Carnegie Education

Let's talk about... the profession and professionalism

There are some enduring questions about teachers and school leaders as a profession. What does it mean to be part of the teaching profession? Are teachers too often ‘done to’, or are they viewed as having emerging expertise? As professionals do they feel isolated or part of a unique and significant community? Should we be more concerned with the individual person or the characteristics of the collective?  How are individual educators’ lives shaped by and contributing to the profession as a whole?

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As we look beyond the current Covid-19 pandemic we hope to host a CollectivED / GCI Knowledge Exchange Conference ‘Better Conversations, enhancing education one discussion at a time’ in the next academic year. This blogpost was originally written based on a theme for the conference planned for June. In addition to our main stage speakers we have a number of subthemes which will be explored through roundtable discussions. Prior to our rescheduled conference we anticipate hosting ‘Let’s talk about…’ webinars. Please follow @CollectivED1 on twitter for more information.

We know that too many education practitioners experience personal and professional dilemmas, and that these can become genuine struggles which impact on their wellbeing, retention or sense of belonging in schools. Suzanne Culshaw, who tweets at @SuzanneCulshaw, has recently gained her doctorate for her research into teachers who struggle. She is currently a Research Fellow at the University of Hertfordshire, and also a languages teacher at Castle Manor Academy in Suffolk, and on top of that is a current student on the Leeds Beckett University PGCert in Coaching and Mentoring for Education Practitioners. Suzanne’s research has demonstrated that struggling is a complex phenomenon which can be experienced by teachers and leaders at all stages of their careers and also that struggling is a temporary fractured state with a range of embodied and emotional dimensions. This will be the basis of the roundtable discussion using the question “What can we learn from talking openly about struggling?” and the discussion will provide “an opportunity to reflect on teachers’ stories”. The stories of struggling are rich stories vignettes for professional conversations, each addressing a different professional dilemma. The roundtable discussion will draw on the vignettes and make use of the Connect-Extend-Challenge protocol, which will allow participants to make connections with their own experience, extend their understanding of professional dilemmas they and others experience and to challenge and unsettle their current thinking?

Sometimes it is the difficult conversations that bring dissonance and discomfort that are most likely to enhance education, as they demand that we question ourselves as professionals. On this theme a further contribution will be a roundtable discussion hosted by Lisa Taylor who tweets at @lisaceritaylor. Lisa is the Director of Initial Teacher Education at the University of South Wales. For her roundtable discussion the question in focus will be “Has teaching become such a compliant profession that we only tinker at the edges rather than engage in truly disruptive professional conversations?”. Lisa will invite participants to reflect on the prediction made by Bottery and Wright (2000) that teaching would become a ‘directed profession’, where national policy prescribes what counts as teacher knowledge, and where teacher identity is based on achieving compliance and conformity. She hopes to challenge this discourse of compliance and ‘certainty’ in favour of questions that are worth asking. Lisa believes that these questions may bring unexpected and possibly uncomfortable findings but have the power to enhance education. Under Chatham House Rules, Lisa will be asking her participants to reflect on what disruption means to them, and to recall a disruptive conversation that they have led or been involved in. There will also be an opportunity to reflect on provocations offered for further discussion.

Finally, under this theme we are pleased to be welcoming Hannah Wilson, who tweets at @ethical_leader and is currently Head of Secondary Teacher Training at the University of Buckingham. Hannah co-founded #WomenEd, is a former headteacher and is a vice chair of trustees. She hosts an annual event called Diverse Educators and designed a DFE funded programme called Diverse Leaders. As such she is in the perfect position to host a discussion on the question “How can we diversify our schools?”. Hannah will share contextual data including recruitment and retention data and pay gap data, as well as pen portraits of some diverse leaders and their career trajectories. The discussion will focus on identifying and discussing the barriers and possible the solutions to diversifying our profession. It will provide an opportunity to reflect on unconscious bias and consider the importance of how we educate and inform our recruiters into the profession. This roundtable discussion will illustrate the importance of better conversations to enhance education through a more diverse workforce from beginner teachers to MAT CEOs and Chairs of Trustees.

There are lots of reasons to talk to colleagues and amongst them are the opportunities to develop practices and better thinking. At times these conversations need to enter difficult territory and we need to be prepared to challenge and be challenged.

By Rachel Lofthouse, Suzanne Culshaw, Hannah Wilson and Lisa Taylor

You can also read about the roundtable discussions around the themes in our earlier blog-posts.

Professor Rachel Lofthouse

Professor / Carnegie School Of Education

Rachel Lofthouse is Professor of Teacher Education in the Carnegie School of Education. She has a specific research interest in professional learning, exploring how teachers learn and how they can be supported to put that learning into practice.

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