Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Responsibilities of the Primary Teacher in Ontario

After a very interesting and rewarding Junior qualification course this past July, I am now taking a primary basic qualification course online. Our first assignment was to come up with the most important responsibilities for the primary teacher. We watched a video (Kindergarten Matters: Building Blocks for Learning) and (re-)read the OCT standards of practice and ethical standards in order to gain a better understanding of the responsibilities of a primary teacher. Here is what I came up with.


Teachers have to carefully plan instruction and activities that can be differentiated for students’ differing abilities in the class. In the video Kindergarten Matters: Building Blocks for Learning , Lynn Howarth, a kindergarten teacher, gives the example of a story retelling center that she has set up, in which students can use drawing, word printing, pictures provided by teacher, sentence strips, that can be used in any combination depending on each student’s writing skills.

Class Environment
A careful planning of the classroom environment is also very important in the primary grades. In order to foster independence, the primary teachers have to plan and organize the classroom in a way that helps and encourages students’ independence, such as labelling and ordering supplies by centres in a way that makes sense and that is easily accessible by the students. For example, in the video Kindergarten Matters: Building Blocks for Learning, Lynn Howarth demonstrates how she planned the classroom physical environment down to the smallest details, such as the use of a lazy susan that allows each student at the table to access the art supplies.


Varied Activities
Primary teachers have to balance whole class instruction, small group, independent work and learning centres. In all cases, children learn best when they are actively involved, when they are encouraged to explore in depth during large blocks of time, and when they can make connections to what they already know in other contexts. Teaching is highly tailored to individual students, and for this reason, the teacher must be highly aware of each student’s strengths, needs, and interests.

Independent Learners
Primary students learn through play but with teacher guidance. Primary teachers implement a gradual release of responsibility to help children become more independent. Lynn Howard demonstrated an example of gradual release of responsibility in the video first by modelling to the whole group how she writes a list, then by having the students participate by writing on the board, and lastly by setting up a writing centre in her class.


Teachers must teach the components of the curriculum for their grade, and must meet the expectations from the curriculum documents. In order to do this, teachers keep be well-informed of their current class curriculum for all the subjects taught. This is a standard of practice of the teaching profession, as defined in the Ontario College of Teachers Foundation of Professional Practice  document.

In the video, Lynn Howard makes the case for cross-curricular teaching. Indeed, there are many benefits to cross-curricular teaching: gained time, enhanced learning experience for the students, more relevance to their life, more authentic learning experiences, etc.


Ongoing and Varied
The assessment of primary children has to be on-going, varied and plentiful, in order to have a detailed understanding of what the student knows and needs to work on. In the video, Dr. Pat Dickinson provides a wide array of possible assessment strategies that can be used in a primary classroom. These include portfolios, checklists, anecdotal notes, conferences, running records, work samples, observation surveys, ages and stages charts, photos, and videos.

Linked to Expectations
Assessment must be linked to specific learning goals, which should be known and understood by the students. It should be based on student observations and must be systematically recorded and organized in a manageable way for easy retrieval and use later on. This helps ensure that teachers can easily report the assessment in report card and to the parents. Dr. Pat Dickinson provides a good suggestion in the video for recording student observations in the form of a focused “at a glance” checklist.

          Classroom environment

Physical Environment
Students must feel physically at ease in the class, for example with children-size furniture. The class environment has to be set up so that there are different areas depending on the students’ needs. A quiet book corner is great for students who need a break from the general hustle and bustle of the classroom. There should also be a larger space, such as the carpet, where children can move and dance while they sing, and where the whole group can comfortably sit for whole class mini-lessons. The video shows several kindergarten classrooms and provides excellent ideas for teachers to use in their own classes.

Children must also feel safe in the classroom. Safe to participate, safe to explore, safe to try and fail. For this reason, it is important to ensure a culture of respect among everyone in the classroom. Clearly defining and practicing class rules is paramount for young children in the primary grades and ensures a respectful environment for everyone in the class.


Teacher modeling
Being a good role-model is an excellent strategy for class management. By demonstrating and emphasizing good attitudes and behaviour, the teacher helps the students learn how to behave in society and with their peers. The teachers featured in the video demonstrate in many different situations how they are good role models for their students.

Teaching good routines is essential for primary students. Lynn Howard shares her morning routine with us in the video, which involves having the children go to the manipulative math center as they arrive. When students know what they are expected to do and when they are expected to do it, there are fewer opportunities for student misbehaviour since the children are busy doing their work.


Ongoing Professional Learning (OCT)
In the Ontario College of Teachers - Foundation of Professional Practice document, ongoing professional learning is listed as a standard of the teaching profession. It is a duty for teachers to keep on learning how to improve their teacher practice and their students’ learning. Even experienced teachers benefit from ongoing professional learning. Personally, I find that my professional learning network (PLN) on twitter (@DrCorbierre) provides an accessible, excellent way to learn professionally in an ongoing manner.

Professional Practice (OCT)
This standard of practice for the teaching profession (Ontario College of Teachers - Foundation of Professional Practice) ensures that teachers strive to do their best when it comes to promote student learning.

          Leadership in the community

Leadership in Learning Communities
Teachers ensure that students feel safe, are supported by their peers and can collaborate with one another in the classroom. Also, teachers have to ensure that the many different partners in the learning community, ie. other school staff, parents, volunteers, etc., are kept informed and involved in the students’ learning.

Community Role Model
Once a teacher, always a teacher! A teacher should behave as a role model in and out of the classroom, as mandated by the Ontario College of Teachers. Teachers should also be moral leaders outside of the classroom, 24/7.

Well, that is quite a list. What are the other responsibilities of primary teachers? Drop me a note in the comment section if you would like to add to my list.

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