Hayes Mizell describes 3 ways to build trust in professional learning. This is all good stuff, but there’s at least one essential prerequisite for any of this to work: you do have to actually trust the professionals (in this case, teachers). And there’s nothing that says “We don’t trust you” like a professional learning requirement that is externally imposed, mandatory, and micro-managed.
To pick just one of the three ways: number 2 reads “[Leaders should] Organize professional learning that teachers experience as appropriate and helpful”. Let’s pick that apart:
- In a mature, self-regulated profession, there is no distinction between leaders and the rest. Rather, the profession as a whole is seen to be leading society. There are leading members of the profession, but they are rarely to be found organizing PL.
- It’s a subtle point, but training is “organized for” workers who are passive recipients. PL might be “offered to” professionals, but just as often they will define for themselves what constitutes PL.
- In a mature, empowered profession, no professional endures PL that is not appropriate and helpful – not for very long, anyway. Try to waste even five minutes of a senior surgeon’s time, and you’ll find yourself looking at a receding surgeon’s back. It’s a measure of a profession that is desperately disenfranchised that it’s even possible to waste days of teachers’ time on poor PL.
Perhaps we as a society don’t actually trust teachers? OK- then we must strictly regulate training requirements, remove self-agency, and concern ourselves with how we are using their time. But in that case we must also stop calling teaching a profession, and we must absolve teachers of responsibility for school outcomes. Personally, I hope it doesn’t come to that.
Note 1: I’m using Mizell’s post as an example of how the language around teacher PL reflects widespread contradictory attitudes towards professionalism in teaching. I’m not suggesting that Mizell himself is inconsistent or otherwise opposed to teacher empowerment.
Note 2: Mizell is writing in the North American context, but my direct observations of the teaching profession are all Australian.