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Professional Learning

Teaching the Way We Aspire to Teach

How can engaging teaching be strengthened, supported and enhanced in Canadian schools and classrooms?

The research is solid. Of all school factors that influence outcomes for students the quality of the teaching makes the most difference. Because teaching and learning are reciprocal processes, teaching has to be engaging to both students and teachers for student learning to occur. Yet, teaching takes place in policy and organizational contexts over which the teacher has little control, such as provincial curricula and assessment policies, accountability regimes, pre-service and in service education, collective agreements and the diversity among students who make up today’s classrooms and communities.

In consultations with educators, including teachers, CEA has heard that teaching is “under a cloud” and that “the only thing contemporary in schools today is students”. We heard concerns that the world had changed and that teacher practice also had to change, for example, in the use of technology in the classroom; that teachers felt under-valued; that teaching is challenging but did not have to be as stressful as it currently is; and that that pre-service education did not adequately prepare teachers for their jobs.

Teaching the Way we Aspire to Teach – Now and in the Future

CEA and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and their affliliates are collaborating on a research project examining teachers’ aspirations in Canada. Called “Teaching the Way we Aspire to Teach – Now and in the Future”, the project’s first phase is a series of focus groups with teachers across Canada in the spring and fall of 2011. The first of these took place in Nova Scotia in June.

Rationale for the project:

Conversations with teachers who have spent some time in the profession often reflect a tempering of the high ideals with which they began their careers. While they are still hopeful about the work they are doing, there is a sense from many teachers that factors beyond their immediate control prevent them from fully realizing their original vision of what their professional life was going to be like. In short, there is a noticeable difference between the teacher they aspire to be and the teacher that they feel they are required to be.

Aims of the Teachers’ Aspirations project:

  • Elevate the voices of teachers and to improve the tenor of current public conversations about teaching;
  • Enhance the positioning of teachers as thoughtful and informed contributors to a dialogue on creating schools that are places of innovation, ingenuity and creativity;
  • Create an environment where teachers can engage in ongoing reflection, collaboration and innovation;
  • Contribute to building a system for the future that enhances the capacity of teachers and learners/students to engage successfully;
  • Advance a better understanding of the context for teaching in Canada from the perspective of teachers;
  • Generate compelling ideas to frame local actions and policy proposals to improve the context for teaching and learning in the 21st century.

About the facilitation process:

The focus group facilitators, Stephen Hurley, a teacher and frequent content contributor to CEA, and CEA CEO Ron Canuel, are using a modified ‘appreciative inquiry’ approach (described below).

Teaching the way we aspire to teach – now and in the future is a facilitated conversation designed to discover, activate and effectively communicate stories from our teaching lives. By focusing on stories that reflect and call to mind the positive core of life in the classroom, the focus groups will point participants to the elements and principles that will allow them to re-engage with their aspirations for full, joyful and effective practice. The stories and conversations emerging from the Teaching the way we aspire to teach focus group will extend beyond a personal connection with positive stories; it will also serve to gather the individual elements of successful practice into a collective sense of “this is who we are when we’re at our best”.

Teaching the way we aspire to teach – now and in the future is based on an Appreciative Inquiry model of facilitation. While many approaches to change and improvement begin by looking for (and finding) problems and deficits that prevent a system or organization from moving forward, the Appreciative Inquiry perspective is committed to framing the conversation around change in a positive and hopeful way.

The process is always grounded in stories of success—times when participants felt that they got it right! As these stories are told and become part of a broader collective story, common themes and elements of professional success are identified, considered and used to ground a vision of how these moments of success can become more frequent in our professional lives.

The Appreciative Inquiry method of facilitation always begins by engaging participants in actively seeking and telling personal stories that reflect the heart of the topic being investigated, and always ends with the imagining and design of processes and environments that will foster attention to the common themes and elements identified. In this way, Appreciative Inquiry is an effective way to engage the hearts and minds of the group around a common purpose and a common, worthwhile goal.

Related Publication:

What did you do in school today? Teaching Effectiveness: A Framework and Rubric

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