One of the most notable features to emerge from the Covid crisis has been the manner in which the teaching profession in Scotland has shown its true professionalism in adapting overnight to hugely demanding and changed circumstances. The commitment and resilience of teachers during the pandemic is something that has rarely made the headlines, somehow getting lost in the obsession of the media on assessment, examination results, face coverings and politics, but it has been very palpable to those children and their parents/carers whose education has largely continued in some form or other in highly disrupted and stressful times.
Neither has there been any shortage of crystal ball gazing in the media as to what Scottish education might look like in a post-pandemic world. Amid all the uncertainties that lie ahead, three “certainties” seem to be emerging. Firstly, the Covid pandemic has provided a much-needed opportunity to review what we want from our education system. The last time this was done was in 2003 with the National Debate that heralded in Curriculum for Excellence, so surely the time has come to open up that debate again? Secondly, we know already from our return to school that things are not the same as in our pre-Covid world. Nor will they be in the future. Society has changed forever as a result of our individual and global experiences over the past six months and education needs to be responsive to and lead some of those changes. This brings me to my third “certainty”; that how and what we teach will change in response to the critical role teachers play in shaping that future society. In saying this, I am reminded of the message on the T-shirt of the US astronaut Christa McAuliffe, who was tragically killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster - I touch the future: I teach.
So what does all of this mean for teachers who have been working hard since schools have reopened to re-engage children with learning, reconnect with colleagues and recharge their own resilience and psychological reserves?
Professional learning may not be top of the agenda of most teachers at this time of significant change but it plays an essential role in supporting teachers and schools to address the changing world in which we operate. The cornerstone and success of our future society now depends even more on us having a professional, responsive and flexible education workforce; one that embraces and leads the changes needed to prepare our children for a vastly changed world. I have often said that this is why in Scotland, GTC Scotland demands that only those who are highly qualified enter the teaching profession – even if those high standards aren’t expected in other parts of the UK.
Teachers having their professional learning signed off every five years by GTC Scotland through Professional Update (PU) might seem like an added chore but it is an important part of being professional. Critically, it also demonstrates to the public and users and funders of education in Scotland the commitment of teachers to their professionalism. GTC Scotland recognises the pressures on teachers at present and we have further extended the deadline for PU sign-off until 31 December 2020 for the 2019-20 cohort.
We know from feedback received and from research that professional learning provides rich opportunities for teachers to develop and enhance their professional knowledge and practice. It is through teachers engaging in meaningful professional learning that we inspire our children, provide them with high-quality teaching and learning experiences and enable them to achieve their best.
For many years now, GTC Scotland has played an important role in supporting teacher professionalism in Scotland and we continue to do so. During lockdown we commissioned experts to create a variety of resources, advice and webinars to support the health and wellbeing of hard-pressed practitioners. These resources are available on the GTC Scotland website and have been attracting much positive feedback from those who have used them. We are continuing to develop these resources and have extended this to provide bespoke support to probationers and newly qualified teachers who enter the profession in the most unique and challenging of circumstances.
To support professional learning, GTC Scotland has launched an Equality and Diversity Hub on our website which includes a range of resources aimed at enhancing teachers’ professional learning. To reflect better some of the themes in the revised Professional Standards for Teachers due out in early 2021, and in response to themes teachers have told us they would find useful in supporting their professional learning, we have begun to publish a suite of Professional Guides. The first of these, Engaging Online, was published during lockdown in response to concerns about teachers providing online learning. Further topics will cover a specific Guide on Equality and Diversity (supported by two online modules) and Guides on Children’s Rights; Autism; Dyslexia; Neurodiversity; and Learning for Sustainability. Look on the GTC Scotland website and the Teaching Scotland magazine for updates on when these will become available.
The world in which we educate our children has become increasingly complex, interrelated and uncertain. Maintaining our professional learning is one way in which we can respond positively to those challenges and continue to give our children the success in life they all deserve.