The Teacher Professional

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How can teachers give themselves a meaningful voice to become emancipated?

I’m reading Flip the System: changing education from the ground up by Jelmer Evers and Rene Kneyber. It’s a brilliant read and I’m blogging my thoughts as I travel through the book.

‘Flip the system’ calls for a move away from an uneducational economic approach, to instead embrace all humane, more democratic approach to education. This approach as the authors state, is a “move that places teachers exactly where they need to be-at the steering educational systems worldwide”.

Something to note, both authors claim to each have a teaching bias. Kyneber the traditional and Evers progressive in a bid to claim teaching as a profession, rather than a split camp, seeing a slow introduction of teachers into all levels of policy decision-making.

Both authors agree that the need for a flipped system is urgent. Teachers – across the world – feel lost in terms of what they are working for. We need teachers to safeguard that which makes education educational. There was a time when nobody was telling teachers what to do. The authors write that “perhaps 40 or 50 years ago, education was not subject to furious political debate”. When I qualified in the 1990s, although I was a young and naive, although I recognise that I was entering into a profession that would sap my energies, I was very unaware of the political influences that would be unleashed into my day-to-day work.

The sense of crisis started to reach the shores of England when OECD started to publish its PISA survey in 2000 (OECD 2001). “Although the Pisa results are intended to be used for comparing systems in order to provide countries with system information, they have led, especially among politicians, a feeling of pressure and fear of falling behind”.

The perceived crisis used to push an agenda for ‘raising the bar’.

The Professional:

There is increasing demand for teachers to work more broadly, more than imparting subject knowledge in their classroom. “The benefit of this view, is that it allows for actual ‘moral agency’, and secondly that it allows for a broader kind of accountability that values internal accountability – between teachers and schools – as well as external accountability – to external stakeholders, but certainly not exclusively to the state … In stark contrast to the ‘free for all’ professionalism of old, but without the arbitrary restraints of the neoliberal paradigm.”
What dimension of the teaching profession actually makes the teacher educational?
shutterstock_114202537 Rusty school gate chained and locked

The authors argue that “there is a strong need for teachers to connect and to reflect on the purposes of education, and to think and act coherently in terms of their teaching methods.” With the birth of social media, this is even easier for every teacher to achieve. To generate a “new language of education to protect ourselves from the external forces that threaten a good education for every child”.

Political activity is whatever shifts a body from the place assigned to it or changes a place’s destination. It makes visible what had no business being seen and makes heard a discourse where once there was only place for noise; it makes understood as discourse that which was only heard as noise ~ Ranciere, 1999)


The Issue of Power:

If a managed version of education cannot deliver a good education, can teachers do it for themselves? asks the authors in the introduction.

The answer is evident in grassroots movement we already see happening across the UK and further around the world. Ed-camps, TeachMeets and un-conferences for teachers, organised in the evenings or on the weekends in our own time. Bringing together hundreds and thousands of teachers – sometimes politicians and policymakers too – to events to discuss ‘what works’ and what needs to be done. Teachers answer to themselves and curate their own agenda as a collective profession, and “to the rest of society on an equal level”.

Because the system is flipped, every teacher is now obligated to take part. “We no longer need to be told what to achieve or how to achieve it”.  This is the birth of teacher leadership, a relatively new concept.

Teacher Leadership:

Teacher leaders lead within and beyond the classroom; identify with and contribute to the community of a teacher learners and leaders; influence others toward improved educational practice; and accept responsibility for achieving outcomes of their leadership.” (Awakening the Sleeping Giant, Katzenmeyer).

The authors believe teacher leadership should be locked into formal positions, and this is where I would disagree. As soon as grassroots education becomes formal, it loses it va-va-voom, but I do agree that every teacher should attempt to impact in and outside the classroom.

Many teachers already do – within the boundaries of school – but we are still not doing enough outside their school gates (excluding strike action, petitions and subject associations).

As I have argued my case for the College of Teaching, ‘teaching leadership’, or those engaged in TeachMeets, social media and those labelled as ‘Twitterati‘, it should not become a new aristocracy. We should all be striving for a collective autonomy as presented in the first blog review of Flip the System: The Death of a Teacher.

We should strive for professional kudos, and the College of Teaching – for teachers in England at least – provides this opportunity instead of a deprofessionalised system that we are seeing unfold before us.

To often we do not speak up collectively against government pressures and regulations. Why? Probably because there is too much coming from all avenues: examination and curriculum reform? Assessment? The English Baccalaureate? It can appear very difficult to focus on what to tackle first.

Working with ideas from Jacques Rancière, I offer the suggestion that emancipatory education can be characterised as education which starts from the assumption that all students can speak” (Gert Bietsa). To ‘flip the system’ should be our emancipation.

A process where the ‘voice’ of teachers is given a meaningful place, whereas before it was considered just noise” (Ranciere 1999).

To initiate this process: to enable teachers to give themselves a meaningful voice within the sector, it is not “simply the government telling teachers to emancipate. It is rather a question of teachers initiating this process themselves.”

What do you think we should do?


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