Embracing the Power of the Professional Community

As AACTE Board Chair, I have shared and reflected monthly on several of our AACTE core values. This month, I would like to focus on one of our most important core values: professionalism.

This value calls for AACTE members to prepare teacher candidates to be not only successful educators, but also members of the larger professional community. Candidates should graduate from their programs with a clear understanding of the ethical responsibilities of being an educator and be equipped to contribute to the greater good in communities, school districts, and society.

This development does not happen overnight, nor does it happen by accident. Becoming an effective teacher – just like becoming a doctor or other professional – requires years of schooling, training, and clinical practice. And even then, the job is not easy. Some teachers are fortunate to have students with wonderful support systems both at home and in the community. Many teachers, however, are not. Far too often, a teacher is the only positive influence in a child’s life. Nevertheless, teachers are expected to reach all of their students, to connect with them, inspire them, and ensure that they meet or exceed educational standards and benchmarks regardless of individual background or societal failings.

That is not easy.

Luckily, candidates do not have to navigate this journey alone. They can rely on educator preparation providers (EPPs) and other professional entities and organizations to guide them along the way. One of our partners in the larger educational community, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), is an important leader in establishing and upholding standards for the profession. NBPTS outlines five core propositions that broadly define “What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do.” Some of these propositions may seem elementary: Teachers are committed to students and their learning; teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach them to students. The final core proposition, though, is a little more nuanced, a little more subtle. It states that teachers are members of learning communities.

This is an often-overlooked yet highly critical component of being an educator. Teachers do not operate in a vacuum, completely independent of classrooms down the hall – or on the other side of the city, state, or country. Rather, teachers are linked as members of a larger community. This means, for example, that teachers and EPPs have not only a legal obligation to carry out public policy as represented in state statutes and regulations, school-board directives, court decisions, and other procedural documents, but also a moral obligation to rise above and go beyond policies that are outdated, ineffective, or no longer meet the needs of a changing profession. Teachers and EPPs must work together in this regard and be proactive in proposing, drafting, influencing, and driving policy. After all, who better than us to know what is best for students? This is an intrinsic, fundamental part of being a professional.

It is also a learned behavior. EPPs play an indispensable role in helping candidates understand the importance of policy development and decision-making, both of which are fundamental to PK-12 student learning. We have a responsibility to engage in professional behavior and to set an example for candidates working with mentor teachers to help students in our local school districts and communities. We must also set an example for partner schools, which trust that our research-to-practice methods are professional, current, and effective.

To that end, AACTE’s Clinical Practice Commission is hosting a press conference January 17 in Washington, DC, to announce its findings and release a white paper, “A Pivot Toward Clinical Practice, Its Lexicon, and the Renewal of Educator Preparation. ” The commission, which includes representatives from a variety of PK-12 and higher education settings, will provide research-based recommendations for clinical practice and explain how mutually beneficial partnerships between EPPs and PK-12 educators can successfully create laboratories of practice for both teacher candidates and practicing teachers, thus providing continuous improvement for all involved. The event will be livestreamed and recorded for those unable to attend in person.

As we continue to embrace the clinical model of preparation, it is also imperative that the Association model engagement with key stakeholders within the teaching profession. Can AACTE credibly speak about the roles and responsibilities of both school and university professionals without inviting essential school partners to the table? At its November meeting, the AACTE Board voted to examine its current composition – not to exclude, but to include. I am cochairing this endeavor with Kim Metcalf (University of Nevada, Las Vegas) and working with Board members Wanda Blanchett (Rutgers University), Donald Easton-Brooks (University of South Dakota), Robert Floden (Michigan State University), and Carol Vukelich (University of Delaware ) as well as AACTE President/CEO Lynn M. Gangone. Together, we will ensure that the Board effectively serves our strategic and coordinated support of essential stakeholders consistent with the Clinical Practice Commission’s Essential Proclamations and Tenets for Highly Effective Clinical Educator Preparation.

In the end, teaching is a noble profession. It requires that we know what to teach, how to teach, and how best to advocate for students and candidates alike. It requires that we both adapt with the field and help the field adapt. It requires that we embrace being members of a larger educational and professional community.

It is not a 9-to-5 commitment. It is a lifelong commitment.

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Renée A. Middleton

Ohio University