The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

The need for a strong professional culture in teaching – at every level of the system

How do people react when you tell them you work in teaching? Do they look at you with respect and admiration, celebrating your work to benefit the future of young people and society? Or do they offer a look of sympathy for the endless pressures that are associated with being a teacher? While I would like to think it is the former, too often it is the latter – and the recruitment and retention challenges in the profession tell a similar story.

We talk a lot at the Chartered College about the need to raise the status of the teaching profession – it is at the heart of our purpose – but it is important to reflect on what that really means, and how we are working – with the profession itself – to do so.

In my view, it needs to come from two directions. Firstly, of course we need to champion our profession – to shout about the amazing job that teachers are doing day in, day out, to make a difference for our children and young people. 

For schools and school trusts to be able to effectively develop a strong professional culture, they need to exist in a system where this is not just valued, but expected

Alison Peacock

But it’s about more than just #proudtoteach. If we are serious about raising the status of the teaching profession, we need the focus to be on teachers themselves, and the professional environment in which they are working, to make sure teaching is both a profession that people want to join, and one that they want to stay in for their whole career.

And of course, focusing on teachers in turn has huge benefits for our pupils, too. Ensuring pupils receive high quality teaching is the most effective thing schools can do to improve pupil outcomes and narrow the attainment gap (Sutton Trust, 2011). To misquote Richard Branson, if you take care of your teachers, they will take care of the pupils. Having relentlessly high expectations for children and young people means also having relentlessly high expectations for how we support and develop our teachers.

Building a strong professional culture

But what does a strong professional culture look like? Kraft and Papay (2014) looked at the differences between schools where teachers continue to develop throughout their careers, and those where teachers’ effectiveness plateaus over time. The features of schools where teachers continued to develop included opportunities for professional learning, chances to collaborate with other teachers, consistently enforced behaviour policies, a culture of trust, a focus on pupil attainment, and any teacher evaluation processes being focused on development.

Sims (2017), meanwhile, explored the elements that influence teachers in England’s job satisfaction and retention, and found similar themes came out, along with, unsurprisingly, effective leadership and a manageable workload.

And it follows that these principles apply not just in schools, but at every level of the system. We need this kind of strong professional culture across school trusts, too; supporting their schools to develop their culture, and creating and promoting access to professional learning, progression, collegial support, intellectual challenge and engagement in professional communities.

We need collectively high expectations across the whole system, that all teachers should experience all of the benefits of a professional, collegiate culture. For schools and school trusts to be able to effectively develop a strong professional culture, they need to exist in a system where this is not just valued, but expected. That is why I and many thousands of teachers across the country believe the Chartered College of Teaching is so important.

Of course, building this kind of strong professional culture at a system level takes time, as does breaking the habit of being ‘done to’ by politicians, rather than being trusted to be the drivers of our own professional practice. Ultimately, if we want to be part of a profession that is autonomous, collegial, and respected, and if we want teachers to feel trusted, developed, supported, and recognized for their expertise, then a professional body has a key role to play. And that is why we are committed to continuing to build the Chartered College, and that we ask you to join us, to work with us, so that we can build a strong culture for the whole teaching profession.

References:

Kraft, M. A., & Papay, J. P. (2014). Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? Explaining Heterogeneity in Returns to Teaching Experience. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Sims, S. (2017). TALIS 2013: Working Conditions, Teacher Job Satisfaction and Retention. Department for Education (UK) Statistical Working Paper

Sutton Trust (2011). Improving the impact of teachers on pupil achievement in the UK – interim findings. Available here