Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
 
COLLEGE-LEVEL TEACHER TRAINING:
A JOINT PROJECT INVOLVING THE WHOLE COLLEGE COMMUNITY


Summary

 

In this brief, the Conseil supérieur de l’éducation proposes a plan for the training of college teachers, and calls on the state, universities, colleges and, of course, teachers, to participate. The plan, envisaged as a joint project involving all the colleges, grows out of the discussion in the Conseil’s two previous briefs on the conditions for student success and the specific characteristics of college-level teaching. The plan takes into account the culture of the colleges and the many submissions the Conseil has received, particularly from members of the college community. This brief, like the two preceding ones, is part of an effort to identify conditions conducive to the democratization of higher education and an higher rate of student success.

Aware of the challenges facing college teachers as a result of the many changes that have transformed their professional environment, redefined their roles and rendered their work more complex over the last ten years, the Conseil sees a need to introduce guidelines for a teacher training procedure. Its aim is not only to define needs and provide support to those responsible for training teaching staff, but also to contribute to the professionalization of college-level teaching and to meet the needs of Québec society, and particularly those of its students.

The proposal concerns higher education as a whole since many of the aspects dealt with apply to both colleges and universities. The first phase, a dialogue with CEGEP students on the theme of success, was followed by discussions with many players at the college and university levels. These consultations revealed that the changes underway in the colleges, although appropriate, have given rise to practical difficulties requiring great effort on the part of the education community. According to the Conseil, it is essential that colleges be afforded enough time to properly test the changes they have undertaken and sufficient resources to realize the full potential of those changes. The proposed training procedure represents an essential component of the efforts required to attain the objectives targeted by the current reform at the college level.

It is the Conseil’s hope that this brief will spur recognition of the real need for training among college teachers, so that all those concerned can contribute, according to their respective responsibilities, to the implementation of an appropriate procedure. There is no doubt that passion and mastery of a subject, good judgment, strong communication skills, and the ability to use knowledge to captivate students are all conducive to effective teaching and learning. But these qualities are not enough. To truly support learning and help students overcome difficulties, it is important to know how to teach in a way that develops students’ capacity to learn, which requires specific competencies and knowledge. While these skills can be honed through practice in a favourable environment, training offers an easier and more rapid way to acquire them. The Conseil believes that the prevailing rules of the game with regard to the training of college teachers must be re-examined in the light of conditions affecting the profession.

First, the Conseil analyzes the situation, beginning with an examination of the particular features of college-level teaching (chapter 1). This examination shows that college-level teaching is becoming increasingly complex and that not all members of the teaching staff have mastered these new complexities. It also demonstrates that the minimum educational requirements for teaching at the college level fall below the competencies that are actually expected of college teachers, and below the qualifications of many teachers currently working in Québec colleges. Although training opportunities are available, there are still major gaps. The Conseil then considers the prevailing teaching practices at other educational levels and the lessons that can be drawn (chapter 2).

 

Expected competencies

Second (chapter 3), the Conseil presents the expected competencies for effective college teachers, in order to provide criteria for the goals of the proposed training. Four major areas of competency that require the mobilization of knowledge from various fields (subject or specialty, didactics, teaching, training programs, information and communication technologies, research) provide guidelines for developing the training. These areas of competency define what is expected of a professional teacher, not only as regards initial training; but also as focuses of ongoing professional development.

To master the discipline or technical specialty

  • Master the various aspects of a subject
  • Consider the subject from an epistemological perspective
  • Consider and define the role of the discipline in social life and the job market
  • Discuss the subject in accessible language and master the language of teaching

To develop and apply teaching strategies that promote learning and student development

  • Promote the integration and transfer of learning
  • Emphasize student participation
  • Forge closer ties between evaluation and teaching both in order to support students’ educational development and to constantly readjust practices to the students’ learning needs
  • Employ a variety of teaching and learning strategies
  • Adapt teaching methods to the programs in order to help students attain the objectives

To maintain effective collaboration with the other players involved in educational activity

  • Departmental activities: assume some departmental responsibilities
  • Program activities: make a significant contribution to the various activities required for the pedagogical management of training programs
  • Institutional activities: work with the other players on various institutional projects and participate in the life of the institution, primarily in educational activities (teaching and supporting student development), but also in social and cultural activities
  • Educational activities as a whole: contribute to projects that involve various players in the education system and develop collaborative ties with others in the milieu (civil society) to attain educational goals (consider the community as a provider of resources, a place to learn, a focus of learning and a consumer of educational services)

To master changes in teaching practices and contribute to the evolution of the teaching profession

  • Analyze their teaching practices and apply the findings in their daily work, in ongoing professional development and in defining their professional identity as teachers
  • Contribute to the development of knowledge
  • Use and develop information and communications technologies in an educational context

Toward ongoing professional development

Third (chapter 4), the Conseil tackles the implementation of the proposed training. It favours orientations and strategies that emphasize respect for the diversity of practices, which adds an element of complexity, but contributes to the richness of the college milieu. The Conseil calls on colleges to agree on a set of criteria for competencies to serve as guidelines for the development of training. While underlining the importance of such guidelines, the Conseil advocates personalized teaching practices, and stresses that professional practices must be supported by training that is flexible enough to meet various professional development needs.

The Conseil considers that college-level teachers today require ongoing training, which means that training requirements cannot be limited to initial training. On the contrary, all teachers should be required to take part in professional development activities and to consider such activities an integral part of the practice of their profession. Furthermore, the training proposed emphasizes the importance of subject-specific competencies. In fact, the Conseil encourages colleges to hire teachers who have acquired subject-specific competencies that exceed those offered at the bachelor’s level. The Conseil does not, however, recommend that the master’s degree become the new criterion for access to all college-level teaching.

While the Conseil recognizes the importance of a high-level subject-specific education, it does not consider that such an education prepares teachers adequately to meet current needs. The Conseil also recommends that a specific training component designed for future college teachers be mandatory, although there should be several means to acquire such training. The Conseil is of the opinion that all teachers currently employed by a college should compare their teaching practices with the common criteria for competencies that the colleges are urged to establish, make the necessary adjustments by means of professional development activities and create and regularly update a personalized professional development plan. For new teachers, the Conseil sees this as an additional element of their initial training. Although this training should be considered an asset for hiring purposes, it should not be a hiring condition per se. The training could, according to the Conseil, be acquired during the course of employment, provided that specific measures are taken to this effect.

According to the proposed approach, new teachers would establish a personalized professional development plan at the time of employment, which would include training based on their particular situation. The plan would be designed as a professional development tool to promote a gradual professional integration. Without a commitment to training, new teachers would find themselves excluded from the application of rules governing priority for employment, making permanent positions impossible to attain. The required training would include programs based on officially recognized criteria for competencies. These programs would take into account individuals’ prior learning and would involve a dynamic relationship between theory and practice. Initial training would be offered by universities and colleges in order to encourage complementarity between the two milieus.

 

Major challenges

The implementation of a training procedure, envisaged here as a joint effort, involves all stakeholders in higher education, and the Conseil is well aware that such a project represents a major challenge for each of them (chapter 5). In order to ensure a successful professional integration for new teachers, the Conseil proposes that they be granted a special status that would involve, among other things, fewer teaching responsibilities for a given period of time. These conditions would allow new teachers to acquire adequate training, thus enabling them to provide a higher quality of teaching to their students.

The Conseil underlines the important role of education consultants, department coordinators and college administrators in supporting and supervising this new personnel. The Conseil recommends assigning experienced teachers to new roles at the college level, including those of mentor, teaching partner and coordinator of teaching. Teachers assigned to these roles should meet specific criteria and enjoy full recognition for their work. Supporting professional integration, as set out by the Conseil, also requires a review of hiring and tenure practices as well as a more systematic implementation of professional integration programs.

Since these new training requirements also affect college-level teachers who are already employed, other conditions apply, such as strengthening support for professional development for all members of the teaching staff. Along these lines, the Conseil reminds colleges of their responsibility in terms of human resource development and the need to adopt a more consistent and realistic profile of the teaching staff’s actual professional qualifications. It also recommends requiring the establishment of personalized professional development plans by all teaching staff. Rather than opting for standardized training, the Conseil favours various training paths based on common criteria. Allowing for flexibility can only work, however, if teachers show concrete evidence of commitment to professional development—precisely the role intended for the personalized professional development plan. Lastly, the Conseil calls for greater access to professional development resources for all teachers, the recognition of specific needs in certain professional disciplines and greater integration of professional development into the practice of college-level teaching.

The Conseil hopes that the colleges and universities will work together to make this training a reality. It calls on the universities to develop a variety of credible and accessible training activities, and also to make a concerted effort to understand college realities. The success of the proposed training depends on a well-balanced and complementary relationship between theoretical and practical training and formal partnerships in the various design and implementation phases of the training, which will require that certain practices be reviewed from time to time. Without wishing to circumscribe the autonomy of the institutions of higher learning, the Conseil favours setting up a body in order to identify common criteria for college-level teaching competencies, and to define the training available to teachers and the management framework for this training. Furthermore, since colleges must assume a leadership role in developing this training procedure, the Conseil encourages them to take the initiative in calling on their partners to establish the bases of their cooperation and to oversee the application of this training throughout the college system.

Finally, a project of this scope cannot be set up without substantial and formal support from the state. The Conseil confirms the need for state intervention in order to ensure that training requirements are respected throughout the college system. Furthermore, the proposed training depends on adequate financial support since it involves an important shift for the colleges.


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