture, accountability impacts on teacher autonomy and how teachers enact their professionalism. It is sometimes difficult to discuss accountability in a form other than that of ‘perfect information’, data that is easy to measure, which then becomes valued and is the bases of quality indicators, (organisational accountability) in preference to trying to measure the things we do value (professional autonomy). Sachs draws on the work of Bolan and McMahon who argue that the political context defines the direction of travel for the education system and thus does not always support teacher agency, as it narrows the definition of professional learning to a more technical approach of teaching.
However, accountability is a multifaceted, Halstead (1994) distinguishes between two forms of accountability, contractual accountability and responsive accountability.
v Contractual accountability
Is enacted through Standards, outcomes and results and is based on an explicit and an implicit contract which tends to be measurement driven. Student test results, literacy and numeracy rates are some examples. It is where the intent of government is compliance and control, and at its worst, leaves teachers little agency or self-regulation.
v Responsive accountability,
Is enacted through decision-making by teachers and is more concerned with process than outcomes. It supports inclusion and the use of the collective wisdom of the profession to self-regulate practice.
In the current global climate of performativity, it is not surprising that contractual accountability is seen to be preferred over responsive accountability.
Accountability has, in some countries, been through the use of professional standards which have become a tool for managing and overseeing teacher accountability. I would argue that SFR is an accountability measure to ensure the high standards expected of teachers in Scotland, but CLPL is far more about the individual teachers learning journey. It is not a tick box standard to be ‘got through’ but rather a measure of scope and remit for the individual and thus is less about accountability and more about professionalism. Sachs claims that “the opportunity for teacher professional standards to be a catalyst for authentic professional learning is not being realized” (p417)¸ I would argue that in Scotland this is not the case.
As previously stated accountability is multifaceted and thus “different forms of accountability circulate which in turn produce different outcomes and have different effects on the enactment of teacher professionalism” (p415). Both Sachs and Evetts hold common views of professionalism. Evetts ‘occupational professionalism’ aligns with Sachs ‘democratic professionalism’ and Evetts ‘organisational professionalism’ aligns with Sachs ‘managerial professionalism’. Both authors agree that occupations professionalism (Evetts) or democratic professionalism (Sachs) supports a transformative profession which leads to authentic professional learning. When teacher learning is the focus of professional learning and linked explicitly with student learning, then “teacher accountability is vindicated and at the same time teachers expand their personal and professional horizons” (p421).
Transformative learning can be achieved through teachers and school systems becoming research enriched by being both consumers and creators of research. Teachers can develop the skills required to undertake enquiry, becoming research literate, and by doing so would assume more responsibility for their own learning. Through being “reflective practitioners or inquirers who make decisions about how students learn, how to assess student learning and appropriate pedagogy for the students, s/he teaches based on evidence and experience” (p420), teachers could feel more ‘in control’ of their own learning and thus feel ‘more professional’ and be ready to ask questions of policy and management systems. Within Professional Learning and education systems it “takes courage to ask tough questions and have the skills to find honest answers”(p421). I would encourage teachers to be courageous and move beyond the ‘what works’ agenda to professional learning which meet the needs of the teacher and their students in their situation. So Professional Learning must serve many masters, it must support teachers to continue to ‘sharpen the saw’ (Covey) and also understand and respond to the social element of education and schooling.
Here I would add a note and caution strongly against going down the ‘what works’ route as this does not mention works for whom? Where? When? Or how? Or the social and cultural factors, Stoll states that schools are “situationally unique” and so critical appraisal of an intervention is crucial, we cannot adopt but we may be able to adapt.
Teacher professional judgement
As discussed in recent OECD report (2105), professional judgement is one aspect which can be improved upon in Scotland, Sachs cited Ravitch (2010, p. 163) who states that professional judgement is a measure of a “good accountability system”.
This begs the question, how do we help teachers to develop and have confidence in their professional judgement? Teacher confidence needs to be improved as until recently this not been a driver of accountability, where ‘hard data’, (I would argue easy to measure data) has not been considered more important. This lack of investment in teacher judgement has led to teachers becoming ‘risk adverse’ and ‘more timid in their judgement’ as Sachs states (p432).
When teachers’ judgement and decision-making is questioned, it diminishes teachers’ self-confidence, creativity and the moral purpose that sustain them in ambiguous and difficult situations. It also corrodes their ability to act with confidence and authority and weakens trust.
This works against the notion of the ‘professional’ with professional judgement being the heart of a professionalism and leads to a technician approach to teaching – doing teaching rather than thinking teacher. Changes in teacher attitudes or as Sachs puts it ‘attitudinal development’ can support to develop confidence in professional judgement as “it is intellectual and motivational and is concerned with improvement of individual practice” (p420).
There is a still a shift needed to move accountability from a managerial approach to a more teachers autonomous approach where professional learning in the form of enquiry into their own and others practice becomes a ‘way of being’ to support the attainment and achievement of young people. This shift into becoming more research enriched, being both creators and consumers of research would support teacher professionalism through active engagement in policy discourse and raised confidence in professional judgement, as a means of teacher agency.
Sachs , J. (2016) Teacher professionalism: why are we still talking about it? Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, VOL. 22, NO. 4, 413–425