“Professional Practice” is a term that’s being thrown around a lot in many educational circles these days. It goes along with “Educator Effectiveness,” “Teacher Evaluation,” etc. I consider myself a professional. I’ve been working in public education since 2001, and have been working with and teaching kids since 1994. It’s my life’s profession, so, as such, I’m a professional.
I mean, I’m certified as an educator. I have degrees and certificates from accredited and acclaimed Universities acknowledging my competencies and abilities. I continually have my contract renewed, perform (reasonably) well in my job, and continue to love, promote, and grow as an educator. That makes me a professional.
Standards-based learning, as a system of learning for students, has completely flipped the edu-paradigm. It’s making us (educators) look more closely at the learning targets themselves, not at an overall aggregate that blends in whether or not Susie stayed in from recess to earn bonus points by cleaning the chalk board. But it’s more than just a system for students. It’s more than just an edu-paradigm shift for them. It’s changing the entire paradigm, and that means us as educators, and with that change, comes a redefinition and/or restructuring of what “professional” actually means.
My district (AOS #94; www.aos94.org; @AOS94ME) has adopted the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model, which brings into the fold four domains of professional practice for teachers:
- Classroom Strategies and Behaviors
- Reflection and [__]
- Professionalism and Collegiality
- Planning and Preparation
These four domains have, collectively, over sixty elements that help articulate and explicitly indicate how those four domains “look like in practice.”
So you’re a Marzano guy… yup… going corporate. Lame.
Hang on. Not corporate. Research. Good research highly vetted, and the research out of Learning Sciences, International is top notch. It’s not opinion, belief, or hope. It’s all based on evidence. Objective evidence that has been tested, and tested, and retested. Repeat. Ignoring scientifically-based research based on “what I’ve always done” is exactly the same as ignoring scientific fact based on personal beliefs (not getting religious/political here). If the scientific research tells us that providing clear and rigorous learning goals and expectations has a major effect on improving student achievement, that’s a warning we should heed. That’s information we should use. If a doctor is presented with research that a certain medication will cure a specific disease, then it is the responsibility of that doctor to use that medication when a patient has that disease (I know it’s more complicated than that and I’m oversimplifying this… but go with the point, not the specifics). Doctors, lawyers, engineers, plumbers, electricians, and just about all professions have standards of professional practice. Education is no different, and we’ve had them for years. Standards keep us grounded, on task, and pointed. They can be high concept, or incredibly granular. Either way, they give us a performance-based roadmap. There are a few different models out there, but there’s one constant across each: research.
Standards are our roadmap of professional practice. Standards-based learning isn’t just about student achievement and learning; it’s also about improving “Professional Practice.”
Our systems for teacher evaluation, educator effectiveness, and professional practice need to mirror the systems of standards-based learning for students. The focus should be on development/growth/learning; not an aggregate grade. It should be holistic in it’s approach; customizable and personalized at the individual level, and be consistently applied for all. Monitoring growth is crucial, and the data from that monitoring should be used to develop instructional/professional practice plans, not as a means of judgment.
In our edu-paradigm shift, it’s impossible to change one system while maintaining the other. Both systems of learning for teachers AND students are inter-dependent and related. The core principles should be the same: research-based practices that lead to a focus on growth and development.
So what does it mean to be a professional?
In our system, it’s how educators provide evidence as they relate to the standards of “Professional Practice.” The answers are in the standards, and it’s up to us to prove it. Not to the admin. Not to the state.
But to ourselves, and each other.
And most importantly, to our students.
That’s what it means to be a professional.