Have you ever had a bad experience at a retail outlet, restaurant, or hotel? When someone has a bad experience you often hear the phrase, “That wasn’t very professional.” We expect to be treated in a professional and courteous manner when we are shopping, dining, or paying money for an overnight stay. Tax payers also expect professionalism from school staff. What does the term professionalism look like in education? Professionalism in its most basic definition is treating others the way you would like to be treated.
A Professional Has Strong Content Knowledge
When you observe a master teacher, it is evident if they are confident in the subject(s) they are teaching. Possessing strong content knowledge does not mean that the teacher is the “Sage on the Stage.” Teachers who use essential questions, guide students to deeper understandings, encourage students to collaborate, and teach with the end in mind (UbD) typically possess strong content knowledge. If you have the privilege to observe this type of teacher you walk away saying, “He/she is a professional.”
A Professional Provides a Whole Child Approach to K-12 Schools
While most parents and families want their children to have a teacher with strong content knowledge, they would be thrilled to have a teacher who possesses a deep understanding of the Whole Child tenants outlined by ASCD Whole Child. The Whole Child tenants are:
Whole Child Tenets
· Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
· Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
· Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
· Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
· Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.
If an educator strives to be professional, then you cannot omit any of the five tenants. Some schools do well with the first four tenants, but they struggle to challenge each student.
A Professional is a Team Player
My colleagues and I frequently discuss the meaning of the term professional learning community. When we observe a dysfunctional PLC, we note that there is a lack of professionalism. While it may not surprise the reader to learn that you cannot have a professional learning community if you take away the "p" for professional, this does not seem to be as obvious to some teacher teams. A professional learning team is only as good as the professionals who meet on a regular basis. A high performance team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are equally committed to a common purpose, goals, and working approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Members of the team are deeply committed to one another’s personal growth and success (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993).
A Professional is Respectful to Families and Community Members
Treating the customer with respect should be a given. How are guests treated when they enter your school? Do families feel like an interruption to the school day or are they treated like a dignitary when they arrive? When a family member has a question or concern, does the school staff respond in a timely manner? Does the school utilize email, Twitter, Facebook, newsletters, and phone call systems to communicate with families?
"The school leaders who embrace, design and implement customer-driven systems will be the ones who thrive in the future” (Toothman, 2004). The teachers in a school can have strong content knowledge, but a school’s customer service is equally important. In our school district, we often discuss the type of customer service you receive at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant. Does your school staff make the customer feel like, “It’s my pleasure” to serve you?
A Professional is a Lifelong Learner
I am impressed with teachers who started teaching with an film strip or an overhead projector and they have learned how to integrate technology into the units. When I see a teacher who has spent her own money to attend a summer institute in order to grow as a learner, I am humbled. There are professional educators who learn on Twitter and participate in Twitter Chats. Some educators write assessments or support documents for the state department of education. Teacher leaders serve as the president or vice president of state organizations. Teachers write blogs and share ideas with international educators. Teacher teams reflect on essential learning outcomes and develop assessments to analyze what students know and are able to do throughout the nine weeks. Lifelong learning is evident in a professional educator. This is the type of educator I want to surround myself with, because they continue to grow and improve.
A Professional Prepares All Students for the Next Level
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (2010) said, “High schools must shift from being last stop destinations for students on their education journey to being launching pads for further growth and lifelong learning for all students.” Roland Barth (2006) highlighted the importance of professional learning teams in K-12 education when he wrote, “A precondition for doing anything to strengthen our practice and improve a school is the existence of a collegial culture in which professionals talk about practice, share their craft knowledge, and observe and root for the success of one another. Without these in place, no meaningful improvement - no staff or curriculum development, no teacher leadership, no student appraisal, no team teaching, no parent involvement, and no sustained change - is possible” (p. 13). A professional has a focus on preparing all students for the next level and this includes operating as a collaborative team.
The great NFL coach Vince Lombardi said, "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit.” The same could be said about PROFESSIONALISM.
Professionalism is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t act professional once in a while; you don’t do what’s right once in a while; you do what’s right all the time. Professionalism is a habit.”
As you reflect on 2012 and prepare for 2013, analyze the professional behavior in your school. The school website is the new front door. How does the school website welcome visitors? Does the front office staff treat a guest the same way they treat the Superintendent or Governor? Do teachers respond to parent concerns in a timely manner? Does the school welcome parent and community input or host meetings where school staff leads a PowerPoint presentation? What does professionalism mean to you?