Where do we start when it comes to developing a capability framework for trades and vocational education tutors?

Draft Professional Standards

This is a question that I’ve been pondering a lot lately.

One of my jobs at the moment is to help draft a set of professional standards for tutors teaching at foundation level in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In the education sector, we already have professional standards for some different kinds of teachers. For example, there are standards for teachers at primary and secondary school levels.

There are also standards for teachers in the Adult Community Education (ACE) sector.

However, if you work in the post-secondary-but-not-university-or-ACE teaching space then you know that the tutors who inhabit this world are different to their colleagues in these other sectors.

And in particular, I’m talking about tutors teaching programmes that sit at Level 3 and below on the NZQA qualifications framework.

These are just my observations. I haven’t conducted any kind of empirical survey.

But I have been working with these kinds of tutors and teachers delivering professional development and training since 2007.

Something I know from personal experience is that tutors working in the foundation learning space often find their way into education from industry.

This means that they often have a very “hands-on” approach to how they do things.

And in industry, relationships, skills and experiences often trump the traditional qualifications and credentials that we’ve historically valued so much in the academic world.

It’s no wonder that our tradies are suspicious of our professional development offerings.

We make it worse when we try to bring in approaches that seem too academic.

Or when we offer PD programmes that are delivered by academics without the kind of street cred that vocational and trades tutors inherently recognise.

The Learning Progressions framework that we now have in place as part of our literacy and numeracy infrastructure is a case in point.

Now, there’s a sense of acceptance for the Learning Progressions for adult literacy and numeracy. However, in the early days, this was pitched in a way that was too academic for steel fabricators, hairdressers and engineers.

The result was a lot of angry tutors. And it wasn’t because they weren’t smart enough to understand it.

I think we’ve fixed that issue and moved on from it. But it’s a lesson that is firmly in my mind when it comes to new developments.

Which brings me to the current project and question:

  • Where do we start when it comes to a set of standards for describing the capabilities of trades and vocational education tutors delivering training at the lower levels of the NZQA framework?

The answer to this is open for discussion. And here is what I think are some of our starting points and assumptions:

  • We now have a robust suite of entry-level professional qualifications for vocational tutors and trainers in Aotearoa New Zealand.
  • The knowledge base and infrastructure that underpins these qualifications, while never static, seems to have matured in recent years.
  • Government agencies with a stake in education and training now have access to a lot of data which suggests that certain approaches are working for our learners, while others are not.
  • Key priority groups such as Maori, Pasifika and youth are already well-identified with strategic initiatives underway that we need to tap into.
  • There are organisations and individuals doing tremendous – and often unrecognised – work with our most at-risk learners in foundation education.

From here I think we have a firm foundation from which to start talking to our best vocational and trades tutors to unpack what makes them great.

What I’d like to end up with is a set of tools that are pitched at the right level. In other words, I’d like to end up with a set of tools that work for our steel fabricators, hairdressers, horticulturalists and all the other trades represented.

The tools should provide us with a way of describing great tutors when we find them.

And they should also provide us with a way of describing bespoke professional development pathways for tutors who are working towards developing their capabilities in areas that are relevant to their learners, programmes and organisations.

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments.

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