Two weeks in

I am now two weeks into this new experience as a Faculty Associate at SFU, having marked a transition to a new type of work, and yet also an extension of the type of work I have always done. A new community has been established, new relationships formed, and new students to arrive in another week’s time. We newbies have been given the Cole’s Notes, an introduction to the spirit and the substance of the work, and been invited to contribute to what it means to work with young teachers in the BC public school system in a humbling community of brilliant and committed educators.

Dean of Education Kris Magnusson joined us the other day to talk with us about fostering professionalism through feedback within the educational setting, foregrounding much of the work that is about to happen, and offering at once a holistic, philosophical introduction, as well as a practical one. Among many of the ideas Kris offered us was the notion that PDP is intended to be a transformational program. The very essence of SFU’s teacher education program is based in the notion of a critical praxis that transforms both the individual teacher’s outlook and identity, as well as the school system’s itself. The avenue by which this personal and professional transformation is scaffolded and produced is through feedback and assessments that provoke critical reflection in both teacher and student.

As with any transformational learning process, there is much pain, emotion, and struggle that will accompany even a highly successful student’s journey through the program, and Kris helped us see our work as teacher-educators through a lens of counselling that will help process these difficult situations. Something I mentioned in my interview as a difficulty I could foresee in this work was the idea that teachers come to PDP and teacher education programs as part of a long journey toward education. Whether one passes or fails the audition to practice what for many has been a lifelong dream or calling is a high-stakes, and high-anxiety situation. I was grateful to have Kris share so many different ways to approach this aspect of the work, and learn more about how best to support new professionals as they discover and begin to shape their educator-identities.

A few of these ideas that I found to be of use helped me to align the program goals with the means of feedback and assessment that make the ephemeral and emergent learning tangible, and visible. That help to translate infinite subjectivities into something objective. “We are teaching people how to be human,” Kris said at one point. “And by teaching them to be human, we are teaching them to learn.” This framing of the work means that no small part of it involves modelling and engaging in the very sort of difficult and honest self-reflection which we are asking of our students; in striving to learn this way, the addressing of our own emotional responses is key.

In reflecting upon and giving feedback on the learning process to our students, Kris shared the notion of adopting a counselling approach, emphasizing the:

  • Identifying and acknowledging of the emotions surrounding a particular course of action;
  • Focusing on visible behaviours and evidence (as opposed to inference); and
  • Doing so immediately. 

Posed with a question about when to engage certain difficult conversations (with ourselves as much as our student teachers) Kris emphasized the necessity of immediacy: “The very second I am aware of it,” he said. “I need to act on it.”

In providing feedback that will contribute to positive growth within the program, Kris articulated the distilled technical goals of the Professional Development Program: essentially for new teachers to be ready to begin teaching. In the lifelong preparation of the craft of teaching, it is unreasonable – perhaps absurd – to think that a year of post graduate study and practice will be able to deliver everything one requires to be a fully-formed educator; and so SFU seeks the dual preparation of both the baseline practice that will make new teachers successful and competent novice educators, as well as the capacity for lifelong learning and growth that will propel them toward ever more refined mastery over the course of their career.

This capacity for lifelong learning and continued transformation is something that was a primary focus of my Master’s project, as such continual transformations are essential elements of an ever-widening notion of pluralist democracy. (There is the familiar call back to the idea that “at the periphery there is infinite complexity; at the centre simplicity of cause.”) But it is interesting (if not altogether surprising) to see this same approach applied to teacher-learning.

To help expand on the dual aims of the PDP program, Kris shared (David?) Redekopp’s vision of professional conduct as a rule of thirds, where individuals continually practice the following:

  • Deepening Competency, and engaging in processes for personal growth and development.
    • Honing skills and keeping up with developments in the field.
    • Seeking and using new and innovative resources.
    • Engaging in self-analysis, self-directed learning, self-initiation, and self-supervision.
  • Developing Working Alliances, and developing effective relationships.
    • Integrating learning into practice in major activities:
      • Networking
      • Conferring
      • Collaborating
      • Coaching/Mentoring
  • Contributing to the Field, and assisting other professionals in development of their own competency.
    • Sharing experiences
    • Mentoring
    • Conducting Research
    • Disseminating Knowledge

As a one-year professional preparation, PDP is naturally almost wholly concerned with the first of these aims – deepening competence – and graduating teachers who are prepared to enter the classroom. But it is important to be introducing teachers to this more fully-formed scope of what it means to be a professional.

Two weeks into this experience of helping to administer PDP, and having been introduced to an experience wherein teachers and students alike are encouraged to live out the program’s goals, I can say that the experience has been inspiring thus far, just as the profession of teaching can be at its best.