Developing a purposeful definition of professional autonomy
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 4, 5 June 2020, page no. 10
A QTU project has set out to define professional autonomy, building on the Union’s campaign to reclaim the teaching profession from the vested interests of global capital.
An array of definitions for professional autonomy appear in various publications.
Queensland research, led by Dr Anna Hogan (University of Queensland), Dr Greg Thompson (Associate Professor of Education Research at Queensland University of Technology), Dr Sam Sellar (Reader in Education Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University) and Dr Bob Lingard (Professorial Research Fellow in the School of Education at The University of Queensland), offers an understanding of autonomy as teachers having choice in what to teach and how to teach, and choice in selecting teaching and learning resources.
In England, Joint General-Secretary of The National Education Union Mary Bousted describes the educational governance relationship between teachers and government, noting that the more education authorities devolve, the more they load up accountability regimes that in practice stop teachers from achieving better results for students.
Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg observes that teaching is a team sport, not an individual race, and what teachers need is greater collective professional autonomy. In other words, more freedom from bureaucracy.
In 2019, the QTU’s Conference Statement set “leading the development of a preferred and purposeful definition of professional autonomy” as one of the Union’s priorities for the years 2019-21, while QTU President Kevin Bates convened a professional autonomy panel during the conference including contributions from Dr Amanda Heffernan and Dr Melita Hogarth, both Queensland teachers now working in tertiary education.
Conference delegates were then able to participate in a professional autonomy workshop, working in small groups and discussing their thoughts and experiences in response to a series of provocations. Their responses were summarised during the workshops and have now been collated and used to inform the QTU’s draft Professional Autonomy Position Statement.
The position statement recognises the high quality of professionalism in Queensland’s teacher workforce, and defines professional autonomy in the teaching profession as requiring:
- a collective profession of teachers, heads of program and school leaders
- an underpinning of trust
- a central role in the systemic development of education policies and frameworks
- decision making empowered at the local level that meets specific needs of students and their communities
- strengthened relationships across the field of education
- letting teachers teach.
The QTU intended to report on the position statement at the QTU State Council meeting in May, however this meeting was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, the statement has been distributed to Council delegates for discussion at their local QTU branch or Area Council meeting, and feedback will be collated by the QTU and referred to the next Council meeting. QTU members who are unable to attend their branch meeting can request a copy of the QTU’s draft Professional Autonomy Position Statement by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
The publications tab on the QTU’s website is host to a suite of resources and includes endorsed QTU position statements on professional and industrial matters.