Teacher autonomy and responsibility

Top 5 talking points

There is a growing conversation in education circles about teacher autonomy and responsibility. The debate is cloaked in words like accountability, consistency and visibility of learning. Unfortunately, teachers experience it more typically as increased workload, increased pressure and decreased trust.

As a profession, how should we contribute to the conversation? When people tell us what we are doing wrong and how there should be more control over our work, what should we say?

Here’s my top five considerationsfor contributing to this debate

Teaching is about relationships. Each day we negotiate complex relationships with between 20 and 100 children. We negotiate complex relationships with parents, grandparents and carers. We negotiate relationships with our colleagues. When dealing with the youngest children, forging healthy relationships with them and their families is our most important priority. It takes energy, effort and years of constant learning and reflection about people to develop these skills. We should talk about this as our work.

Teaching is the most complex of professions. We need to acquire complex knowledge about the emotional, social, psychological, intellectual and physical development of young children and we need to apply this knowledge to the needs of 20-100 children every day. This is what makes teaching the most rewarding profession – we support children to live better lives. We should talk about this as our work.

I commit to each child every day. As a teacher my job is to be ‘the best teacher I can be for every student in every group at every moment of every day’. That is tiring and emotionally exhausting work. But each day I rise, and I go to work, and I make this commitment to each child. It is the most important thing that I do as a professional. This is how I should talk about my work.

Teacher autonomy is about wise judgement. I am educated and must be trusted to use my judgement (in collaboration with others when I am uncertain) to create the best learning program for every child who is in my group. I use that judgement to say ‘no’ to the things that stop me from building an exciting learning community based on healthy relationships. I should talk to other people about how I exercise judgement.

Autonomy is accompanied by responsibility. Teaching practice, what we know about children’s learning and the diversity of children’s needs is constantly changing. We have a responsibility to continue with a program of professional learning to maintain our professional expertise. We should talk about our professional learning program.

As teachers we make learning visible when we tell others what is happening in our learning environments. When we talk about relationships as our priority we can challenge people to explain what they mean by ‘consistency’. When we talk about our work as exercising wise judgement we can ask others what they want us to be ‘accountable’ for?

At the Teacher Learning Network, we are excited to be offering a full suite of free professional learning to the early childhood members of the IEUA NSW/ACT. Our professional learning program recognises teacher autonomy and creativity and supports teachers to take responsibility for ongoing learning. More information about this union benefit is available from your union organiser.

Michael Victory
Executive Officer Teacher Learning Network