Chapter Six: Teachers, Administrators, and the School System

6.8 Career Progression and Development

The following sections outline some of the common issues related to the career progression and development of teachers: hiring, contracts, induction, salaries, working conditions, professional development, supervision, evaluation, academic freedom, and dismissal/tenure procedures.


Hiring has at least two requirements. The first is to define the qualities needed to fill a position; the second is to use some process to select a particular person who, presumably, best embodies those qualities. In practice, however, neither requirement may get explicit attention. Most schools and school divisions establish staffing needs for the upcoming year based on projected enrolments, program requirements and options, an examination of movement of staff (retirements, transfers, part-time placements, leaves, dismissals), special population needs, and current legislative regulations. From this data, the school division determines how many new professional positions it needs, and in which subject areas, for particular schools.

While the hiring process for teachers has common elements, it varies widely across schools and districts. In some settings, time may be taken to gather staff opinion or community views, and to think about the kind of person who is wanted for a position. For most teaching positions, however, selection begins with a review of qualifications (résumé, experience, type of certificate) of various candidates, and the creation of a short list of persons to be interviewed.

School boards have the formal, legal responsibility for hiring teachers. In some cases, most of the authority for hiring teachers is given to school principals, who review applications, determine who will be interviewed, conduct the interviews – on their own or as part of a team – and recommend a candidate to the superintendent and the school board. It is crucial to note, however, that principals do not hire teachers, even though many systems rely on the principal’s recommendation for hiring. In some districts, most of these tasks are the responsibility of superintendents, who then assign teachers to particular schools. Here the principal may have little or no role in choosing their staff. In other districts, especially small, rural ones, school trustees are directly involved in interviewing prospective teachers and making decisions about hiring. School boards, or the governing body of the school division, have the final authority on hiring, even if they delegate that authority to the superintendent or superintendent’s office.

Schools and districts rely heavily on interviews. In some cases, though it may occur infrequently, teachers or parents may be involved in interviewing. However, research on personnel selection indicates that performance in an interview cannot accurately predict performance on the job (Cranston, 2012). Many districts or schools may rely heavily on an applicant’s references, and particularly on comments from teachers or administrators who have seen the applicant in a teaching situation. For new teachers, the in-school teacher candidacy experience is very important in that it provides some practical evidence of competence that an administrator may use in making a hiring decision. Working as a substitute teacher can also be a way of becoming known and hireable in a school, although substitute teaching can be more difficult and less satisfying than regular teaching.

Subject-matter expertise is naturally an important consideration in hiring. The growth in French immersion in Canada made it relatively easy in the last decade for new teachers with good French-language skills to find employment. Those with skills in specialist areas such as computer programming, special education, or practical and applied arts have also been at an advantage in the job market. As new priority areas emerge, administrators will look for applicants who have these skills. However, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that hiring may also depend on entirely extraneous factors, such as whether the applicant is willing to undertake extracurricular activities or whether the applicant grew up in that particular jurisdiction. Many school systems like to hire teachers who graduated from their own schools. Employment equity should be a hiring consideration. Another criterion identified is whether the candidate will “fit in” with a particular staff, though it has been noted that “fit” often is linked to normative understandings that may reduce diversity in hiring practices. The goal of hiring may be to minimize the risk of problems rather than to find the most dynamic and effective person. The evidence suggests that university grades are often given little importance in hiring decisions.

The uncertainty in hiring processes reflects the elusiveness of the concept of the “good teacher.” A more detailed discussion of teaching occurs in Chapter 7; at this point, it is sufficient to note that there is no consensus on what good teaching is, or on how to decide if a particular person is a good teacher. This of course makes hiring much more difficult. One alternative that is being used in some settings is to use hiring as an opportunity to initiate a debate or discussion within a school regarding what qualities and skills are most important in a teacher. The very discussion of these matters can itself contribute to building consensus on issues of teaching and learning.

Employment Equity and Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is primarily a U.S. term. Ontario judge Rosalie Abella (1984), who completed a major study on the issue for the Government of Canada, preferred the term employment equity, by which she meant efforts to create a more balanced representation of various groups in a given work force. Employment equity has broad application in Canada in many sectors of the labour force and in many different industries. The federal government, for example, requires all companies with which it contracts to develop and implement an employment equity strategy.

Employment equity is regarded as necessary because work forces may become highly segregated in terms of race, ethnicity, or gender, and because certain groups of people have had enormous difficulty in finding employment. With respect to teachers, two areas of employment equity have been predominant in Canada: the pursuit of an ethnically and racially representative teaching profession and of gender equity in school administration.

A Representative Teaching Force

At a time when teacher turnover and a growing diversity of the population require a renewal of the profession, issues of employment equity and representation take on a particular importance.

As noted earlier, Canada—always a society characterized by cultural diversity—has articulated a constitutional and legal vision of itself that acknowledges and celebrates the richness of this diversity. Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is of particular importance in this regard, because not only does it make discrimination by government illegal, but it also makes provision for actions that seek to redress existing inequities. For many people, a commitment to equity and intercultural education in Canada can only be, at best, partial if the teaching force generally bears little resemblance to the cultural and racial diversity of the wider society or to the communities and students with whom they work. This may also help to explain the elusive and subjective nature of what it means to be “a good teacher” or “the best candidate.”

Schools in most Canadian cities serve students from a variety of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, yet relatively few teachers, administrators, or school board members originate from these same groups (Abawi & Eizadirad, 2020; Dandala, 2020; Ontario College of Teachers, 2020). In some cities and in much of northern Canada, large numbers of students are Indigenous, yet Indigenous teachers and administrators remain underrepresented in these schools. At least three quite different justifications can be made for a representative teaching force at the system level. The importance of teachers as role models for students from non-dominant backgrounds is one such justification, but equally important is their presence to challenge the development of stereotypes and prejudices among dominant-group students. Second, if schools do indeed value culturally relevant curricula, such teachers are likely to bring to the system a range of knowledge, skills, experiences, and sensitivities that would be enriching. Third, from an employment perspective, school systems might justifiably be asked to examine why, as major employers, they do not draw equally from the population of their communities, and to take steps to remove unreasonable barriers in their hiring and personnel practices.

Canada has a number of innovative teacher-education programs that train Indigenous students and students from other underrepresented groups as teachers. Many Canadian universities, including British Columbia, Brandon, Saskatchewan, Lakehead, McGill, and Memorial, operate programs that specifically recruit Indigenous people into teaching. Usually, these programs pay particular attention to Indigenous identity, cultures and languages, and they graduate teachers for both provincial public and First Nations school systems. These programs have brought about a substantial increase in the number of Indigenous teachers in First Nation schools. However, in provincial schools, with or without large Indigenous student populations, the small number of Indigenous teachers remains a challenge. Today, most teacher education programs have an equity mandate that makes increasing the diversity of teacher graduates a central concern. Across the country as a whole there is a greater recognition of and focus on the fact that the student populations of our faculties of education should more fully reflect the cultural and racial diversity of the wider population. Some school divisions have created equity policies designed to eliminate culturally biased and racist practices, and to actively recruit teachers from underrepresented groups, though critiques of what remains unrepresented exist (Shewchuk & Cooper, 2018).

Women and Administration

Much of the research on women in administration addresses their representation, career development, and leadership/management style. Currently, more women than men complete advanced degrees in educational administration, yet their numbers in administrative positions overall are disproportionate to their representation in the field of education, and those of racialized women even moreso (Kachur-Reico & Wallin, 2012; Tarbutton, 2019; Whitehead et al., 2018). While the proportion of women in leadership positions continues to grow, especially as more men leave the field of education (Statistics Canada, Table 37-10-0153-01), their representation remains uneven, demographically and positionally. For instance, women are more apt to hold assistant positions (vice principal or assistant superintendent) than they are to hold chief positions (principal or superintendent). They are also more apt to hold elementary principalships than middle or high school principalships (Guihan, 2019; Wallin, 2005). While the career paths of males and females appear to have become more similar in the past few years, there is evidence that women still do not receive the same kinds of encouragement or socialization into their administrative roles as do men, and that women still face gender discrimination and barriers that are both individual and systemic (Netshitangani, 2018; Wallin & Wallace, 2018). Unfortunately, the lack of a reliable data base that records gender statistics prevents an accurate assessment of progress toward gender equity in Canadian education.

In the past there was a strong tendency to characterize women as having a more democratic and participatory style of leadership than men, suggesting that there is something that can be uniquely referred to as a “female leadership style” (Shakeshaft, 2000). However, much contemporary work on women in leadership speaks back to this essentializing notion of a “sisterhood,” noting that the experiences and reports of what constitutes female leadership has largely been written by, and about, cisgender white women. These authors suggest that gender intersects with race, culture, age, sexual identity, socioeconomic status, and residence in Western or non-Western societies (Fitzgerald, 2006; Lumby, 2014; Nash & Peters, 2020). More attention has to be paid to nuanced and diverse understandings of women’s experiences in, and enactment of, leadership. These are the kinds of gender issues with which all educators must struggle as they strive toward a democratic and equitable education system.

The lack of a reliable data-base raises questions related to equity in education. For example, what does it mean to achieve equity in terms of representation? Can equity be framed in terms of the numbers of women versus the numbers of men, the numbers overall, by position, or by kind of district? Are women advancing disproportionately in certain types of schools, school districts, or positions? Are they receiving positions more often in circumstances where attracting candidates is difficult? Have school divisions maintained (or even initiated) a focus on gender-equitable practice, or is there a sense that gender equity is “old news,” and we no longer have to pay attention to it? To what extent have changes in family structure, parenting roles, and social attitudes blurred gender roles between males and females? Do men experience barriers to movement into and within administration, and if so, how are the barriers similar to or different from those experienced by women? Is there a “female leadership style” or have men and women become more similar in their leadership styles, especially in a field such as education? Because we lack consistent comparative studies of males and females, it is difficult to determine how much style differences are actually shaped by gender and how much by role identities or socialization patterns.

Another concern relates to the movement of men out of the profession that is noted in tables 6.2.4 and 6.2.5. Historically, when females begin to dominate a profession, that profession becomes devalued in society. If such is the case, where is the balance between gender equity, representation, and the “tipping point” that could devalue the profession of education as a whole, causing negative consequences for all professionals in education?

Employment-Equity Measures

What steps can be taken to increase the numbers of differently positioned women, Indigenous people, and other underrepresented groups among teachers and administrators? A wide range of employment-equity programs has already been established in organizations. Although much of the debate over employment equity focuses on the idea of quotas (in which some portion of a set of jobs is reserved for members of target groups), the use of quotas is in fact relatively rare, and is only one of many ways to strengthen the presence of affirmative-action target groups. Some of these include:

  • specific efforts to find qualified applicants from target groups, and to encourage them to apply;
  • providing training to target group members to increase their qualifications and chance of being selected;
  • providing training to those on selection committees in order to guard against unwarranted biases in hiring;
  • providing guidelines for job criteria that are not systematically exclusive of certain groups (e.g., qualifications such as height or coaching experience); and
  • changing workplace conditions to make jobs more attractive to target group members (e.g., providing daycare or allowing staff flexibility with respect to religious holidays).

Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly allows affirmative-action employment-equity provisions. Furthermore, until we are successful in having a distribution of teachers and administrators that is more consistent with the overall population, employment-equity measures appear to be warranted, and are likely to continue in Canada.


Teachers are formally the employees of school districts. When hired, a teacher normally signs a contract with a school district. However, the contract typically lays out only some of the most basic aspects of the job, such as the notice required for resignation or dismissal. There may be different kinds of contracts for different teachers. A standard contract applies to people who are taking on permanent, full-time positions. However, teachers who are going to be employed temporarily, part-time, or as substitutes may have a different form of contract with fewer protections and benefits. A number of provinces, for example, now allow school districts to hire teachers on temporary contracts that expire automatically at the end of the school year. These contracts give school districts more flexibility in their staffing from year to year, but at the price of eliminating job security for teachers in this category, who must wait to find out each spring if they will have a job the following year.

It is also important for prospective teachers to understand that an undertaking made either by them or the school district through a letter or even a conversation or phone call is also a form of contract. Any agreement entered into by two parties may be recognized by the court as a binding contract, even if it is not a formal document.


Induction refers to the processes used by school divisions to orient teachers new to the division, whether they are new to teaching in general, or new to employment within that particular division. For many years, concern has been expressed about the way in which first-year teachers are treated. In some cases, new teachers may be given teaching assignments other teachers do not want. These could involve teaching several different subjects or different grades. Whatever the teaching assignment, new teachers may simply begin on the first day, with no orientation, no support system, and little help in dealing with problems that inevitably arise. This is the “sink or swim” attitude that can make or break a new teacher’s likelihood of remaining in the profession.

Fortunately, many school districts are now taking measures to improve the experience of first-year teachers. Administrators are realizing that it is to the school’s and students’ benefit to make the first year as satisfying as possible for new teachers. It is increasingly common to find districts providing measures such as orientation sessions, mentoring arrangements with more experienced teachers, lighter teaching loads, extra support from the principal, group meetings of beginning teachers, or special professional development opportunities to support new teachers. Improving the first year of new teachers is a relatively easy, yet potentially powerful, way of improving schooling.

The Australian Guidelines for Teacher Induction (2018) state that teacher induction should focus on four areas: professional practices, professional identity, wellbeing, and orientation. Practice-focused mentoring is considered to be one of the most powerful supports for teacher induction, though induction programs are strengthened with the inclusion of a range of strategies, including “practice-focused mentoring, leadership contact, participation in collaborative networks, targeted professional learning, observation and reflection on teaching, practical information and time allocation” (p. 2).

In fact, many school divisions across Canada now ensure that there is some sort of induction process available for new teachers. Having a good induction process is an incentive for teachers to apply to the division, and helps school divisions retain good teachers once they come on board. For example, the provincial government in Ontario has created the New Teacher Induction Program (2019) for all first-year teachers (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2019). Most often, induction programs are developed by individual school divisions through mentorship programs, reduced teaching loads, or other incentives that help ease the transition into full-time teaching.


Teachers are generally paid annual salaries. Salaries are determined through collective bargaining between teachers’ associations and either school boards or provincial governments (an issue more fully discussed in Chapter 9). Pay rates for teachers in Canada are normally tied closely to the teacher’s experience and education. The more years of postsecondary education, the higher the starting salary. Most collective agreements also provide that teachers will get an increase in salary, called an increment, for each year of teaching experience up to a specified maximum number of years. Teachers working in remote or isolated communities may also be paid extra, whether through a higher salary scale or some form of isolation payment.

In all of the provinces except Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario, basic salary and fringe benefits are as of the year 2021, negotiated at a provincial level between teachers’ associations and the provincial government. In the three provinces mentioned, negotiations of salary are conducted between the teachers’ association and the local school division or region. Collective agreements also contain salary and other provisions for administrators, if they are part of the bargaining unit. Fringe benefits may include such issues as compassionate leave, supplementary medical insurance, cumulative sick leave, long-term disability insurance, maternity leave, retirement gratuities, sabbatical and study leave, life insurance, and dental insurance. A new teacher is wise to compare the fringe benefits of different divisions, as they can vary greatly.

Pay levels vary from province to province, and in provinces where collective bargaining of salaries is carried on locally (see Chapter 9), salaries vary across school boards. Table 6.8.1 shows a salary scale for Saskatchewan teachers that is in effect until 2023.

Teachers’ pay, like that of other public-sector workers, increased significantly in the 30 or 40 years prior to the early 1990s. Early in the 1900s, teachers were badly paid. During the Depression years, many teachers had their salaries reduced every year, or worked only for room and board (Library and Archives Canada, 2010). But this situation began to change in the 1950s with the establishment of unions as a major force and the increased importance to economic development attached to levels of education. By 1989, the average salary for Canadian teachers was about $48,000 (Sale, 1992), while in comparison the average weekly industrial wage in Ontario (among the highest in the country) in 1991 was $560, or about $29,000 per year (Statistics Canada, 1992).

The late 1990s were characterized by pay freezes, unilateral salary rollbacks, days off without pay, and reductions in professional development days for teachers in many provinces. However, in the last few years salaries for Canadian teachers have begun again to rise. Despite these ups and downs, Canadian teachers remain, on the whole, quite well paid compared with most other Canadian workers (keeping in mind the problems of comparison raised in Chapter 5 with respect to education funding). Table 6.8.2 shows the average educator’s salary from 2006/2007 to 2010/2011. However, these figures reflect average salaries, and must keep in mind, as shown in Table 6.2.4, that starting salaries are lower than these.

Table 6.8.1

Sample Salary Scale for Teachers in 2023 (2019/2023 Agreement)

Step One Degree Two Degrees More
1 $59,459 $62,828 $66,940
2 $62,116 $65,588 $69,824
3 $64,893 $68,466 $72,831
4 $67,793 $71,470 $75,966
5 $70,822 $74,611 $79,239
6 $73,989 $77,885 $82,650
7 $77,294 $81,304 $86,210
8 $80,749 $84,871 $89,922
9 $84,358 $88,598 $93,797
10 $88,127 $92,487 $97,834
15 $82,067 $96,547 $102,048

Source. Adapted from Provincial Collective Agreement Between The Boards of Education and Government of Saskatchewan and The Teachers of Saskatchewan. Effective September 1, 2019–August 31, 2023.

Table 6.8.2

Average Remuneration Per Educator in Primary and Secondary Schools by OECD Countries and Economies, 2019

Primary Secondary
Starting Salary Salary at Top of Salary Scale Starting Salary Salary at Top of Salary Scale
Canada $40,504 USD, $53,733 CAD $70,698 USD, $93,789 CAD $40,504 USD, $53,733 CAD $70,698 USD, $93,789 CAD
Rank 11th 9th 11th 10th
OECD Average $33,914 USD, $44,991 CAD $56,513 USD, $74,971 CAD $35,073 USD, $46,528 CAD $59,161 USD, $78,484 CAD
Countries with Higher Average Salaries Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United States Austria, Germany, Ireland, Korea, Luxembourg, Portugal, Switzerland, United States Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United States Austria, Germany, Ireland, Korea, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, United States
Country with Highest Average Salary Luxembourg, $70,295 USD, $93,254 CAD Luxembourg, $124,187 USD, $164,748 CAD Luxembourg, $79,667 USD, $105,687 CAD Luxembourg, $139,336 USD, $184,845 CAD
Country with Lowest Average Salary Slovak Republic, $14,969 USD, $19,858 CAD Slovak Republic, $23,189 USD, $30,763 CAD Slovak Republic, $14,969 USD, $19,858 CAD Slovak Republic, $23,189 USD, $30,763 CAD

Note. Includes average of 36 countries and four economies

Note. Approximate CAD in 2019 calculated using the average conversion rate for the year 2019 which was 0.7538 USD

Source. OECD. (2020). Education at a glance.

Note that teachers’ pay provisions are generally based on the bureaucratic organizational model and are thus related only to qualifications and to years in the organization. Other aspects of teaching, such as skill or commitment, or the voluntary assumption of additional duties and responsibilities, are not recognized in the pay scale. For many years there have been calls, especially in the United States, to implement some form of merit pay in which teachers who are judged better by some standard are paid more. Given the characteristics of teaching mentioned earlier (its uncertain, non-technical, and isolated nature), determining merit is extremely difficult. Moreover, teachers do not control most of their conditions of work, which means that their ability to work is at least partly determined by someone else. Merit pay is strongly opposed by teacher unions in Canada, but it remains debated in educational policy circles.

Working Conditions

Working conditions refer to the multitude of factors that affect the everyday working situation of teachers. Examples of working conditions include class sizes, number of courses taught, preparation time during the school day, expectations for extracurricular activities and supervision of students, placement of difficult students, expectations for marking and for reporting to parents, and so on. The entire set of working conditions is important in shaping teachers’ work. For example, it usually takes more effort to teach several different courses than to teach the same course to several different groups of students, but this also depends on the size of the classes and the student composition. Some teachers have found their work made significantly more challenging by the increasing diversity of student composition in their classes, something discussed more fully in Chapter 7.

Teachers’ duties are assigned by school boards and administrators, and teachers are required to take on the assigned duties unless their collective agreement specifies otherwise. A teacher can be assigned to teach any grade or subject, regardless of training, except in the few instances where provincial regulations require a specific qualification. For example, in some provinces teachers must have a special certificate, acquired through additional training, to work as special education teachers. A teacher’s workload can be changed at the end of, or during, the school year. Aspects of working conditions, such as maximum class size (whether or not there are split-grade classes) or the amount of non-teaching (preparation) time teachers must receive, may be regulated either by the collective agreement or at the discretion of the school district or school administration. However, for the most part, teachers have relatively little control over their working conditions, which puts schools closer to the bureaucratic than to the professional model.

Teachers’ working conditions are affected significantly by developments outside of the school. For example, if unemployment increases, more children may have to cope with declines in family income and living standards, and with the increased frustration of an unemployed parent. Poverty has, for many reasons, a very strong negative impact on children’s ability to benefit from school. As well, social issues within the community have a tendency to find their way into the school, so schools (and therefore teachers), are increasingly being asked to initiate and maintain programs that focus on social issues as well as academic learning.

Class Size

A survey in 2004 commissioned by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation indicated that 76% of Canadians believed that class sizes in Canadian schools were too large, and 77% of the respondents believed that large class sizes and increasingly heavy workloads were a primary reason why young or beginning teachers leave the profession after a few years. Class size and composition studies and reports have also been conducted by a number of teachers’ associations in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. Several provinces have taken steps in recent years to reduce class sizes. For example, the Ontario government in 2003 made a commitment to limit primary class sizes to a maximum of 20 by 2007 and further extended this initiative in 2005. Manitoba made a similar commitment in 2012 to be realized by 2017. Class size and composition became a significant concern in Saskatchewan in 2019 and was the main premise for job action taken by federation members during collective agreement negotiations. In times of economic recession and/or significant fluctuations in school enrolments, class size and composition have a major impact on teacher workload concerns and is unlikely to disappear as a collective bargaining discussion item.

Preparation Time

Another important working condition for teachers is the amount of time they have each day when they are not actually teaching a class. This is commonly called preparation (or prep) time. In 2014, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario released a workload and professionalism study describing the most common activities in which teachers engage during their preparation time. Not surprisingly, the activities most commonly reported included assessing and evaluating student work and finding resources. A little over a third of respondents noted that they frequently or always use their time to talk to other teachers about concerns, meetings with others to discuss student learning, or telephoning or emailing parents. Fewer teachers noted that their preparation time was used for collaborative planning, speaking to administrators, maintaining classroom websites or using social media to connect with parents.

There are, however, considerable variations in what constitutes preparation time for teachers. In British Columbia, elementary teachers have 110 minutes per week, while in Winnipeg they have 180 minutes per cycle (six days) and secondary teachers have 240 minutes of preparation time per six-day cycle. The collective agreement in Prince Edward Island is much more ambiguous, whereby teachers “shall have regularly scheduled class time free each cycle from teaching or supervision for purposes of preparation, consultation and/or administrative tasks provided it does not result in a need for additional staff resources” (section 36.03, 2020).

Professional Development

All schools and school systems recognize the need for teachers and administrators to continue to learn about their work. Professional development or in-service training are the names given to the various formal and informal opportunities provided to teachers to improve themselves. Professional development can include everything from informal after-school teachers’ meetings to university degree programs.

Most Canadian school systems provide structured professional development activities. Provinces normally set aside a certain number of days in each school year (from five to twelve days is typical) when schools can be closed to students to allow teachers to meet. In addition to these, schools may organize a wide range of other professional development activities either outside of school hours or during school time (using substitute teachers to cover classes). Many teachers devote considerable amounts of their own time and money to study and improvement activities of various kinds.

Despite the amount of effort that goes into their preparation, studies typically report that teachers are not very satisfied with their professional development experiences, which are seen as having little impact on subsequent activity in the classroom (Hurley et al., 2018). The ideas raised may be unrealistic, may require substantial skill (which teachers are not able to develop in one or two days), may not fit with the rules and procedures of a school, or may be popular one year but forgotten the next. All of these problems reduce the potential value of professional development. Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin (2011) point out that effective staff development must include the following:

  • It must engage teachers in concrete tasks of teaching, assessment, observation, and reflection that illuminate the processes of learning and development.
  • It must be grounded in inquiry, reflection, and experimentation that are participant-driven.
  • It must be collaborative, involving a sharing of knowledge among educators and a focus on teachers’ communities of practice rather than on individual teachers.
  • It must be connected to and derived from teachers’ work with their students.
  • It must be sustained, ongoing, intensive, and supported by modelling, coaching, and the collective solving of specific problems of practice.
  • It must be connected to other aspects of school change. (p. 82)

The development of a professional model of teaching has generated much more interest in making professional development a valuable process. Much of the change in professional development has been influenced by educational research that has supported practices such as peer coaching (in which teachers work with one another to improve particular aspects of their teaching) and reflective practice (in which teachers gather information about their own teaching and use it as the basis for planning changes). Increasing efforts are also being made to integrate professional development with other school activities such as evaluation practice or curriculum development, to provide ongoing support for teachers who are trying to make changes in their practice, and to create collaborative relationships among teachers to support change. The concept of schools as learning organizations (OECD, 2016) places these notions of professional development—the building of personal, interpersonal, and organizational capacity—at the heart of school improvement. Here the learning of teachers, and the capacity of the school community at large to learn together to improve the educational experiences in the school, becomes a vital part of the organizational life of the school. This concept provides a powerful model for the increased professionalism of teachers for energizing life in schools.


The degree to which teachers are supervised in their work also varies enormously from school to school. Though at one time, teachers rarely saw another adult in their classroom during the course of the year, it is now much more common to see multiple adults (educational assistants, consultants, Knowledge Keepers, special educators, etc.) inside the classroom. Although principals are also responsible to engage in instructional leadership in the school, the regularity and consistency of principal supervision in classroom remains uneven in many schools.

The fact that formal supervision exists as a normal feature of schools is an indication of the influence of the bureaucratic model. In professional settings, however, supervision by superiors is typically replaced by a peer-governed process of quality control in which members of the profession set up systems to examine one another’s practice.

Teachers have mixed opinions on the matter of supervision. On the one hand, most teachers value the autonomy they have in the classroom, and their ability to organize teaching in a way that they feel suits them and their students. Teachers may worry that too many visits by an administrator will result in more external control over their work and more instructions to them to change what they are doing. On the other hand, most teachers have a real interest in improving their teaching, and they recognize that feedback from others can be very helpful in doing so. One of the key factors in the perceptions of teachers in regards to supervision is the development of professional and trusting relationships between principals and teachers.

Recent thinking in education, as indicated earlier, emphasizes the role of the principal as an instructional leader. This orientation urges principals to shift their priorities from administrative duties to improving their schools’ instructional programs, and to achieve this goal by working closely with teachers (Robinson, 2010). Under the instructional leadership approach, principals spend much more time in classrooms, learn about what teachers are doing, and discuss educational issues with them. This approach seeks to move schools closer to a professional model of organization.


Almost all educational jurisdictions have policies requiring the formal evaluation of teachers on a regular basis. First-year teachers can expect to be evaluated more frequently (and more carefully) than more experienced teachers.

Evaluation has two purposes. One of these is to help teachers improve their teaching; this is commonly referred to as formative evaluation. The second function of evaluation is to find and deal with teachers whose performance is not acceptable; this is called summative evaluation.

Most teacher evaluation policies attempt to combine both of these functions in a single set of practices. The evaluation most commonly in use involves a conference model. The person doing the evaluation (usually, but not always, the school principal) meets with the teacher being evaluated to discuss and agree on how the evaluation will be conducted. This may involve matters such as how many classroom visits will be made, when they will be made, what specific aspects of teaching will be looked at most closely, and any other matters that either the teacher or the principal may wish to have considered. Following whatever classroom visits and other measures have been agreed to, the evaluator and the teacher will meet again to discuss the results of the evaluation. The evaluator will provide a written report on the evaluation, and the teacher will have an opportunity to comment on the report. The evaluator may then revise the report in light of the teacher’s views. A final version of the evaluation report, together with any written comments the teacher wishes to make, are normally placed in the teacher’s personnel file, which is held by the school district. These procedures have been developed and adopted to protect teachers from unfair and arbitrary evaluation that could lead to dismissal.

At the heart of the debate about teacher evaluation is the distinction between hierarchical and professional models of schools. In a hierarchical model, it is clearly the job of managers to evaluate workers and determine whether they are competent. In a professional organization, however, managers may not be knowledgeable enough to make judgments about competence. Hospital administrators do not judge the quality of medical practice, for example. Instead, evaluation in professional settings relies primarily on peer assessment and on standards of practice.

Teacher-evaluation efforts have been troubled by several problems. First, it is difficult to combine formative and summative evaluation in a single policy. Many commentators on the issue feel that as long as teachers are concerned that the evaluation may be used against them, they are unlikely to be open in raising concerns about improvements in their own teaching. Making decisions about whether to retain teachers on staff is not consistent with creating an open climate for discussing teaching and its improvement.

There are also serious technical problems with teacher evaluation. The point has already been made that there is no single style of good teaching. Indeed, people will disagree in many cases on what good teaching is. When agreement on good practice is hard to obtain, there is an obvious problem in evaluating when good practice is occurring. For example, a teacher may favour a more open and student-centred teaching style, while the evaluator favours a more controlled and disciplined approach. It is not evident that one of them is right and the other wrong, but their different views would certainly affect the evaluation.

Most teacher evaluation occurs through classroom visits by evaluators. But there are questions about the validity of this technique. Are evaluators’ judgments, biased as they are on only a relatively brief time in a classroom, the best measure of good teaching? What about cases where the evaluator knows little about the particular subject or age group? What happens if the evaluator and the teacher happen to dislike each other? There are many potential sources of bias in evaluations done through observations. Each evaluative approach discussed above may have some value, but each also has significant weaknesses. There is no agreement in the research on any particular evaluation practice that can be demonstrated to have a high level of validity. As well, in the overwhelming majority of cases, evaluation reports are quite positive. However, many teachers express the desire to be given feedback that will help them improve; a formal report based on a single observation is not viewed by teachers as being particularly useful, even if it is nice to be told one is doing a good job.

In the last few years, some school districts have begun to move toward a form of evaluation policy called the two-track model. Under this scheme, most teachers do not have formal evaluations. Instead, they work with their administrator to define areas in which they would like to review their teaching practice and make changes. The plan they develop for doing so might include professional development activities, work with fellow teachers, directed reading, classroom observations by administrators, or other steps. Data may include that found in student reports, parent reports, peer review of materials and/or practice, teacher tests, documentation of professional activity, systematic observation, pupil achievement data, successful action research, participation in school improvement, administrator report, and data unique to the individual teacher. This work is carried out strictly for purposes of self-improvement. Often, this kind of data is arranged in a portfolio that is provided to the evaluator for assessment. No formal reports are prepared, and no evaluative comments are placed in the personnel file. The teacher and the evaluator work through the portfolio together, initiating a professional conversation that allows for reflection and performance feedback. Obviously, the time it takes to create the portfolio and conduct this type of evaluation is its primary deterrent, even though the level and quality of feedback may be very valuable. Box 6.8.1 outlines Seven Oaks (Manitoba) School Division’s policy regarding its Professional Learning Framework.

Box 6.8.1

Professional Learning Framework

Seven Oaks School Division desires high quality education for its students. Quality instruction is concomitant with quality education. Effective teaching forms the foundation on which quality education is based.

Teachers, acting as professionals who serve the public interest, must be personally responsible and accountable for their professional judgments and actions. They must ensure that they are current in the knowledge of the profession and must take responsibility for the application of that knowledge in diverse situations. The Professional Learning Framework requires that teachers engage in examination of their practice by:

  • documenting and showing evidence of teaching practice through the use of a professional portfolio, personal journal, interactive journal or other means;
  • reflecting upon one’s practice to link the theoretical frameworks and broader purposes of education to one’s actions in the classroom;
  • dialoguing with peers and administrators to consider educational judgments made and how they link one’s knowledge and practice;
  • giving consideration to other relevant perspectives;
  • finding ways for research to inform practice as well as for practice to inform research;
  • acting upon new understandings; and
  • preparation of an Annual Reflection on Professional Learning to be discussed with administrators and submitted to the Superintendents’ Department for placement in the personnel record.

In the Professional Learning Framework reflection, dialogue and action are built upon enabling conditions of trust and open communication. Leadership built on trust and communication will foster the professional learning that results through reflection, dialogue, and action.

Administrators and teachers benefit from collegial discussion of education and teaching and are encouraged to engage in such discussion frequently. Educational judgment is negotiated through reflective dialogue.

Source. Seven Oaks School Division. (2005). Policy GBI: Professional Learning Framework. Seven Oaks School Division Policy Manual. Reprinted By Permission

A smaller number of teachers will be in a formal evaluation track. Teachers might choose to be evaluated formally, perhaps because they want something on their record about their teaching performance. Alternatively, administrators may identify teachers whom they wish to evaluate formally. These could be new teachers, teachers moving into a different subject area, or teachers about whose competence the administrator may have concerns. For teachers in the formal mode, the procedure would be similar to that described for the conference model. The two-track model is intended to increase the emphasis on the improvement of teaching, while reserving more formal evaluations for the relatively small number of cases where they are wanted or needed.

Academic Freedom

As employees of a school district, which is governed by provincial regulations and curriculum requirements, teachers are not free to teach whatever content they want. In universities, professors are recognized as having academic freedom, which means that they are able to teach in their classes the knowledge they consider to be most important and worthwhile, even if these ideas are controversial or unpopular.

In Canada, teachers are required by law to teach the curriculum as established by the province or other legitimate authorities and to obey the legitimate instructions given to them by administrators and school boards. A teacher can be dismissed for refusing to do so. In the well-known Alberta case, Jim Keegstra taught for years an anti-Semitic version of history in which he held Jews to be responsible for most wars, economic depressions, and other human tragedies. Keegstra was eventually dismissed by the local board of education, not because of his anti-Semitic teachings, but because he had refused to obey an instruction from the superintendent to teach only the Alberta history curriculum (Schwartz, 1986). However, Keegstra was not involved in a case of academic freedom, because, as the courts related, there can be no academic freedom to teach what is false (Hurlbert & Hurlbert, 1992).

It is true, however, that teachers in schools are not free to determine what subject matter they will teach. Nor in most schools is it easy for teachers to raise in their classes controversial issues such as politics, sexual identity, or topics that are significantly impacted by religious values. For example, in the case of Chamberlain v. Surrey Board of Education No. 36 (2002), a kindergarten–grade 1 teacher asked the school board to approve three books depicting families with same-sex parents. The board refused because it knew many parents would object to the books, primarily on religious grounds. In a 7–2 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the board had to reconsider its decision using only the criteria in the School Act, stating that decisions of the board were to be secular in nature. In other words, although the board had the right to refuse the books, the grounds they had used to reject the books were found to be unjust; tolerance and diversity was upheld (but, again, not academic freedom per se). In 2003, a committee consisting of eight parents, two trustees, two teachers, and two principals, convened by the Surrey School Board to review “sensitive” materials based on specific local school board and Ministry of Education criteria, voted to include two books that involved same-sex parents for use under the family-life curriculum. Although the ruling in the end supported the teacher’s desire to use sensitive material, the criteria upon which those kinds of decisions have to be made are very complex.

In an article that examined Canadian case law to determine the boundaries of teachers’ freedom of expression in public schools, de Britto (2018) acknowledged that rulings could be interpreted in the following manner:

trust and responsibility guides the interpretation of this fundamental freedom for teachers, who should neither act as class monarchs, absolutely free of restraints, nor as hired mouth, narrowly limited to the official curriculum…. the ethical duties of preventing harm to students and engaging in responsible pedagogy circumscribe Canadian schoolteachers’ freedom of expression. (p. 783)

Teachers must exercise caution to ensure that their approach to controversial issues fits with the required curriculum, is as fair and objective as possible, and is appropriate to the needs and abilities of students. In fact, many school districts have policies on teaching controversial issues, and require teachers to obtain permission from school administrators before raising these issues in class.

Dismissal and Tenure

The history of Canadian education has a number of examples of teachers being fired because they did something controversial, or because they disagreed with or challenged a decision of the school board, regardless of their competence as teachers. For instance, for many years in Canada, getting married was grounds for automatic dismissal for any female teacher.

Over time, teachers have been able to protect themselves from arbitrary firing. Most of the improvement occurred through advancements in collective bargaining, as teachers’ organizations and school districts made agreements that were intended to protect teachers from unjustified dismissal. At present in Canada, teachers can be dismissed for several reasons. First of all, school districts, as employers, have the right to eliminate teaching jobs for budgetary or programmatic reasons, which is termed dismissal due to redundancy. Depending on the provisions in collective agreements, layoffs of this kind may be based on seniority or other criteria, or may be at the discretion of the school board.

New teachers may, depending on the province, hold what are called probationary appointments for one or two years. This means they can be dismissed by a school board during this time without having a right to a third-party appeal through arbitration; in other words, teachers who are on probationary appointments have no due process rights and can be terminated without much fuss.

Once teachers have been in a particular school district for more than the probationary period, they acquire tenure or, in more formal terms, the right to due process. This does not mean that a teacher has a guaranteed job for life! It does mean that a teacher cannot be dismissed without being given legitimate reasons for the dismissal, and without having the right to challenge the dismissal through a process of arbitration.

What are valid reasons for dismissing a teacher? The most common reasons have to do with incompetence, moral turpitude (being convicted of a serious crime, sexual offences), extensive absenteeism without justification, or other such actions. Teachers can also be dismissed for failing to obey a legitimate instruction of the school board. Thus, if a school board instructed teachers to follow a particular curriculum, a teacher who refused to do so could be dismissed.

None of these grounds for dismissal can be applied in a simple way. Through a series of laws and court decisions, an understanding has gradually developed of what would constitute reasonable grounds for dismissal. In almost any attempt to fire a teacher, the school board would have to show that it had given the teacher notice that there was a significant problem, and that the board had made real efforts to help the teacher eliminate the problem. A school board that had a concern about a teacher’s competence would need to show that the teacher had been informed (usually in writing) of the concern, and that efforts had been made to help the teacher improve his or her skills. Only when such efforts had been made, and had clearly failed, would a move for dismissal have very much likelihood of being successful. Essentially, the onus is on the school board to prove its case. The demonstration of incompetence as a teacher is particularly difficult to establish to the satisfaction of an arbitration board, especially where teachers have, over time, received positive evaluations that stand as a record of their competence.

Teachers’ organizations continue to play an important role in safeguarding teachers’ rights to continued employment. A teacher who fears dismissal will usually contact his or her association to seek advice and assistance. When dismissals end up in arbitration, the teacher’s costs are usually borne by the teachers’ association.

Of course, dismissal is a very blunt and powerful instrument, and one that may be inappropriate given some situations where providing help to an individual in need should be more important than taking away a career. On the other hand, although protection from arbitrary or unfair dismissal is important, this protection should not come at the expense of students who remain under the tutelage of a teacher who is doing them more harm than good.

An alternative mechanism for disciplining teachers is rooted in the professional model of doctors or engineers, in which the professional group is responsible for disciplining its own members. Teachers’ organizations in Canada have pressed for such authority, as discussed in Chapter 9, and provinces with colleges of teachers have assigned this role to the colleges.


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