The Teaching Council is a partner, not the enemy

Leftfield

Photograph: David Leahy/Digital Vision/Getty

Photograph: David Leahy/Digital Vision/Getty

Tue, Apr 30, 2013, 06:00

I recently had the pleasure of launching Re-imagining Initial Teacher Education: Perspectives on Transformation, a compilation of essays about the changes in the field in Ireland.

Although there were some contributions I disagreed with, there were many that resonated pretty strongly as I look towards the end of my first year as director of the Teaching Council.

I was particularly struck by Marilyn Cochran-Smith’s statement that “professional teachers have doubts and raise questions, not because they are failing, but because they are learning.” This is a wonderfully consoling idea: that to ask a question is not to expose yourself to accusations of ignorance but to unlock learning for others.

Now that Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has announced that section 30 of the Teaching Council Act 2005 will come into force on November 1st, teachers are about to embark on a new era of professionally led regulation.

So I would put it to the profession that, besides continuing to ask questions to benefit their professional practice as teachers, this is a good time to reflect on the relationship between the profession and the public and on the role of regulation in enhancing that relationship.

This is what we at the Teaching Council are trying to achieve for the profession, in the interests of the public: teachers as a community of learners, infused by a culture of lifelong learning. For all the resources that are now available to schools, the most valuable resources in schools are the teachers, for each other as much as for the pupils.

My aspiration, as we move into this new era of professionalism, is that teachers will enhance their collective professional confidence and shared professional responsibility together, in partnership with the members of their own school community.

I was also struck by the statement in the book’s introduction that teacher education in Ireland, “as elsewhere, has entered a period of increased surveillance and control”.

I know that some would include the Teaching Council in this statement. I would ask those people to step back for a moment and calmly reassess our policy documentation and our various public utterances over the past year or so.

Our policies are not a prescriptive formula that seek to micromanage teaching and teacher education; rather, they endeavour to construct a framework of policy consistency that will enable teacher educators and teachers to embrace, and indeed drive, their own change with courage and confidence.

There will always be tensions between policymakers and those who implement policy. But perhaps those who view the council solely as policymakers are missing the point.

If they could see the work the council has done in terms of policy development, in the way it has sought to develop policy to date and will be doing in the near future, then perhaps they might relocate us in their own view of the education landscape.

This is particularly relevant in the context of the council’s ongoing consultation on induction and probation, and the proposed opt-in pilot scheme.

Here the council has set out the aims of the process, and the values which we feel should underpin it. We are now approaching the profession, seeking its help to populate the framework with more detail.

After 30 or 40 years of complaining about top-down and centre-out initiatives, I urge teachers to grasp this opportunity to drive change that will enhance the learning of our pupils in ways that teachers know best, informed by professional judgment and by professional conversations with parents and other stakeholders.

Tomás Ó Ruairc is director of the Teaching Council, which regulates the teaching profession