Friday, 10 October 2014

Expanding our idea of professionalism?

As many of you know, I am modeling being a life long learner and have started a PhD. I am really enjoying the reading that I have been doing and as a part of that,  I have been thinking and reading a lot lately around the idea of professionalism and what it means to be a 'professional'.

I came across some research that presented an extended and possibly unconventional idea of what it means to be a 'professional'. This model consisted of three themes, each one I believe relevant to us as a school community and certainly expands what many of us see as constituting this concept.  I was privileged recently, to open the first ESF conference for our Educational Assistants and used this research as the basis for my opening speech, an amended 'blog' version of which follows. 

The first theme of the research is that professional practice is relational involvement -we are all part of each other’s lives and each of us has an impact on those around us. All those seemingly trivial conversations that we have with our students about the smallest things that may seem isolated, but they actually link to a much larger pedagogical goal: that of creating and maintaining personal connections that refer back to their joint history.

Everyday, we engage in numerous and fleeting conversations that demonstrate a deep layer of connection based on our shared personal knowledge and shared reference points. By having this involvement, also nurtured through these conversations are caring relationships and a sense of togetherness. So: being professional is personal, it is about relationships.

Secondly,  professional practice is teamwork and attunement to one’s colleagues. Teamwork occurs not only at the structural level of agreeing on responsibilities, but also at the level of day to day negotiations of our relationships with our colleagues. Here collegial support is the key, looking out for one another and supporting each other.

This sense of team is renewed daily through preparations for the day, through chats over morning tea, over the photocopier, actually in a myriad of situations! Teamwork requires regular communication- touching base during the day to see how students are going and to see if there is anything that needs to be passed on. It may be an observation made on the playground or on the way into school about a child who is not in the direct care of the observer, but it is important to let those involved with the child know. We all have a personal relationship with our colleagues individually and we also have a collegial responsibility to support our colleagues by sharing that information.

Finally, the third theme about being professional means acting professionally: ‘being fully present’ and bringing it all together. Acting professionally means to bring together multiple  layers of thinking, understandings and knowledge from diverse sources. That moment of balancing - what needs to happen now for this child to move their learning forward? Each of us at school makes that kind of decision everyday, many times a day.

So, in this model, there are three key elements of educational professional practice:
·       A focus on relational involvement in our student’s life
·       Teamwork that goes beyond structural planning and which includes ongoing relational attunement to our         colleagues
·       Professional decision making- the bringing it all together in an act of balancing in order to make the right decisions for learning.

What I like about this research is its inclusive approach. While the concept of 'professionalism' is a highly complex one, this simple definition means that everyone who works in our school can display attitudes, behaviours and dispositions that are professional in nature.

Dalli, Carmen
Early Years: An International Journal of Research and Development, 2011, Vol.31(3), p.229-243

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