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Viewpoint: Ongoing growth the mark of a true professional

January 17, 2017 Mark Yurick, ATA Professional Development Co-ordinator
This is the time of year when teachers typically review their professional growth plans for a bit of a mid-point check-in. Sometimes this results in a call to the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s Professional Development program area to inquire about programs or services to help teachers meet their professional learning goals.

It is at this time that I am reminded how much I admire my colleagues’ commitment to better themselves as teachers, and appreciate policy 2.1.5 — the Teacher Growth, Supervision and Evaluation policy — that governs teachers’ continuous learning requirement.

Teachers, as professionals, recognize and embrace their responsibility to continually grow their practice to enhance their capacity to meet their students’ needs, and we consider the growth planning process as a vehicle through which to achieve this continuous learning. Very few, however, consider that such requirements are common to all professions and are indeed required for continued certification in various fields.

Continuous professional learning means critically reflecting on one’s practice relative to the body of knowledge within a particular profession, then developing a plan to facilitate professional learning moving forward. By policy, teachers are required to reflect on their practice based on the Teaching Quality Standard, then complete a professional growth plan that includes learning goals based on their self-reflection. The plan is then shared for review, at minimum, at the beginning and end of the school year with their principal or those designated by their principal.

A short while ago, with the help of our librarian Sandra Anderson, the Association completed an e-scan of the continuous education requirements of other professions in Alberta as part of an online growth planning project. We found that all professions require their members to engage in continuous education in order to be credentialed or certified. But while the general expectations are similar, there are some significant differences in the requirements, structures and processes of the different professions, and it’s most interesting to compare these.

For example, chartered professional accountants must demonstrate at least 20 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) per year and 120 hours during a three-year cycle, with at least 50 per cent of these hours classified as “verifiable.” Every active lawyer in Alberta is required to annually prepare a record of a CPD plan, which must be retained for five years and produced to the Law Society of Alberta upon request.

The various professions covered by the Health Professions Act must have a continuing competence program that is divided into two requirements: practice hours and reflective practice.

Registered nurses must collect feedback on their nursing practice, develop and implement a learning plan, and evaluate and report on the impact of their continuing competence activities on their nursing practice.

Pharmacists must maintain a personal learning portfolio to record their professional development activities, and their continuing education activities must deliver a minimum of 15 credit education units per registration year.

Physicians must register with a continuing professional development program administered by one of two national associations. On a five-year cycle, they must submit documentation certifying that they are in good standing with their professional development program, and they are required to verify that a certain amount of professional development has taken place within a cycle.

Lastly, dentists must obtain 60 continuing competence program credits in a two-year period. They can obtain these credits via many different forms, such as courses, examinations, attendance at PD events, and self-directed studies.

For me, it was by learning about these different structures that I began to develop a deeper appreciation for our own policy 2.1.5. When compared to other professions, it shares the necessary rigour of requiring members to critically reflect on their professional practice and to complete a formalized plan for professional learning. In addition, I believe that requiring teachers to share their plans with their principals is very much a value-added component, for I recall as a former teacher and principal how much I valued the opportunity to talk about teaching, my plan and meeting the learning needs of my students.

My deepest appreciation, however, is not for regulations or structures that provide for professional learning. What makes me smile the most is seeing the desire, which teachers continually demonstrate, to grow professionally to meet the learning needs of their students.

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