Professionalism to educators is about creating and enhancing a culture of learning. This culture develops out of diversity. I believe that if you visited any school in the United States you would find a very diverse staff. Diversity can actually be something other and more than ethnicity. Many people in today’s society tend to equate diversity with ethnicity and ethnicity with race. Diversity is more than that; it actually encompasses all aspects of culture. Culture does include ethnicity, but it also includes traditions, religion, language (spoken and written), art, literature, and systems of government. Of course, in the United States we all live in a constitutional representative democracy. Our government system has in many ways determined how we as Americans think and feel about personal freedom; which is an integral part of our culture.
Culture also exists in our schools. Your school culture will either engender effective professional developments or be “just one more thing to do.” What is your school culture? The culture is the “way things are done.” Culture determines the collegiality of the staff and the professionalism of the members. A good school culture would be all teachers working together in small groups and those groups coming together to work for the benefit of the school and students. A good school culture would exhibit teachers working with other teachers even outside of their content area. Is that what you see in your school? Many times we have small groups all working with themselves and not branching out to work with other groups. There are many bees busy in many small hives. We have not moved very far out of our own classrooms. With the advent of “value added” evaluations, we will all soon be scurrying back to our doors rather than spreading out through the hallways to talk to our colleagues. Having reviewed the new evaluation tool that is being implemented in my state, my perceptions and impressions concerning value added evaluations are not positive. The spectrum of benchmarks, from evaluating someone on their attire up to and including student data is so broad and subjective to each evaluators interpretation as to be cumbersome and ineffective. Value added evaluations will be detrimental to teachers sharing and growing in their craft. Value added evaluations will lead to “dog and pony show” evaluations; and to stymied teacher learning and growth.
Do you need a dress code for professionals? A culture of professionalism just isn’t a mandatory dress code. Professionalism is a set of ethics that include integrity, moral standards, collegiality, respect and a vision for success. A suit of clothes do not make a professional. The clothing is merely a veneer. If a person is dressed “business casual” they can still be a professional. Clothing, in our society tells a story, an advertisement if you will, on what the individual is about; clothing precedes any vocalizations on an individual’s behalf. An individual wearing a suit is not necessarily a professional but will be perceived as one by appearance. That is why we always dress in suits for interviews. Wearing a suit as a teacher is not always appropriate attire. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers are on the floor with the students in many circumstances and situations; PE teachers are involved in physical activities; Art teachers are involved in creating art (which is sometimes messy). Dress codes for day to day teaching should be business casual and reserve the suits for open house nights, community outreach programs, and events at the school such as promotions and graduations.
“Teacher talk.” A culture of professionalism exhibits conversations that are reflective and problem solving. What are the conversations in the workroom? Are they positive? Are they venting about the kid who will not stop talking? Are the conversations about other teachers and “I just can’t believe they did that”? Teacher talk or their conversations will either be a boon or a wrecking ball for your school’s collegiality. When I was attending college, prior to earning my teaching certificate, the majority of my professors always advised myself and my classmates to “stay out of the workroom.” That is actually good advice. Many lunch/break/work rooms for teachers are cesspools of negativity. That leads to the dilemma of “where do I eat lunch now?” Take back your space! Change the conversations. What could we do to help the struggling teacher? What could we do to help a teacher with classroom management issues? If the conversations continues to be negative, then talk about what you are going to do next weekend, what vacations you have planned or hope to take, what was the last concert you went to, or any topic not school related. Eventually, the “naysayers” will leave the area because they cannot spew their poison.
A learning culture. As a teacher in your building you can help cultivate a learning culture. School culture should be focused on academia. The school’s purpose is to increase learning; whether it is learning a skill, problem solving, or new computer technology. The purpose is learning. That learning is not limited to students but should encompass teachers and administrators. Collegiality is essential for a positive learning culture. As a staff, collegiality is the cohesiveness of the group. As professionals our responses, actions and semantics will either enhance or inhibit collegiality. In my state, we have a mandated code of ethics, just as other professional vocations. If you do not know your code of ethics, check with the state department of education.
What about a culture survey? One thing to assist with building a better culture is to complete a culture survey. There are several different types of surveys and quite a bit of literature and books written on culture in a school. Your school may have participated in a culture survey. Some states, such as my own, have developed online surveys to examine culture and educational practices. The culture will have a tremendous impact on any professional development success or failure. Without a positive culture grounded in sound educational practices and based on academic learning, the school will not improve as an entity and teachers will not only “burn out” but also cease to learn and grow as professionals.