NALL Working Paper #27-2001
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE EQUATION:
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND
THE ORGANIZATIONAL CAPACITY OF TEACHER UNIONS
© Nina Bascia
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
This working paper was originally prepared for the annual meeting of
the American Educational Research Association (AERA)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
April 19-23, 1999
|the research network for
New Approaches to Lifelong Learning
||Le Réseau de recherche sur les nouvelles approches de l'éducation
The union [leaders] say they share a common desire: ... to craft a new
vision of teachers' unions, in tune with changes both in education and in the
teaching profession. . . . [T]eachers themselves can be reluctant to think of
their jobs in new ways, [the president of Greece, NY teachers' association]
said, adding that professional development is essential in helping teachers
make such transitions. [These union] leaders, in fact, have talked about ways
to encourage teachers' unions to take a greater role in honing their members'
knowledge and skills.
-- "Network Seeks Union Role in Reform Efforts," Education
Week, May 8,1996
In some ways the professional development unit drives the whole
organization. I believe the future of the ATA depends on professional
-- staff member, Alberta Teachers' Association, September 1998
In the U.S. and Canada, teachers' organizations (unions,
federations, or associations) are focusing increased attention on their
membership. In Canada in recent years, the diminishing of teacher
federations' legal authority and a reduction of the infrastructure that supports
teaching have been felt across the entire country (Bascia, 1998b; Earl, Bascia,
Hargreaves & Jacka, 1998), forcing organization officials to rethink what
they can do on teachers' behalf. In the U.S., many national, state and
local teacher union leaders are involved in efforts to professionalize teaching;
these strategies, however, are not uniformly popular with teachers. A
local union leader, speaking on behalf of fellow members of the Teacher Union
Reform Network (TURN) recently said, "Each of us has been under attack by
our own membership for stands we've taken" (Bradley, 1996). While
Canadian and U.S. political contexts might appear quite different, teachers'
organizations in both countries play subordinate roles in policy contexts that
increasingly favour technical and standardized solutions to educational
problems. Economic expansion in the U.S. and contraction in Canada
influences the degree of political stress teachers' organizations currently
In considering how to rethink their obligations to their
membership, teachers' organizations in both countries increasingly are
considering professional development strategies. Like the larger society's
belief that many social problems can be solved through new educational programs
(Tyack, 1991; Werner, 1991), educators frequently respond to concerns about
teaching, and even problems inherent to schooling more broadly, with
recommendations for teachers' professional development. Teachers'
organizations already have a long and varied history of providing workshops,
discussion groups, and training for their members (Bascia, 1998c; McClure, 1991)
-- indeed, this was the initial focus for some (Smaller, 1991) -- but now
professional development is in the limelight as never before.
This focus on professional development seems driven by a
several simultaneous motives. C)ne is a genuine desire to help teachers
learn to work more effectively with an increasingly linguistically, culturally,
racially, and economically diverse student population. A second is the
belief that teachers should play a greater and more informed role in shaping
educational practice. But this latter goal also at times appears to be
driven by an instrumental view of professional development. In the U.S.,
teacher union support for professional development activities (or at least their
willingness to "trade" increases in teachers' salary and benefits for
funding professional development) has been viewed for some time as an indicator
of their 'professionalism" more generally (e.g., Little, 1993; McDonnell
& Pascal, 1988; Retsinas, 1982). Professional development connotes an
organizational commitment to the notion of continuous improvement of practice
that is associated with so-called "professional" occupations (Haberman,
1986; Sykes, 1986). Teachers in both countries are quite concerned about
improving the public image of teaching and their own reputations as teachers'
legal representatives (Bascia, 1998c).
Beyond external impression management is the belief that
professional development can not only improve teachers' skills but encourage
them to adopt "certain [new] values and world views" (Little, 1993, p.
129) consistent with educational reform strategies. Sometimes teachers'
professional development is assumed to be the primary strategy necessary to
bring about fundamental changes in the nature and quality of schooling; other
structural reforms, such as formal changes in teachers' roles and
responsibilities, are often accompanied by professional development; if
professional development is not forthcoming, teachers now ask for it or complain
about its absence (Earl, 1998).
Teachers' organizations' professional development
strategies sometimes are directed at helping teachers work more effectively
within systems that cannot or do not provide sufficient support for teaching.
In Canadian provinces, where educational funding has decreased dramatically and
the educational infrastructure has become leaner and meaner in recent years,
this compensatory strategy is perhaps more obvious. But this approach is
also used in the United States; for example, dozens of local teacher unions have
established teacher induction and peer review programs over the past decade
because of concerns about a chronic lack of support for new teachers within the
formal school system (see Bascia, 1994a). In both countries, some
teachers' organizations' professional development strategies focus on helping
their members to respond to educational policy demands, especially when policy
makers do not accompany such mandates with technical assistance or clear
examples of what changes in practice should look like. Teachers'
organizations increasingly are filling in the gaps resulting from educational
policies that assume unrealistically simplistic, technical views of teaching and
But teachers' organizations can do more than merely
respond to the concerns of the public and policy makers or function as
alternative providers of technical assistance; they have an obligation to be
responsive to their members. Teachers are critical of their organizations'
sponsorship of professional development if those strategies appear as
disjunctures from the sorts of support teachers believe they need -- and which
are in fact their organizations' legal obligation to provide (Bascia, 1994a;
McDonnell & Pascal, 1988).
This paper describes three different types of nonformal
and informal professional development provided by teachers' organizations.
It identifies strategies for improving the "fit" between available
professional development and teachers' occupational needs. Rather than
recommending a single, "best" professional development strategy, the
paper emphasizes sociological and organizational factors germane to teachers'
organizations themselves -- that is, it considers teachers' organizations' role
in teacher socialization, the demographics of teacher organization
participation, and internal structural features. These factors suggest
that teachers' organizations must look within at a variety of organizational
issues, and consider a wide variety of organizational strategies simultaneously.
The paper draw from conceptual and empirical research on national,
state/provincial and local teacher union reform activities; on teachers'
perceptions of their organizations ; and on teacher involvement with their
organizations over the past decade (Bascia, 1991, 1994a, 1994b, 1996b, 1997,
1998c; Bascia, 1997).1
Traditions of teacher professional development
The bare minimum. In most teachers'
organizations of any size, internal organizational structure relies on discrete
parallel functions. Typically, units, designated staff, or at least
committees designated for professional development, sit alongside structures for
collective bargaining, governmental affairs, and legal services.
Professional development often has its own budget line. Professional
development committees are a constitutional requirement for many local teachers'
organizations in Canada and for affiliates of the National Education Association
(NEA) in the U.S. Provincial, state or national offices may provide materials,
speakers, ideas and funding for affiliated local organizations who seek them,
but many professional development activities are locally determined.
Whatever other professional development strategies
teachers' organizations provide, annual conferences are common practice.
Such conferences may be a requirement of organizational franchise (they are
actually mandated in Alberta's Education Act): in such cases, collective
agreements (union contract s) often state that teachers will be paid for and
required to attend the conferences, which often occur over 1-2 full days.
The nature of these conferences vary: they may include a wide range of workshops
or focus on a particular theme. Some typical foci are traditional labour
concerns such as bargaining and benefits; classroom activities and teaching
strategies; reform ideas; and even stress reduction techniques such as yoga and
meditation. Time is often allocated for secondary teachers to focus on
subject discipline-based curricular issues. Conferences may be
thematically consistent with organizational policy priorities, reflect the
results of teacher polls, or some combination. They often include
demonstrations by renowned experts or inspirational speakers though many also
rely on local (including teacher) talent.
Professional development of this type often consists of
brief workshops of the traditional staff development variety: they may convey a
technical conception of teaching and emphasize the transmission and easy
adoption of generic skills. Teachers spend these days being talked at
rather than working together, and postworkshop follow-through or connections to
actual teaching practices are rare. This is the sort of educational
strategy that some researchers contend has little impact on teaching and
actually reinforces the gap between research and practice (CochranSmith &
Lytle, 1992; Little, 1990, 1993).
Despite these limitations, conferences appear to have some
value. For teachers, such conferences may represent rare opportunities to
connect with their colleagues. If connected to other professional
development activities throughout the year, they provide valuable time to focus.
In the stripped down educational systems of Canada, when time for professional
development has been seriously reduced, they represent some of the last vestiges
of contractually guaranteed professional development time.
Second generation professional development.
Over the past decade, many teachers' organizations have been sponsoring new
forms of professional development for their members. Because they are of a
greater magnitude than can be covered by most professional development budgets,
these initiatives often are undertaken in partnership with other organizations
(especially district administrators or administrators' associations and schools
of education) and/or funded by public education monies or philanthropic
foundation grants. Whether large or small in scale, these professional
development initiatives are conceptually ambitious in their intent to
significantly expand teachers' skills and roles both within and beyond their own
classrooms. Many such initiatives are rooted in a belief that professional
development must be driven by teachers' needs to solve the practical problems
with which they are confronted in their own classrooms and schools (see
Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1992; also Bascia, 1994b, 1998c; Darling-Hammond
& McLaughlin, 1995).
Many of these initiatives focus directly on improving
classroom teaching. Beyond a number of attempts to influence the nature of
initial teacher training (see Bascia, 1998c), many local teachers' organizations
now sponsor teacher induction, mentoring, and peer coaching initiatives.
Another example of such initiatives is the sponsorship of classroom research
through the provision of time, money, access to expertise, and network
administration. These programs fulfill several simultaneous purposes.
The first is to help teachers move beyond technical notions of teaching and to
develop more sophisticated understandings of what teaching and learning entail.
Second, beyond providing direct assistance to new or "floundering"
teachers, the training and practice afforded to mentors and coaches is intended
to engender a "craft" (Mitchell & Kerchner, 1983),
"practical" (Feiman-Nemser, 1985) or "personal-practical
(Connelly & Clandinin, 1988) basis for teaching to increase teachers'
capacity to work collegially to improve teaching and learning. These
initiatives tend to direct teachers' attention to the intersections between
curriculum, pedagogy, and diverse students' cognitive and social development
(Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1992; National Commission on Teaching and America's
Future, 1996). Beyond these purposes, these initiatives are also intended
to transform the public image of teachers' organizations from automatic defender
of "incompetent" teachers to upholder of quality teaching standards (Bascia,
1994a; Kerchner, Koppich & Weeres, 1996; Kerchner & Koppich, 1993;
Kerchner & Mitchell, 1988).
Another common interest of teachers' organizations is in
increasing teachers' involvement in educational decision-making, particularly at
the school level. Many organizations provide training in planning and
group process for educators and sometimes other "stakeholders" (often
parents and community members and sometimes business representatives). In
some cases, this takes the form of packaged programs of the sort available to
the corporate world: for example, Total Quality Management (TQM, or
"Quality," in the vernacular) has had quite a following among some of
the teachers' associations associated with the NEA's Learning Laboratories
network (Bascia, 1997). Other organizations develop their own training
programs and employ a "train the trainer" model, in which cadres of
teachers are trained and then in turn train other school staffs.
Second generation professional development efforts tend to
acknowledge variations among district and school contexts and among teachers'
interests and needs, at least to some extent. Dimensions of these initial
trainings may be formulaic (e.g., how to run a meeting, how to observe and
critique classroom teaching, how to conduct research), but their substance and
some elements of structure allow for some degree of discretion or choice.
An increasingly common practice is the establishment of school-level committees
that determine how to spend their share of their district's annual professional
development budget on learning activities that reflect the teachers' current
interests and concerns. For example, ongoing professional development is a
contractually required monthly activity for educators in Petaluma, California,
but teachers can choose to establish or join the monthly study group of their
choice. The Electronic Network of Ontario (ENO), a computer conferencing
system established by the Ontario Teachers' Federation, is organized around
topics identified by educators across the province.
Many teachers' organizations have created new committees
whose primary purpose is to ensure organizational attention to educators whose
social identities and status in schools is marginal. Given assurance in
organizational constitutions and guaranteed a small budget, these committees can
act as organizational consciences by ensuring that such issues are not ignored
in formal discussions, but also by educating teacher members more broadly
through whatever professional development strategies they deem appropriate and
useful. Some teachers' organizations devote some professional development
efforts to helping women or racial minority teachers to achieve and succeed in
leadership positions (Bascia, 1998d).
Teachers' organizations have covered important new ground
with these second-generation initiatives. But these strategies often run
into problems that prevent them from achieving as much as they intend.
First, while teachers' organizations are paying greater attention to issues of
diversity and choice for teachers, demands for accountability and adherence to
standards are increasingly what drive and circumscribe teachers' choices for
professional development. The external context for teachers' professional
development has changed: a "third generation" of policy has begun
finding their way into schools, and partnerships with government or foundations
places more direct pressure on teachers' organizations and schools to comply
with demands for standard responses (Bascia, 1994b, 1996a). Such external
demands can entirely derail teacher organizations' professional development
efforts (Bascia, 1996c; Bascia, 1997). A second problem is that, while
many, of these professional development strategies reflect a greater sensitivity
to context issues and the realities of teaching, many union leaders, like the
policy-makers and administrators with whom they interact, work under a different
paradigm: they are still looking for the quick fix, the generic package that
promises to work uniformly well across settings. Third, second generation
professional development strategies often arise from ambitious visions of a
significantly different educational system, but often a lot of hope is riding on
relatively small, discrete programs: these may only engage small groups of
teachers or schools, and may even cause resentment or be detrimental to other
educators (Bascia, 1994a, 1994b). Some union leaders speak about teachers,
and often about whole school staffs, whose unwillingness to 'get with the
program" is a "problem." They perceive teacher
"resistance" to change as a pathology rather than a possibly rational
response to someone else's forced or inappropriate solution (Bailey, in press;
Bascia, 1994a; Blackmore & Kenway, 1995).
Bottom up professional development.
Conferences and second generation professional development strategies are
essentially types of "nonformal education:" that is, "organized,
systematic educational activity, carried on outside the framework of the formal
system, to provide selected types of learning to particular subgroups in the
population [e.g., teachers] ... focusing on specific, practical types of
knowledge and skills of fairly immediate utility" (Coombs, 1985, pp.
23-24). But teachers encounter and create other forms of professional
development through their organizations that fall outside of this
"organized, systematic educational activity." Consider the following
• A female teacher in southern Ontario discovers that her opportunities for
administrative advancement differ from those of male teachers: "I was
watching my male colleague being tapped on the shoulder and told, 'You need to
get into leadership activities.' I had become very well-known within the
community and yet never once did an administrator come to me the way they did
to [my colleague] and say, 'You are administration material, you need to go
forward, you need to take your master's degree."' Her provincial
teachers' federation provides legal support, but also an orientation to gender
issues that helps her understand her experiences: "By going to
[federation] meetings I was lean-dng about the discrepancies, that there was
not equity in terms of treatment and that these were sexist behaviors and
unacceptable. That was very critical to my awakening, I think.."
• An elementary teacher in northern California is recommended by her
local union to participate in a national teaching standards development
initiative. As a result of this involvement, she is subsequently invited
to join a state project that helps school staffs develop plans restructure
their educational programs. "I've learned so much and I'm grateful.
I think about what I can give back to my district."
• A southern California secondary department chair, in mid-career and
looking around for the next professional challenge, becomes a union
representative for her school. Listening to teachers from all over her
district talk about conditions in their schools provides her with a new and
important perspective on educational programs and teachers' working
conditions. "VVhen I first came in I was a classroom teacher and
all I knew was what happened to me as a classroom teacher. Then I became
head of a department and so I went to different meetings and learned how the
school worked together as a whole. And now through the union meeting, I
learn how teachers from different sites work together as a whole. So I'm
just getting a wider view of the coordination between people at different
• A special education teacher becomes a union representative for her
school and then vice president of her local organization. She
characterizes her union involvement as a deliberate strategy of always trying
to be on committees and be a part of the group as much as I can be. It's
important for me to know what's going on but it's also for my students: if I'm
respected then the students are going to be more respected [by other teachers]
in their classes in the mainstream ... There's always been special ed teachers
involved in the union [in this district]."
• An elementary teacher in Ohio runs for union steward for her school
because she believed her conflict resolution skills can be helpful in
mediating working relationships among teachers and between teachers and
• An Ohio secondary teacher believes that the peer mediation program she
initiated and ran for several years in her own school would benefit students
in schools across her district. Doubtful that she can persuade district
administration to support her, she worked instead through her local union, who
provides the organizational sponsorship for the expansion of the program
across the district.
These are all examples of what might be called
"teacher leadership" (Bascia, 1997). What is important here,
however, is not how unique the individuals are or how challenging their work is
but how their interest in extending the breadth of their knowledge, skills, and
access to the larger educational system is accomplished through their teachers'
organizations. The types of learning described here include
"informal" as well as "nonformal" education: that is, while
some teachers make use of deliberately planned professional development
activities but develop out of them broader understandings, implications, and
actions than what organizers had originally intended. Other teachers learn
by taking on organizational structures and roles established for other purposes
than professional development, and still others initiate whole new projects.
From an organizational perspective, as learning opportunities these are are
"unorganized, unsystematic and even unintentional" (Coombs, 1985, p.
24); but nonetheless teachers understand them as informal opportunities to
In these informal learning activities, the distinctions
are blurred between, on the one hand, classroom teaching and a commitment to
students and curriculum and, on the other hand, the kinds of organizational and
political work typically perceived as "administration" or
"leadership." As a union-active California secondary teacher said,
"It's naive to think 'I'm only here for the kids, I just want to focus on
my classroom and the kids and ignore all the rest of it."' These kinds of
learning take teachers outside the confines of their work as "mere"
classroom teachers, and involvethem with programs, issues and with other
educators in their schools and beyond. Such learning is profound because
it is multifaceted: simultaneously practical, political, and intellectual.
Through such learning experiences, classroom practice can be related to the
larger contexts of school practice and grounded in an understanding of the
broader purposes and practices of schooling (Little, 1993, p. 138). The
exposure and experience these activities provide allow teachers to move beyond
the taken-for-granted familiarity of their own classrooms, students, immediate
school contexts, so that the familiar context can be questioned and understood
for what it is (Feiman-Nemser & Buchmann, 1985). They allow for
meaningful intellectual, social and emotional engagement with ideas and with
other teachers. Through such learning experiences, teachers discover and
develop their personal strengths and competence, but they also come to
understand their positional power as teachers in the larger educational system
and in society.
These examples suggest the possibility of complex and
multifaceted relationships between teachers' professional development activities
and their "regular" work, between social, organizational and political
work and classroom practice, and between teachers' organizations and their work
(Bascia, 1997). This broad conception of professional development suggests
that everything, or at least many kinds of involvement with teachers'
organizations, can provide professional development opportunities.
What this means: Organizational strategies for professional development
The last section described the three types of
professional development provided by teachers' organizations, each progressively
less discrete and more intentionally consistent with teachers' felt needs to
expand their skills and understandings. Staff of teachers' organizations
who want to provide richer professional development experiences for more of
their members must look inward at their own organizations to understand their
capacity to foster meaningful teacher learning. Specifically, they must
consider four interrelated issues. First, they must recognize the multiple
ways their organization contributes to the socialization of teachers and shapes
the possibilities for teachers' work and professional development. Second,
they must recognize what kinds and how many teac,.'Iers have been attracted to
organizational involvement and which and how many have been, however
unintentionally, uninspired or excluded. Third, they must move beyond a
conceptualization of professional development as a discrete set of activities
driven by one organizational unit, to a fuller understanding of how structural
features throughout their organizations enable or constrain teacher learning.
Finally, they must stop searching for the single, best
professional development strategy and commit themselves to a policy of multiple
strategies, while acknowledging the inherent messiness and contradictions of
such a plan.
Teachers' organizations and teacher socialization.
In some ways, the roles that teachers' organizations play in socializing
teachers with respect to their work parallel the roles schools play in preparing
students for their roles in society. The formal and "hidden"
curriculum of schools (not only the content of courses but also, for example,
the messages contained in curriculum materials, opportunities for active
learning, course availability, extracurricular activities, and streaming or
tracking practices) shape students' expectations and actual life chances.
Similarly, schools and school systems shape teachers' understandings of what is
possible and desirable in their work through a variety of structural and
cultural influences (see for example Broadfoot & Osborn, 1993; Little, 1986;
Louis, 1990; Rosenholtz, 1989; Talbert & McLaughlin, 1994). To
paraphrase Blackmore and Kenway's (1995) description of how girls are
socialized, teachers learn about themselves through '/contradictory and shifting
webs of discourses produced by and through schools' but also through "other
social and cultural institutions" -- including their own unions.
Teachers' organizations participate in teacher
socialization through a variety of means. First, they help set many of the
terms for teachers' work and learning in the larger district context through
collective bargaining, including the scope of legitimate teaching activities
within and beyond the school day, the nature of and expectations for leadership
positions, participation in decision-making, and opportunities for professional
development. Second, teachers' organizations contribute to the discourse
about teachers and teaching through their communication with teachers and
administrators and through statements they make in the press; they may reinforce
or assert images of teachers as victims or heroes, technicians, intellectual
workers, political activists, professionals. Third, teachers'
organizations have the potential to augment and extent teachers' professional
activities through the formal opportunities they provide in their own
organizations and through links to district governance and other arenas beyond
the district. Fourth, teachers' organizations demonstrate their relevance
to teachers' work through their responsiveness and willingness to take up
teachers' issues and concerns and by allowing teachers to develop new projects
and initiatives through their auspices. All of these factors, and the
interactions among them, contribute to teachers' occupational socialization.
What teachers tend to see is not always the particular message of the union per
se, but the relative dissonance or coherence of messages, the aggregate message
emanating from the combination of various regulations, statements, opportunities
and conditions in various dimensions of the contexts in which they work (Bascia,
1994a; Earl et al.,1998; Nespor, 1997; Talbert & McLaughlin, 1994).
Teachers' organizations help to define and maintain
expectations for what teachers can legitimately do and know. They can
participate in reproducing a narrow, technical conception of teaching -- or they
can attempt to challenge prevailing norms by providing alternative visions,
opportunities to develop new understandings, and opening access for teachers to
the larger educational systems in which they work. In reality,
unfortunately, teachers' organizations often reinforce traditional, restrictive
notions of what teachers can know and do. For example, in the northeastern
U.S., a local teachers' association worked with district administrators to
establish district- and school-level structures so that teachers could
participate in decision-making. The espoused commitment to teacher
empowerment was soon undermined by an enduring pattern of "closed
door" decision making sessions between teacher association leadership and
district administrators (Bascia, 1997). In Canada, in a period of economic
scarcity and work intensification, a professional development initiative
sponsored by a provincial teachers' federation was discontinued when federation
leadership decided that it would be "unfair" to ask teachers to do
'extra" work beyond contractually defined time and tasks. This
teachers' organization effectively contributed to the narrowing of teachers'
roles and the reduction of their opportunities for learning.
It is no surprise that teachers' organizations tend to
parallel the structure and norms of the larger educational system. But
because of their roles as teachers' organizations, it is ironic and tragic when
they fail to compensate for the restriction of teachers' authority and capacity
within the larger educational system. VVhile it may be unreasonable to
insist that teachers' organizations should attempt to compensate for all the
problems of the larger educational system, it is equally unreasonable to assume
that they cannot or should not challenge the status quo. Teachers first
established their own organizations, and many teachers continue to get involved
in these organizaitons them, because of felt needs to challenge the educational
system's hegemonic domination (Bascia, 1998d; Carlson, 1993; Larson, 1977;
Teachers' organizations that are serious about the
professional development of their members need to recognize how their own
actions contribute, through the many dimensions of the work they do as
organizations, to the narrowing or expanding teachers' authority and capacity to
act. Given this understanding of teacher socialization, it seems obvious
that, all things else being equal, a single simple professional development
strategy could not be powerful enough to inbue teachers with the necessary
"values and world view" to embrace a more empowered role.
Teachers' organizations can and should do much more.
The demographics of teachers' organizational
participation. The organizationally active teachers whose learning was
described in the "bottom up" section are obviously unusual, a small
subset of the teaching population these are teachers who recognize opportunities
in union involvement that are not obvious to the majority of their colleagues.
Organizationally-involved teachers understand the value of the opportunities for
learning and activity that are often uncontested because they are often
invisible or even unattractive to many teachers (Bascia, 1997). Studies
suggest that a number of factors distinguish these individuals from other
teachers (Bascia, 1994a, 1997, 1998d) a family history of unionism so that
organizational involvement is a taken-for-granted dimension of professional
identity; a "critical incident" in their personal or professional
lives that requires union representation and exposes them to individuals and
organizational possibilities of which they were previously unaware; being
personally ready for the next career challenge; belonging to a friendship group,
academic department or even whole school or district where organizational
involvement is the norm; a personal history of leadership activities; a sense of
personal empowerment and entitlement. (In some cases, teachers have enough
self-confidence to become organizationally involved even when they don't approve
of union directions; as one California secondary teacher said, "I realized
that the union is us, and ff we're unhappy then it's our own fault, because we
could be that leadership or we could be knowledgeably voting for proper
leadership. We're only as powerful as we make ourselves.")
Teachers' motives are sometimes "selfish,"
but often they are also a reflection of their commitment to their students, to
the programs for which they are responsible, and to the other teachers with whom
they work. Many goals are directly related to the work they do and the
contexts in which that work takes place. In teachers' organizations there
often is a preponderance of teachers from certain schools and not others, more
in certain subjects and programs and fewer in others. For example, some
organizations have more active teachers from the elementary level while others
are more heavily secondary; some have more from high-status schools, where
teachers already know about the value of working the system, or more teachers
from low-status schools where teachers feel they do not receive the level of
financial and moral support from the district as others. Similarly,
sometimes high status subjects (such as science) are more heavily represented,
while in other cases a significant proportion of union-involved teachers carry
responsibilities for subjects such as industrial arts and art, which suffer from
lower status than those subjects considered "essential" to a school's
academic program (Goodson, 1988; Little, 1993, 1995; Siskin, 1994).
Teachers with low-status students (especially special education and English as a
Second Language) may be particularly sensitive to issues such as funding,
scheduling, discipline, curriculum, and professional development policies -- all
union issues, and issues that may be differentially available to teachers
according to the status of the students and programs with which they are
affiliated (Finley, 1984). Finally, traditions vary from one setting to
another with respect to whether union involvement is considered the domain of
men teachers, women teachers, or both (Bascia, 1998d).
These differential patterns of involvement are often
quite pronounced and can lead to the perception that "the union is a
'cabal,"' driven by the agenda of a discrete group of teachers and
inaccessible and unresponsive to anyone else. Organizations that want to
expand teachers' opportunities for teachers' professional development must pay
attention to how many and which types of teachers are active and which are not,
by examining the demographics of elected leadership, active school
representatives, organizational committees, and special projects.
Committed organizations need to pay attention to which and whose issues are
taken seriously enough to become incorporated in meeting agendas, collective
bargaining sessions, to become special projects, and which are not (Bascia,
1998b; Bacharach & Mitchell, 1981). Women teachers in particular have
often gotten short shrift: Harry Smaller (1991) has written about how Toronto
women teachers started their own organization because the male educators who
dominated the existing organization believed they had an inherent right to
greater job security, opportunities for administrative advancement, and larger
salaries; Marjorie Murphy (1990) has described how women teachers were laughed
at on the convention floor of the American Federation of Teachers in the early
1970s for suggesting that child care, maternity leave, and equal opportunity
clauses were legitimate and necessary issues for the teachers' organization to
take up (Bascia, 1998d). Paying attention to the characteristics of
teachers who are organizationally involved is an important dimension of
understanding whether this involvement, and therefore the associated leaming,
perpetuates or challenges inequalities among teachers; in other words, whether
"teacher leadership" is understood as the domain of a discrete cadre
of teachers or as a potential state of being for teachers more generally.
Organizational structure. Teachers'
organizations with a minimal interest in professional development often get by
with internal structures that in some ways resemble "balkanized"
secondary schools (Hargreaves, 1994; Siskin, 1994). In such organizations,
staff who are associated with professional development, collective bargaining
and other organizational priorities interact with distinctly different people
(government officials, administrators, "teacher leaders," teachers in
trouble) and maintain distinctly different views of the world. As in
secondary schools, differences in world view in teachers' organizations can
result in a rich program of organizational "products," but they can
also be problematic. Subunits' autonomy can be challenged by the relative
privilege of other units; funding can be contested and reallocated, other units
can act in ways that actually undermine the efforts of the professional
development unit, and professional development can be rendered ineffective and
invisible in relation to the actions and publicized statements that reflect
other organizational priorities. Within many contemporary teachers'
organizations, the view of professional development (and other non-classroom
activities) as legitimate and essential to the quality of teachers' work can
collide with the belief that non-classroom work, and work not contractually
specified, is "extra" or superfluous. Such differences in basic
understandings can result in teachers' organizations calling for teachers to
cease all but the most classroom-specific work in times of political adversity,
thus rectifying the existing status inequalities and unmet leaming needs among
teachers (see for example Robertson, 1992).
Teachers' organizations that take their professional
development mandate seriously try to minimize internal balkanization by
establishing shared understandings and increasing internal communication.
In some U.S. teachers' organizations, professional development priorities
influence collective bargaining: provisions for funding, release time, and
special roles and relationships for teachers may all find their way into the
substance of collective agreements; professional development may also become the
focus of reform initiatives collaboratively sponsored by the teachers'
organization and district-level administrators and trustees (Bascia, 1994a,
1998a; Koppich & Kerchner, 1993). Similarly, in some Canadian
provinces, awareness by whole teachers' organizations of the growing number of
reports to their organizations' legal units by teachers of serious conflicts
with parents has prompted the development of new professional development
strategies that focus on helping educators to work more effectively with
Teachers' organization staff concerned with professional
development in its broadest sense must consider all aspects of their
organization in terms of their impact on teachers' work and also in terms of
teachers' organizational access. Consider, for example, the degree of
hierarchy; the distribution of knowledge and authority not only within the
formal teachers' organization but in its relationship with schools; the nature
and number of formal staff positions and informal opportunities to work through
the organization; and the content and frequency of formal meetings and other
opportunities for teachers to learn abut each others' conditions, issues and
priorities are all structural features with important consequences for teachers'
access to professional learning opportunities (Bascia, 1998b; Bacharach &
Mitchell, 1981). Myriad mundane details influence teachers' involvement in
their organizations scheduling meeting and project times so that a wide range of
teachers can participate, creating meeting structures that are conducive to
discussion, structuring opportunities to develop new shared understandings and
to consider divergent viewpoints. Differences in size, resource base, and
complexity make important differences in organizations' abilities to provide
opportunities for teacher involvement and learning. The organizational
capacity of teacher unions run the entire gamut from, at one extreme, places
where a single elected union officer carries out his or her duties on top of a
full teaching load to, on the other hand, complex organizations where a number
of dedicated staff work on a variety of initiatives and with numerous and varied
opportunities and resources for teachers to use and to support the projects they
initiate (Bascia, et al., 1997).
Professional development often is understood and
maintained as an individual benefit available to a small number of teachers for
individual and idiosyncratic reasons (Bascia, 1994b; Huberman, 1993). In
contrast, it could be understood as a shared benefit, and teachers could
understand their work in larger organizational and societal context. But
this depends on the ability of teachers' organizations to attract a large number
and range of teachers and to create mechanisms so that teachers can learn about
and from each other in ways that recognize their commonalities but also are
honest about their differences (Bascia, 1994a, 1994b). These
understandings, in turn, will determine the ways teachers apply their learning
and the extent of their impact.
Multiple strategies. There is a tendency to
assume that all teachers have similar needs and interests and that what empowers
one empowers all. Teachers' organizations need to recognize that teachers
embody different qualities and have different needs for action and reflection in
different circumstances. Teachers differ widely in their developmental
needs, learning preferences, personal obligations (and therefore time for
extra-classroom activities), social status (and therefore opportunities for
organizational participation), program and subject affiliation (and therefore
goals or interest) as well as in school, district, and state or provincial
contexts (and therefore policy pressures and workplace conditions) (Bascia,
1996b; Earl, et al. 1998; Huberman, 1993; Little, 1992; Robertson, 1992; Siskin,
1994). C)ne type of professional development cannot possibly fit all.
Over a decade of evaluation research has consistently
demonstrated that no single reform initiative provided by teachers'
organizations is attractive, meaningful, and effective across a group of
teachers of any diversity (Bascia, 1991, 1994a; Bascia, 1997). Rather
seeking out the one best strategy, teachers' organizations are better off paying
attention to what teachers say, encouraging less enfranchised teachers to assert
their needs, and filling a variety of vacuums and niches that various teachers
identify. Teachers' organizations are more likely to foster quality
professional development by allowing multiple projects to flourish, even if they
are seemingly contradictory in intent.
Supporting multiple diverse strategies means allowing
teachers to discover their commonalities and differences for example, enabling
teachers to come together in special interest political caucuses (e.g., women,
people of colour, special education teachers) as well as in cross-interest and
-site groupings. It also means paying attention to the political and
pedagogical implications of this work neither attempting to cover up the real
differences in perspective and in organizational power that exist among teachers
nor allowing overt power differences to go unquestioned and unchecked.
Professional development is an important agenda item
for many North American teachers' organizations. This paper has reviewed
the benefits and limitations of three professional development strategies
employed by teachers' organizations. The first two exemplify deliberate
nonformal education strategies, the first a minimal approach and the second
paying greater attention to contextual variation and teacher diversity.
The third type, consisting of informal learning opportunities developed by
teachers themselves using various organizational structures as starting points,
provides an opportunity for us to understand how teachers' organizations could
provide richer professional development opportunities for larger numbers of
teachers, by paying attention to the educational "spin-offs" of their
own activities and organizational features the roles they play in teacher
socialization, restricting or expanding acceptable and possible teacher
knowledge and action; the demographics of teacher involvement and the
reproduction or challenge to inequities among teachers with respect to access to
learning opportunities; and internal structural dynamics that encourage or
inhibit teachers' understanding of the larger political and social context of
their teaching. These factors suggest that teachers' organizations move
away from policies of discrete and limited professional development events to
consider a variety of organizational sites as potentially useful for teacher
leaming, and to enable multiple learning strategies that appeal to the whole
range of teachers to whom they are responsible.
1. These studies were funded by the Stuart Foundation, U.S. Department
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