United in Professionalism

Two key concepts underpin the theme for today’s conference – UNITED and PROFESSIONALISM

QTU President
Kevin Bates


An adjective:

  1. joined together politically, for a common purpose, or by common feelings.
  2. made into or caused to act as a single entity: a united front;
  3. produced by two for more persons or things or from their union!


A verb:

  1. to make or become an integrated whole or a unity; combine
  2. to join, unify or be unified in purpose, action, beliefs, etc
  3. to enter or cause to enter into an association or alliance

In a 1993 article for The Professional Teacher, Michael Fullan observed that teaching, at its core, is a moral profession: that the vast majority of teachers mention that their purpose in entering the teaching profession is “to make a difference in the lives of students”. The common purpose in which the profession is united, if you will.

I put it to you that the very notion of “making a difference” is about bringing about positive change in the lives of students: in Fullan’s words, teachers are change agents. An agenda of continuous improvement, so dominant in the educational context of today, is also about change for the better. I will talk about both ideas more in addressing the issue of professionalism.

However, Fullan goes on to postulate that: “the way teachers are trained, the way schools are organised, the way the educational hierarchy operates, and the way political decision makers treat educators results in a system that is more likely to retain the status quo.”

Our first keynote speaker, Professor Stephen Dinham, will look at the dominant issue of autonomy in schools and the evidence pertaining to the impact of this phenomenon on schools. Our lived experience in Queensland schools is that an autonomy agenda can have either a benign or malign character based on a range of factors including the attitudes of leaders in individual schools.

Later today you will also hear a key-note address from the Director-General Dr Jim Watterston entitled: Leading cultural change – from a systems perspective. This address and your questions of the speaker will help to flesh out an important challenge posed by the theme of today’s conference: what is the role of educational leadership in uniting the profession to bring about positive change.


A typical definition of a profession covers four characteristics:

  • the use of skills based on theoretical knowledge
  • education and training in those skills certified by examination
  • a code of professional conduct oriented towards the “public good”
  • a powerful professional organisation

Critically I would assert that the notion of teacher professionalism is about separating the public and private roles of members of the general community in teaching certain skills, social norms and traditions from the role of the professional teacher in delivering an amalgam of governmentally mandated curriculum and informal co-curricular and extra-curricular material designed to prepare individual citizens for success in the social and economic context that is their community.

Interestingly, dictionary definitions of professionalism focus on two key factors, performing the skills for payment and the higher standards to which the skills are performed (when compared to an amateur). Both issues clearly apply to and help to define the teaching profession but only up to a point. More needs to be done to define our profession and to development the common acceptance of any such definition within the profession and by the community.

Keynote addresses this afternoon from Kate Ruttiman and Penny Spalding will expound on professional initiatives of a political origin impacting on the profession in the first case and in the second instance on a community initiated change in dealing with gender diversity in schools that will require leadership in order to be realised. Both addresses will highlight the power and role of our union as a professional organisation.


To wrap up my address I want to deal with the preposition “in”. It is through these two letters that the power and function of the conference theme is unleashed: UNITED IN PROFESSIONALISM.

For 126 years the QTU has stood as the professional, industrial and legal guardian of the teaching profession including educational leaders. In contrast to some of our comrade unions in other jurisdictions we have fought hard to maintain the integrity of our organisation by the steadfast belief in the strength of unity: teachers and principals working together represent the best of the profession and the best chance to bring about change for the good within our profession and the community at large.

Ironically, both teachers and school leaders quote this very fact as a key problem for them in engagement with our union. Both elements of the profession perceive the union as favoring the other in disputes and advocacy. We will not change that perception today but in embracing the conference theme we can begin to unpick these perceptions and appeal to a higher cause and purpose that can drive our combined efforts for change.

Unlike some other professions, leadership in education can only be attained through first being blooded at the chalk-face. School leaders are first and foremost teachers: professionals dedicated to the same goals and interests as all other members of the profession. This fact epitomizes the “common purpose” at the core of my definition of united in professionalism.

The social, political and economic pressures on the teaching profession are manifest in the most extreme form in the marketisation of education: a world-wide phenomenon. Teaching is being reduced to its most utilitarian aspect, student coaching, while school leadership is reduced to managerialism.

Teachers are being forced into competitive environments through ever increasing demands for test score improvements in return for decreasing remuneration. School leaders are being stripped of professional rights and responsibilities through tenuous employment such as contracts. Both outcomes, I would contend, strike at the very core of the common moral purpose of our profession.

Through being united in professionalism, QTU members stand the greatest chance to oppose the worst aspects of the marketisation of education and defend the rights of students to a quality education which maximises their opportunities in life. Have no doubts colleagues, the political forces arrayed against us are hell-bent on attacking the source of the power of our profession: our union. Each and every one of us has a duty and obligation to do all that we can to hold back the tide of change for the worse while simultaneously working for change for the better.

To borrow from “The Liberty Song” by John Dickinson in 1768 - "Then join together you educators all. By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall" [John Dickinson]"

Solidarity and best wishes for a successful 2015 QTU Education Leaders Conference.

Kevin Bates

Speech given by QTU President, Kevin Bates in opening the 2015 QTU Education Leaders Conference: Brisbane Convention Centre, 15 May 2015