Standards and professional growth

In 1997, the Ministerial Order, Teaching Quality Standard Applicable to the Provision of Basic Education in Alberta was signed. It provided a standard with descriptors of the knowledge, skills and attributes related to teachers who were new to the profession (i.e. Interim Certification) and those who held a permanent certificate. A new policy derived from that Ministerial Order was the Teacher Growth, Supervision and Evaluation PolicyThe most notable shift coming from this policy, was the end of cyclical teacher evaluations and the introduction of Teacher Professional Growth Plans and a requirement for more robust supervision of instruction.

In the policy, an evaluation of a teacher could only be conducted under the following guidelines:

  1. Upon written request of the teacher;
  2. For purposes of gathering information related to a specific employment decision;
  3. For purposes of assessing the growth of the teacher in specific areas of practice;
  4. When, on the basis of information received through supervision, the principal has reason to believe that the teaching of the teacher may not meet the teaching quality standard.

The ongoing supervision of teachers was a fundamental component of the new policy in order to:

  1. Provide support and guidance to teachers;
  2. Observe and receive information from any source about the quality of teaching a teacher provides to students; and
  3. Identify the behaviours or practices of a teacher that for any reason may require an evaluation.

Finally, the Teacher Professional Growth Plan  was a plan developed by a teacher, which outlined the teacher’s proposed professional development activities to enhance his or her teaching practice. The full summary of policy requirements are:

  1. Each teacher employed under a probationary or continuing contract is responsible for completing an annual professional growth plan.
  2. The plan is submitted for review or approval to the principal or group of teachers delegated by the principal.
  3. The plan may be a component of a long-term, multi-year plan or may be fulfilled by mentoring a teacher or supervising a student teacher.
  4. Each teacher will meet annually with the principal or delegated group of teachers to review the plan and in consultation decide whether the teacher has completed an annual growth plan that reflects the following requirements:
    • the teacher’s self-assessment of learning needs
    • the Teaching Quality Standard
    • consideration of the educational plans of the school, system and government. (NOTE: This bullet was adjusted later in provincial negotiations to provide more autonomy to individual teachers)

I was a principal back in 1997, and when this new policy came in, I was quite happy with the elimination of cyclical evaluations, as I believed then and still do, that intentional instructional leadership is a superior strategy to improving pedagogy.  Unfortunately, I didn’t see growth plans as anything more than a checklist and compliant activity. And the idea that a teacher’s growth plan was to reflect the teaching standard was somehow lost in the translation for not only myself but for many teachers. Partly because of my own arrogance and my lack of maturity about the importance of professional growth, I fostered the belief that growth plans were simply compliant and checklist activities with my teaching staff. Sadly, as I continue to teach graduate level courses, I have learned that many of my teacher students, continue to share that same belief.

Sometime later, I had an epiphany and realized that part of the very definition of a professional was a desire for continuous improvement. This started my journey to recognize the importance of growth plans and over the last 10 years in the role of Superintendent of Schools, I’ve made this a high priority in my leadership. I meet with my senior leaders and all of my principals three times a year to review their growth plans. It is time consuming but I believe that in role modeling the practice with my own leaders, the uptake at the school level will be far greater. As important is the connection I foster with my leaders and the ability to support their own learning. While it is sometimes difficult for them to delineate their growth plans from their work plans, I push them hard to think about their own professional leadership. No matter where you are in your career, growth and improvement must always be a focus. Even as I get close to wrapping up my own nearly 35 year career in education, I realize not only my own need for continual growth but how much I still need to learn. Lifelong learning is life long!

Alberta Education has been a leader in updating a very dated teaching quality standard and also in creating both a leadership quality and superintendent leadership quality standard. In September 2019, these new professional standards, Teaching Quality Standard, Leadership Quality Standard and Superintendent Leadership Quality Standard became the law. The implementation of these new professional standards has the potential to positively impact educational practice more than anything mandated to date, if growth and continuous improvement are seen as non-negotiable. Teachers, school and system leaders must first align their growth plans with these standards! Your growth areas, cannot go outside of the standards you are to be held to and the plans must be highly intentional and goal driven. Superintendents and principals cannot afford to accept “laissez-faire” growth plans and teachers cannot continue to believe that these plans are only compliant and checklist activities!

We now have standards that have some teeth in them and are written with much clearer language and observable indicators. Principals as instructional leaders, can now more easily engage in supervision practices that focus on established growth areas. A pre-conference question might be, “What are the indicators within your competency growth area, that you would like me to observe?” While a post-conference question might be, “What was some evidence from your teaching that demonstrated you meeting that competency?” I cannot stress enough the importance of these conversations and the opportunity to ask reflective questions. Professional growth may be individual but it is not up for negotiations. With new standards in place and a strong focus on growth, leadership quality, teaching quality and most importantly optimum student learning will be enhanced.

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