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Teacher Newsmagazine  Volume 21, Number 6, April 2009 

Paths to Professional Autonomy

The professional model

By Viva Moodley 

Can you imagine what a bureaucratic nightmare the $4 billion educational system would be if it were not for teachers?

Teachers give the system a human face with how they act toward students, parents, and colleagues. Teachers resist the bureaucracy imposed on them by the educational system. As professionals, we are always cognizant of our students’ needs, which come first in our minds.

One of the clauses in the collective agreement that teachers use in making decisions is that of Professional Autonomy. In our collective agreement the clause reads:

Article F.4: Professional Autonomy
F.4.1 Teachers shall, within the bounds of this Agreement and consistent with the requirements of the prescribed curriculum, have individual professional autonomy so long as it is consistent with effective educational practice. 

This autonomy may be exercised in determining the methods of instruction, and the planning, presentation, and evaluation of course materials in the classes to which they are assigned. 

There have been many attacks on the professional autonomy of teachers, e.g., class size, but teachers continue to make professional decisions every day. This article remains a powerful tool provided that teachers do not shy away from utilizing it.

A number of years ago, I went to the principal in my school requesting that he make decisions for me, the content of which escapes me right now. His reply was that the board paid me a lot of money to make that decision. I’ve never looked back. It was a seminal moment for me when I came to the realization that as a professional these were my duties.

I found an article that crystallized this issue for me in a report presented to the BCTF Annual General Meeting in March of 1995 called, “BCTF Task Force on Changing Roles and Responsibilities of School Personnel.” See below.

The question one should ask is, Which kind of school would I like to work in—a hierarchical/bureaucratic model or a professional model? For me there is no hesitation, I am not a teacher technician but a professional.

It remains up to teachers to exercise their professional autonomy. I guard mine jealously.

Viva Moodley teaches at Oakland Elementary School, Victoria. 

BCTF Task Force on the Changing Roles and Responsibilities of School Personnel, 1995 AGM

The hierarchical/bureaucratic model 

  • Formal authority of administration emphasized
  • Administrators set direction, teachers follow
  • Teacher compliance with rules an objective
  • Teacher loyalty to administration promoted
  • Constant monitoring of teacher compliance
  • Top-down restructuring and management
  • Teacher jobs routinized, limited skills required
  • Students processed and credentialed
  • Standardized student project an objective
  • Layers or regulations and overseers
  • Little investment in professional development
  • Collegial consultation not important
  • Teachers accountable to management
  • Change, innovation, controlled
  • Individual risk-taking discouraged
  • Teachers not regarded as professionals
  • Teachers treated as rule-directed employees
  • Teachers given influence but little authority
  • Decisions made by those furthest form action
  • Increasing use of non- and paraprofessionals
  • Growth in administration
  • Teacher salaries and benefits under attack
  • Working conditions considered unimportant
  • Collegiality not encouraged

The professional model

  • Teachers trusted as professionals
  • Teacher knowledge, skills acknowledged
  • Teachers accountable to their profession
  • Atmosphere of critical inquiry
  • Collective, collegial dialogue
  • Teachers have real authority
  • Professional discretion allowed
  • Focus on student needs not rules
  • Teachers responsible for whole school
  • Teachers/parents working relationship
  • Students active participants in learning
  • Students prepared for active citizenship
  • Collaborative school culture
  • Collegial decision making
  • Conflict resolution styles implemented
  • Control relinquished by administrators
  • Restructuring is bottom-up
  • Teachers well-paid, trained, qualified
  • Teacher differences honoured
  • Administration supports teachers
  • Workload, health, burnout considered
  • Morale, job satisfaction important
  • Professional development important
  • Teachers support need for co-ordination

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